Wednesday, 14 November 2012 02:23

US GP Preview

Formula 1 returns to the United States this weekend for the first time since 2007.

Since 1959, nine circuits have had the privilege of hosting the United States Grand Prix – from the former airfield at Sebring through the evocative sweeps of Watkins Glen, the stop-start street layouts of Dallas, Long Beach and Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, to the combined oval and road course of historic Indianapolis. In 2012 we welcome the tenth and probably the most spectacular yet, built from a clean-sheet design in a little more than 18 months.

The Circuit of the Americas was created by Tilke GmbH with input from motorcycling legend Kevin Schwantz, as well ex-F1 driver Alex Wurz – who tested it on the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes simulator – and combines an assortment of elements recognisable from other tracks with a signature feature of its own. Boasting an elevation change totalling 40 metres, the track begins like any good rollercoaster with a sharp incline. At the top it switches back on itself, forcing drivers to brake and commit to the line before they catch sight of the apex.

If Turn 1 is a test of driver steel, the following sequence brings the car’s virtues to the fore. The plunge back downhill, modelled on the Senna ‘S’ at Interlagos, leads into a high-speed left-right-left-right inspired by the Maggots, Becketts and Chapel complex at Silverstone, a classic test of steering precision, downforce, balance and mechanical agility.

Approaching its half-way point the track curves left immediately after a high-speed crest, almost a mirror image of the back straight at Istanbul, but this section ends with a hard turn – shedding over 120mph – onto the main straight. This section looks arrow-straight on the map but it rises and falls along its 1.2km length and will provide an important overtaking opportunity into Turn 12, which is redolent of the entrance to the stadium section of the majestic old Hockenheim layout.

For the next three corners average speeds decrease as the radii tighten, then it opens out dramatically into a multi-apex corner – we’re back in Turkey again, this time with a corner that aims to capture the mystique of Istanbul’s Turn 8. It’s this section which will put substantial energy loads through the tyres, particularly the left-front, which is why Pirelli has specified the hard and medium-compound P Zero tyres for this race. Will anyone dare to try to take it flat out?

Turns 19 and 20 bring the drivers left and left again, around the paddock boundary and back on to the front straight for the beginning of another lap.

As with all new circuits, car set-up will be challenging – and not just because teams only have simulator data to work from. Lap times will naturally improve throughout the weekend as rubber is laid down on the track surface, which makes it difficult to gauge precisely the effect of any set-up changes between runs. We see this at Monaco every year, as well as at recently built or rarely used circuits.

Fittingly, the Circuit of the Americas was officially opened in October by the 1978 Formula 1 World Champion, Mario Andretti. Who better to cut the ribbon on such a diverse and exciting circuit than a driver who mastered every racing discipline he turned his hand to – sportscars, Indycars, and Formula 1?

Jenson Button:

“Visiting a new circuit is always an interesting challenge. You approach it in a very different way from a track you’ve visited before – Thursday’s trackwalk and those first laps are all about exploration and understanding as you gather information from lots of different sources in a bid to build up a complete picture of the track and what’s required to get the best from it.

“On paper, the circuit looks to have a little bit of everything – the plan-view certainly looks familiar; you can see elements of the Maggotts/Becketts complex from Silverstone; there’s a reverse of Istanbul Park’s Turn Eight, too; and I can even see a bit of the Hockenheim infield, too.

“Whether those elements will blend together to make a satisfying whole remains to be seen, but there are a couple of long straights into tight corners, too, which should at least open up the possibility of overtaking.

“I think we’re in for a fantastic weekend – I really cannot wait to get out to Austin and see the city, the people and the track. I think it’s going to be brilliant.”

Lewis Hamilton:

“It’s crazy to think that the last United States Grand Prix was five years ago! It’s a race I still remember like yesterday, though – the nervy anticipation as I drove into the Speedway for the very first time, the thousands of supportive fans, and the fantastic car I had beneath me that enable me to take my second grand prix victory in the space of a week. For me, those were incredible, thrilling times.

“I have to admit – I’m absolutely made-up that we’re going back to the States. It’s a fantastic country and a place where our sport truly deserves to be. I think the Circuit Of The Americas looks like it could also be the place that modern Formula 1 finally calls home. I’ve only driven it on the computer and in the sim, but I think it’s going to be a track that drivers enjoy, which produces some great, close racing, and which fans will quickly love.

“This is a new circuit, a new challenge and a new opportunity – I’m definitely looking to be the first grand prix winner at the Circuit Of The Americas.”

Kamui Kobayashi:
“I have never been to Texas, as I have only been to New York and Las Vegas in America. I know this will be something completely different and perhaps pretty exciting because Texas is cowboy country, so I hope I can see some of them there. I have had a look at Austin on a google map and it looks nice. This is another new Herman Tilke circuit and he always gives us exciting tracks to have nice races. I have not seen the circuit on a simulator and, in fact, have no idea what it is like. However, it will be okay and a surprise for me. I shall walk the track when I first get there. I don't know how many laps it will take to learn it, as it very much depends on the track. It can take three, ten or more laps.”

Sergio Pérez:
“I am very much looking forward to this race! I think it is the closest race for eight years for me to my home town of Guadalajara. I expect many Mexican Formula One fans to attend and this, for sure, will give me an extra boost. Of course I also hope there will be a Mexican Grand Prix one day, because I am aware of the great enthusiasm for Formula One in my country, but for now I regard the race in Austin as my home Grand Prix. I have no issues about learning new tracks quickly. In my first Formula One season, which was only last year, I had many tracks to learn. I am sure we will have a good crowd there and I definitely want to put in a strong result for both the Sauber F1 Team and myself.”

Last modified on Saturday, 17 November 2012 22:54
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