Formula One returns to America for the first time since 2007 this weekend as the brand new Circuit of the Americas in Austin plays host to the penultimate round of the season.
And the return of the United States Grand Prix could not be better timed in terms of the championship, with Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso separated by 10 points with just two races remaining.
Championship leader Vettel still looks to be the clear favourite after his storming drive from the back of the grid to finish third in Abu Dhabi, and if he outscores Alonso by 15 or more points this weekend he will win his third successive world championship.
Alonso will not give up on his hopes for the title though, and having been in contention in an inferior Ferrari all season he is still very much in with a chance of taking his third crown. The Spaniard has said he is ‘more relaxed than ever’ going into the final two races, and he is not likely to buckle under any kind of pressure.
With the Austin circuit being a totally new venue it is impossible to predict who will have the upper hand this weekend. On paper the venue looks like it should favour the Red Bulls, with the track displaying a lot of the usual characteristics of the circuits that have suited them so well over recent races, but with cool temperatures forecast for the weekend Mark Webber has raised concerns over how well Red Bull can get their tyres warmed up.
Such track conditions could play into the hands of Ferrari, with the Scuderia able to get their tyres working at lower temperatures than the Red Bulls, and with Pirelli bringing their two hardest tyre compounds to this race this could prove to be a potential banana skin for the championship leaders.
The Circuit of the Americas is a 3.427-mile circuit and was built by Tilke Engineering. Although not designed by Hermann Tilke, the layout contains a lot of the characteristics of his other circuits and there are corners inspired by several other tracks from around the world.
The most striking part of the track is the start of the lap, where a steep hill leads to the first corner, a tight left-hander, after which the circuit drops away into a right-hand turn before entering a series of corners inspired by the Becketts section at Silverstone. After this there follows a pair of left-hand turns before a tight hairpin at turn 11, which leads to a kilometre long straight.
The straight ends with a tight left-hander which leads into a series of hairpins which resemble the famous stadium section at Hockenheim, after which the drivers will be greeted by the triple-apex turns 16 to 18 which is inspired by Istanbul Park’s turn 8. The lap is then completed with a pair of slow left-handers.
The circuit has been widely praised by all corners of the paddock, but it is impossible to tell how good it really is until a race has been held there. That is another factor that adds to the excitement of this weekend’s race.
Last Time in America
The last United States Grand Prix was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2007, and saw a great fight for the win between the McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso.
In the end it was Hamilton that prevailed over his teammate, with Alonso showing his frustration by pulling over towards the pit wall in anger after being unable to overtake the Brit. It was one of the first signs that relations between the Spaniard and McLaren were beginning to become strained, a fall out which led to Alonso departing the team in acrimonious circumstances at the end of the season.
Felipe Massa completed the podium ahead of Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen, with Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli fifth and sixth. The points positions were completed by Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, who was making his debut as a replacement for the injured Robert Kubica at BMW Sauber.
2007 – Lewis Hamilton (McLaren)
2006 – Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)
2005 – Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)
2004 – Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)
2003 – Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)
2002 – Rubens Barrichello (Ferrari)
2001 – Mika Hakkinen (McLaren)
2000 – Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)
*This list refers only to races held at Indianapolis. The United States Grand Prix has been held at various circuits since 1959.