US Grand Prix Formula 1 2013: 5 Key Storylines to Watch at Austin
The second United States Grand Prix at Austin is upon us.
Despite concerns over another Sebastian Vettel/Red Bull walkover, there is a great deal to be excited about this weekend.
The return of an old favourite, a huge battle for honour (and money!) in the constructors’ championship and the need for drivers to impress for next season means this weekend packs a lot more intrigue than you may think on the surface.
At the front of the field and the back, and pretty much in every team in between, there is something to play for at Austin.
Here are five storylines you'll want to follow this weekend.
How Will Heikki Do?
For the first time since 2009, we will see what a motivated Heikki Kovalainen can do.
In fairness, he was probably incredibly motivated in 2010, when he first joined the Caterham/Lotus project. However, that quickly developed into…not very much at all.
It would be perfectly understandable for a Grand Prix winner to become despondent while driving for a team making no discernible progress.
This opportunity with Lotus is different.
The Finn has kept himself in touch by sporadic Friday outings with Caterham and is a good driver. He should be in the points this weekend.
Can he get on par with Romain Grosjean and help Lotus (which is a longshot) to second in the constructors’ championship?
That will be tougher, but it will be fascinating to see how quickly he acclimatises himself.
The Battle for Second
This is not a battle for second in the sense that what happens behind Sebastian Vettel will be fantastic as the German romps into the distance.
This is a battle for second in the constructors’ championship between Ferrari and Mercedes that is going to be very, very close.
In theory, Mercedes has the edge. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg reclaimed second from Ferrari in India and Rosberg’s podium put them further out of touch in Abu Dhabi.
They are also driving what is currently most certainly the more competitive car.
However, with rumours circulating that Ferrari paid off Nico Hulkenberg not to drive for Lotus (who could still nick third from the Scuderia), you can see how seriously this battle is being taken.
It’s about pride as much as prize money, and it will go down to the wire.
A Resurgent Hamilton?
By his own admission, Lewis Hamilton’s not been performing great of late.
Nico Rosberg’s taken the lion’s share of Mercedes’ 67 points in the last four races, and been on the podium twice.
Hamilton, by contrast, has often slipped back in the races.
Tyre woes were to blame and it looks as though that has been traced to a cracked chassis.
The team discovered the issue in time for a new frame to be sent to Austin for this weekend’s race, which means in theory there is no hiding place for Hamilton now.
There is always a bit of concern for drivers when a mechanical problem is blamed (not necessarily by them) for their troubles. If Hamilton doesn’t jump back into top form now, it will not reflect well.
In any case, he almost certainly will. The performance defects of a cracked chassis show up considerably more over a race distance than over one lap, so his qualifying pace will likely be unaffected.
His race pace, on the other hand, should be considerably better. Will the podium beckon?
There are several drivers on the grid with something to prove, while others have had the pressure lifted.
Starting at the top, Sergio Perez is now under the spotlight for a totally different reason.
Gone is the question mark hanging over his McLaren future. In its place is a huge question mark over his immediate future in F1.
Will the Mexican find a place on the 2014 grid? He should, since he is very good. However, the timing of McLaren’s decision to let him go could not have been worse.
Austin and Interlagos are now Perez’s stage. He must dazzle prospective employers to prove, at the last minute, they should change their mind and go with him.
On the flipside of that, Felipe Massa’s 2014 berth has been confirmed at Williams.
We have already seen a notable difference in his performances since he was confirmed as leaving Ferrari, and it will be fascinating to see what his final two Grands Prix will yield.
Ultimately, his performances have deserved more than the results he’s achieved in recent races, and he will be fired up to perform here in a precursor to his Ferrari farewell.
More than that, though, Williams will be keen to see exactly what it has signed.
Keep an eye, too, on the two chaps at Toro Rosso and Caterham running in Friday practice.
The much-talked about 2014 signing Daniil Kvyat makes his Friday test debut with the former, while American Alexander Rossi is driving for Caterham again.
The Fight for 10th
Caterham is running out of time to overhaul Marussia for 10th in the constructors’ championship.
Admittedly, it went down to the final laps of the season last year, but it’s unlikely lightning will strike twice in 2013.
Caterham has had the better of its rivals over much of the season, but Giedo van der Garde and Charles Pic have rarely looked like finishing higher than 16th, let alone the 12th place they need.
Austin will be a difficult track for that to happen, but funnily enough the backmarkers might have more of a say at the front than people realise.
Cast your mind back 12 months to Lewis Hamilton’s overtake on Sebastian Vettel. What was it that got Hamilton to within DRS range?
Narain Karthikeyan’s HT—crucially, to no fault of the Indian.
Turns 3 through 9 might be spectacular to watch a car at full tilt through, but there’s absolutely no room for overtaking.
That means backmarkers have nowhere to go unless they drive off the track. Marussia, Caterham and company need to have their wits about them this weekend.