It’s only the third ever race at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin and already it feels like home, as Jenson Button commented: “It feels like we’ve been coming here a lot longer. It’s testament to the fans, who are fantastic and always provide a great welcome, and it’s already a very popular track amongst the drivers.”
Caterham and Marussia’s absence from the United States GP, after both went into administration last week, means there will be only 18 cars on the grid. It will be the smallest grid since the 2005 Monaco Grand Prix, when BAR was forced to sit out the weekend as punishment for a rules infringement relating to its ‘secret’ fuel tank.
It will still be a lot more cars on the race track than the disastrous 2003 GP at Indianapolis when the Michelin tyres proved too marginal to be used, and the FIA refused to alter the circuit to make them safer. They all took the start, but all Michelin runners came in after the opening lap, leaving six Bridgestone runners to have their own intra-team battles.
With less than 20 cars running, the FIA can invoke a three-car rule that compels other teams to provide three cars to make up the difference in numbers, but they need 60 days to inform the teams. The prospect of 3-car teams in 2015 will totally transform the driver market for next year and so the paddock will be awash with speculation (as usual!)
The reduced number of cars will make Q1 very interesting on Saturday, and the kind of do-or-die scramble it should be every race. Without the fall-guys of Caterham and Marussia, many of the mid-grid teams will be in jeopardy. So expect almost all the cars to have to use the Soft tyres from the opening session.
Coming into this weekend Daniel Ricciardo has had 14 consecutive points finishes; Mercedes eight consecutive pole positions and Lewis Hamilton four straight Grand Prix victories. Mercedes have now scored nine one-two finishes this year. They need one more over to tie McLaren’s record from 1988, and two more to beat it (although McLaren did it in fewer races).
And you can tell that (Western Australian) Dan Ricciardo doesn’t come from Melbourne: “Hand on heart, this is probably the date on the calendar I look forward to the most. I’ve loved every minute of being in Austin: when they picked this place for the US Grand Prix, they absolutely nailed it. The city is awesome. I love listening to live music and this is a great place for that, plus Texas feels like real America, and that’s something I’ve really enjoyed just sinking into the last two seasons.”
Until Mexico returns to the grand prix calendar in 2015, this is the closest race to home for Sergio Perez and Esteban Gutierrez. “There are usually a lot of Mexican fans and you feel a lot of support because the grandstands are full and there are always a lot of Mexican flags,” said Checo who comes to the race after five consecutive points-scoring finishes. “We’ve been racing hard, taking some chances, and making some excellent decisions with the strategy so hopefully we can continue to do so in the next few races.”
The weather for this weekend is scheduled to be sunny and around 26C/27C on Friday and Saturday, with more cloud and 26C for the race on Sunday.
Sebastian Vettel gets flashbacks to other F1 circuits when he drives at Austin: “A lot of the corner combinations remind me of other famous circuits on the race calendar. For example the fast combination during the first part of the track feels like Silverstone and Suzuka. The famous Maggotts and Becketts passages were used as a model for this part of the track and the drivers enjoy the extremely fast turns, when the car is balanced right. Also corners 12 and 15, this section was taken from the Motodrom in Hockenheim. It is a slower part of the track, and is designed to create more of a stadium atmosphere. The long bend also reminds of the famous Turn 8 in Istanbul.”