Though fully prepared for racing at The Circuit of the Americas due to endless time spent in simulators, the teams and drivers arrive at this hotly anticipated penultimate race, on a level footing. A new circuit at this point in the season provides the perfect way to inject excitement and tension into the title race, which sees Fernando Alonso trailing Sebastian Vettel by ten points.
The United States Grand Prix marks Vettel’s centenary race. Winning a third consecutive driver’s title to mark the occasion would be particularly apt for someone who is as driven by statistics, records and results as he is. In order to prevent this happening, Fernando Alonso needs to ensure he is at least fourth if Vettel takes the victory. The German will want to secure the title in Austin as Interlagos is a track well suited to the Ferrari’s, and coupled with an often high chance of rain, a Red Bull victory may not be certain in Brazil. In terms of reliability, there are chinks in Red Bull’s armour, while Ferrari’s has been bulletproof so far this season. This however, will be balanced by the extraordinary run of luck Sebastian Vettel seems to be enjoying.
The tension between the title challengers was evident in the driver’s press conference today. In an obvious ploy to create drama, Vettel and Alonso were called to attend together, then placed next to each other while other drivers were asked who they thought would, and should win the title. The closed, tense body language of Fernando during the questioning was juxtaposed by Sebastian’s open, jovial, and relaxed manner. Kimi Raikkonen’s usual light hearted attitude reduced the tension when he revealed he wasn’t going to bother walking or cycling the track before Free Practice 1.
The practice sessions will be of utmost importance to all of the teams, as it will provide an opportunity for the drivers to experience the track outside of the simulator, giving them information about the best racing lines and best places for overtaking. New circuits always throw up significant engineering challenges so the sessions will also be instrumental in giving the teams essential information about car set up, in addition to presenting data about tyre temperatures, wear and grip. The extra set of Friday tyres Pirelli have provided every team with, will be beneficial in this.
In terms of wrapping things up outside of the drivers title, Red Bull will almost certainly take the Constructors crown this weekend. Martin Whitmarsh, who believes Formula One has returned to the United States at the right time, is confident about the race following a successful young drivers test in Abu Dhabi. The test provided information about McLaren’s update package which includes a new front wing which they hope will help close the gap between themselves and Ferrari in the Constructors Championship. Lotus are chasing McLaren for third place and will be hoping to build on their victory at Abu Dhabi. They bring with them an update on their double DRS and a tweak on their exhaust following the young drivers test. Mercedes wish to end the season positively and will be keen to stop Sauber snapping at their heels for fifth place, while Sauber will be putting all their efforts into usurping it.
There is a buzz of excitement about this circuit from the drivers and this, together with the knife edge title race and plethora of constructors places to be settled, should make the inaugural race at Austin a melting pot of thrills with a few fireworks thrown in.