McLaren could be vulnerable to two-team attack at United States GP

Luke Murphy
Oscar Piastri leads his McLaren team-mate Lando Norris.

McLaren have emerged as Red Bull's nearest challenger.

Both championships are wrapped up but, with lots still to play for in 2023, can anyone stop Max Verstappen from claiming a hat-trick of victories at the Circuit of The Americas?

Formula 1 returns to COTA for the second of three trips Stateside, with the difficult-to-master Austin venue often proving to be a rollercoaster for drivers and teams.

With teams running out of opportunities to prove that they can provide a consistent threat to Red Bull, we take you through what they have to face at the United States Grand Prix.

How has the circuit changed for 2023?

One of only a handful of anti-clockwise circuits on the calendar, the Circuit of The Americas has proven to be a hit with drivers and fans. Having opened in 2012, the Austin track provided F1 with a long-awaited American home and will be hosting its 11th United States Grand Prix, with the only missed event being due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

With the venue proving to be a success, little has had to change, even with the threat of rival events in Miami and Las Vegas. COTA helped pave the way for F1’s growth in the USA (followed swiftly by the success of Drive to Survive of course), and the circuit will remain on the calendar until at least 2026.

However, owing to the ground the track is built on, bumps are a constant area of concern for the COTA owners. COTA attempted to reduce the bumpiness of the track ahead of the 2022 race and, whilst the fixes worked to a degree, some of the bumps still remain. Whilst this is something the organisers are constantly monitoring, no major work has been undertaken in this regard for 2023.

Unlike last season, COTA will also host a Sprint race, which will be the fifth Sprint race weekend of the season. After the success of the Saturday race at Qatar, fans will be hoping for more of the same in Austin.

What are the characteristics of the COTA track?

With the 20-turn, 5.5km COTA intended to be a ‘greatest hits’ of several F1 circuits, it features many sections of corners that are loved by fans and drivers. With a circuit that includes corner replicas of Silverstone and Istanbul Park, cars must be set up to generate enough downforce in the high-speed corners.

Overtaking spots at Turns 1 and 12 provide ample opportunity to punish any drivers running with a car with too much aerodynamic drag. The wide entry into Turn 1 offers up multiple approaches to overtaking, but incidents can occur due to how the corner narrows, and many incidents have happened over the years. After Turn 12, a smaller straight offers drivers a second chance at completing a pass before Turn 13.

However, the quicker sweeping corners are punctuated by some technical, low-speed parts of the track. A hairpin at Turn 11 before the longest straight on the circuit will reward cars with strong traction, and the low-speed section from Turns 13 to 16 have proven difficult to tackle if there’s any lack of finesse with car or driver.

Punishments for track limits offences were commonplace at the Qatar GP, and some of the generous run-off areas might mean some penalties are handed out at the US GP too. There aren’t many opportunities to gain time by running off the track at COTA, but the exit of the fast Turn 19 has proved troublesome for a number of years as drivers aim to scrub off as little speed as possible through the left-hander.

The bumpy nature of the track threatened to play havoc with last year’s porpoising and bouncing issues and, whilst teams have that particular issue under control this year, the bumps will certainly be a factor for aspects of car setup, like ride height.

Any venue is certainly going to be better than Qatar’s Lusail circuit for cooling, but F1 will still be racing at COTA with temperatures expected to be in above 30 degree Celsius. The Austin track isn’t renowned for producing many car cooling issues, but temperatures won’t be an insignificant factor.

Whilst we’re unlikely to see a repeat of the unusual tyre concerns from Qatar, the fast changes of direction combined with a relatively abrasive track surface means that the Pirelli tyres will still be tested. The tyre compounds are the same as the 2022 event, therefore two-stop strategies could be implemented by the teams. recommends

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Who is expected to do well at the Qatar Grand Prix?

The recently-crowned Constructors’ champions Red Bull are very well-placed to continue their dominant season at COTA. Their well-rounded, predictable and efficient RB19 is very likely to be the car to beat due to the formidable combination of high-speed performance and tyre management.

McLaren have been a very close match for Red Bull at the tracks which are dominantly medium-to-high speed corners, and believed that, on another day, they might have taken victory at the Qatar GP. COTA, however, might not be quite as high on their list of form tracks, due to having more lower-speed corners. The Woking team have tried to improve this side of the MCL60 in recent weeks, but any lingering weakness might help bring Mercedes and Ferrari into play.

Those hopeful of a Mercedes fightback will be optimistic about a modified floor that they will be bringing to COTA. Naturally, the team aren’t willing to place too much expectation on this update, but any kind of noticeable jump in performance might be the springboard to improve their challenge for podiums. The temperamental nature of their car will once again be in the spotlight if they have difficulties with car setup at the tricky COTA circuit in the only free practice session of the Sprint weekend.

Aston Martin looks destined to fall behind McLaren over the next couple of races unless they can address their performance deficit, but there isn’t much to suggest that they will do any better at COTA. Midfield all-rounders Alpine may be a factor here.

Further back, Alfa Romeo believe that they are finally getting the best out of some recently-introduced upgrades to give them late hope of taking more from this season’s Constructors’ Championship, and it will be interesting to see if their double-points finish in Qatar is a flash in the pan, or if midfield competitive can be achieved in the US.

Williams and AlphaTauri might be grateful for the slightly less downforce-intensive venue compared to Qatar, whilst Haas tyre troubles could once again bite them at their home race even with a planned major upgrade on the way.

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