2012 United States Grand Prix preview
Despite the inevitable doubts over whether the Circuit of the Americas would be completed in time, the Austin track is ready to bring the United States Grand Prix back to the state of Texas for the first time since 1984.
It will be the tenth American venue to hold a round of the world championship. But it’s the first time an entirely new purpose-built circuit has been created specifically to host America’s round of the world championship.
That plus a closely-fought championship contest means there is no reason why F1 should not provide a spectacle worthy of one of the great motor racing nations this weekend.
The circuit’s raw figures are much the same as other recent additions to the calendar: five-and-a-bit kilometres, 20-ish corners, 50-odd laps.
But first impressions of the track in images, the footage of Jerome D’Ambrosio driving around it and the impression gleaned from the official F1 game suggest it might add up to more than the sum of its parts.
The flowing corners of its opening sector have drawn immediate comparisons with Silverstone’s Maggots/Becketts and Suzuka’s Esses. Although it seems not to be a straight copy of either, it will severely tax the cars’ capacity for high-speed changes of direction. A look at the sector times from qualifying at Suzuka indicate Red Bull should be particularly strong here.
While much has been made of the circuit’s gradient, particularly the steep climb to turn one, most of it is confined to the straights. The corners themselves are largely flat and free of camber, unlike what would be found at other American road courses like Sonoma, Mid-Ohio or Laguna Seca.
Circuit of the Americas information
|Lap length||5.516km (3.427 miles)|
|Distance||56 laps (308.9km/191.9 miles)|
|Qualifying lap time||1’37.0 (estimate)|
|Race lap time||1’42.0 (estimate)|
|Tyres||Medium and Hard|
Further around the lap the track becomes a more typical example of modern F1 circuit design: a hairpin leads to a long straight, followed by a succession of slow corners.
However the acceleration zone throughout the long, multi-apex right-hander at turn 16/17/18 looks promising. It’s been likened immediately to turn eight at Istanbul but the entry speed is likely to be lower.
With the drivers’ championship at a crucial stage, now is a tricky time for drivers to be taking on a new circuit. Of course they will have had endless opportunities to prepare in their simulators, but there’s no substitute for real-world experience. The opportunity to do more laps on Friday thanks to Pirelli supplying an extra set of tyres will be especially welcome.
This being a new venue and one which features quite a lot of quick corners, Pirelli have brought the hardest tyres from their range this weekend. That should prove a wise move – no one wants to see a repeat of the 2005 farce at Indianapolis.
United States Grand Prix team-by-team preview
Sebastian Vettel has a chance to clinch the drivers’ championship as well, but his scare in Abu Dhabi rammed home the message how easily these things can slip away.
The good news for him is the up-tempo opening sector at the Circuit of the Americas should play to his car’s strengths more than Alonso’s.
The late stages of the season are becoming something of an embarrassment for McLaren, who have passed up few opportunities to squander points through unreliability. Hamilton’s retuirement while leading at Yas Marina followed his earlier loss of a likely victory in Singapore and the team’s failure to score a one-two at Monza due to a failure on Button’s car.
The top priority this weekend is claiming second in the constructors’ championship back from Ferrari, but that will not happen if the cars fail to go the distance again.
Vettel may not know how it feels to have a championship slip through his fingers at the 11th hour. Alonso does, and if he’s going down, it won’t be without a fight.
But his destiny may already be out of his hands – there was no sign in Abu Dhabi that Ferrari have given him a car that can qualify on the second row, let alone the first. They tested some new parts at Idiada recently and there’s a lot riding on them getting this upgrade working first time.
Following their fourth no-score in a row in the last race, Mercedes admitted they have not seen the performance gains they were expecting from their Coanda exhaust, and their Double DRS device has also underperformed.
As things stand, they are coming under pressure from Sauber for fifth in the constructors’ championship. With just 12 points between them, Mercedes need to start adding to their points total again.
Boosted by their overdue triumph in the last race, don’t rule out Lotus doing it again in America. The first sector should suit the E20 nicely, though you suspect they would prefer a more challenging tyre selection.
Force India were quick to extinguish any lingering bad feeling between their drivers following their first corner collision in the last race, which Hulkenberg had more reason to feel aggrieved about.
This team is haunted by memories of 2010, when Williams passed them in the championship at the final round. Vijay Mallya noted the blue cars’ performance in Abu Dhabi, and will keep his drivers focused on the task at hand.
“The opening lap was frustrating, but we all recognise that these things can happen in racing,” said Mallya. “The important thing is to look forward and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Perez, like Mercedes, is suffering from a conspicuous lack of success since his big deal for 2013 was announced. He was on course to score well in Abu Dhabi until a clumsy incident with Grosjean ruined his race.
At least Perez knows where he’s going next year – Kobayashi is racing for his career. Beating his team mate in the points, which he’s getting closer to doing, might help. Lifting Sauber ahead of Mercedes surely would.
With points in five of the last seven races, and an unlucky near-miss at Monza, Daniel Ricciardo is ending the season strongly and has closed within two points of his team mate in the championship.
The front runners would be wise not to overlook Maldonado’s performance in the last race. He qualified on row two on merit, and you have to wonder whether Alonso would have been able to pass the Williams had its KERS not failed.
Having come agonisingly close to doing so in Abu Dhabi it’s starting to look like a forlorn hope for them.
“I know that the main thing is that Austin is a new circuit and the race drivers need as much time as they can on track to prepare for qualifying and the race,” said Rossi. “As a race driver I’d want exactly the same in their position.”
The announcement that HRT is up for sale is further evidence that the team is not in great shape. Persistent technical problems have dogged them lately, with Karthikeyan’s hydraulic failure in Abu Dhabi leading to a huge crash.
However team principal Luiz Perez-Sala said the team have had access to a simulator to prepare for this new circuit.
Marussia have been close to Caterham on pace in recent races and should run them close on pace again this weekend. Charles Pic was especially impressive in Abu Dhabi and has come on strong this year.
2012 driver form
|Q avg||R avg||R best||R worst||Classified||Form guide|
|Sebastian Vettel||5.33||4.47||1||22||17/18||Form guide|
|Mark Webber||6.17||6.29||1||20||17/18||Form guide|
|Jenson Button||6.39||7.38||1||18||16/18||Form guide|
|Lewis Hamilton||4.61||5.64||1||19||14/18||Form guide|
|Fernando Alonso||6||3.38||1||9||16/18||Form guide|
|Felipe Massa||10.06||8.53||2||16||17/18||Form guide|
|Michael Schumacher||9.72||9.73||3||22||11/18||Form guide|
|Nico Rosberg||9||8.07||1||15||15/18||Form guide|
|Kimi Raikkonen||7.61||5.17||1||14||18/18||Form guide|
|Romain Grosjean||7.12||7.64||2||19||11/17||Form guide|
|Paul di Resta||11.44||9.65||4||14||17/18||Form guide|
|Nico Hulkenberg||12.06||10.19||4||21||16/18||Form guide|
|Kamui Kobayashi||11.22||9.57||3||18||14/18||Form guide|
|Sergio Perez||12.06||8.69||2||15||13/18||Form guide|
|Daniel Ricciardo||14.5||12||9||17||17/18||Form guide|
|Jean-Eric Vergne||16.78||12.53||8||16||15/18||Form guide|
|Pastor Maldonado||10.67||11.71||1||19||14/18||Form guide|
|Bruno Senna||14.67||12.24||6||22||17/18||Form guide|
|Heikki Kovalainen||18.22||16.53||13||23||17/18||Form guide|
|Vitaly Petrov||18.89||16.53||13||19||15/18||Form guide|
|Pedro de la Rosa||21.71||19.15||17||22||13/17||Form guide|
|Narain Karthikeyan||23.12||20.2||15||23||10/17||Form guide|
|Timo Glock||20.47||17.13||12||22||16/17||Form guide|
|Charles Pic||21.44||18.08||15||20||13/18||Form guide|
|Jerome D’Ambrosio||15||13||13||13||1/1||Form guide|
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2012 United States Grand Prix
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Images © PJ Tierney, Red Bull/Getty images, Yas Marina/LAT, Caterham/LAT