2018 US Grand Prix Preview: Will Hamilton win his 5th title in Austin?

Four races. Four races out of 21. That is what remains of what has been a thrilling F1 Championship. The gird line up for 2019 is almost complete, the calendar for next year has been announced and the Championships are nearing being decided. Its next leg is away from Asia and into the America’s for the USA-Mexico double bill. That means late evening races in the UK and more than likely the first ever British five-time World Champion being crowned but will it be at the Circuit of the America’s in the US or Mexico City?

Drivers Championship coming into Austin. [Image from BBC Sport].

I say more than likely as Lewis Hamilton enjoys a mammoth 67 point lead over his nearest rival Sebastian Vettel. With 100 points to play for he could claim the title in Austin this weekend if the result goes his way. For that to happen, Hamilton needs to win the race and for Vettel to finish 3rd or lower. If not in Austin, then it will be in Mexico as only a catastrophic doubleheader with two DNF’s and Sebastian Vettel winning both races will keep the Championship alive after that.

If it is this weekend that Hamilton wins the title, then it will be the eighth time that the Drivers Championship has been decided in the USA which at over 10% of all Drivers Championships would not bad for a country that F1 has struggled to break into for so long. Let’s look through those occasions…

Jack Brabham pushed his Cooper to the title in 1959. [Image from Motorsport.com].

1959 Jack Brabham: In the 9th and final race of the season held at the Sebring International Raceway, Tony Brooks could only finish 3rd. Bruce McLaren won driving a Cooper while the eventual Champion finished 4th but not before pushing his Cooper over the finish line in 4th after running out of fuel.

Austrian driver Jochen Rindt won the 1970 title after his death.

1970 Jochen Rindt: Emmerson Fittipaldi won his maiden Grand Prix for Lotus at Watkins Glen in only his 4th Grand Prix start. Jacky Ickx qualified on pole position but a broken fuel line contributed to him only being able to finish 4th. It was a result that meant Jochen Rindt became World Champion despite having died at Monza; still the only posthumous World Champion.

Emerson Fittipaldi(won his second Championship at Watkins Glen. [Image from ESPN].

1974 Emmerson Fittipaldi: In the final race of 15 Grand Prix season on the new Watkins Glen circuit. Emmerson Fittipaldi and Clay Regazzoni came into the final race tied on 52 points. Regazzoni finished four laps adrift of eventual pole sitter and race winner Carlos Reutemann while Fittipaldi finished 4th and secured 3 points to become World Champion.

Niki Lauda won his second title in the 1977 US Grand Prix. [Image from DeviantArt].

1977 Niki Lauda: Two races from the end of a 17 race season, Nikki Lauda regained his title finishing 4th in Watkins Glen having started 7th. He had only needed one point to take the title and Jody Scheckter his nearest rival needed to win. The race itself was instead controlled from pole position by the McLaren of James Hunt who won by only 2 seconds from home favourite Mario Andretti.

Nelson Piquet secured his first title in Las Vegas. [Image from ESPN].

1981 Nelson Piquet: At the first Ceasars palace Grand Prix hosting the season finale and three drivers went in with a chance of winning the title. Carlos Reutemann had 49 points, Nelson Piquet 48 and Jacques Laffite on 43. Reutemann qualified on pole but it was his teammate Alan Jones who took the chequered flag. Reutemann finished 8th as Laffite finished 6th to collect the final point but2 points for 5th gave the title to Piquet.

Keke Rosberg secured his World Championship the following year. [Image from autosport].

1982 Keke Rosberg: For the second successive year the driver’s championship was decided in the final race of the season in Las Vegas. Keke Rosberg needed to finish 6th or higher while John Watson needed to win and Rosberg to be 7th or lower. That did not happen and Michele Alboreto won the race with Watson finishing 2nd. Rosberg finished 5th and won the title 5 points.

Start of the 2015 United States Grand Prix

2015 Lewis Hamilton: The next time the World Championship was decided in the US did not come for another 33 years and it was Keke’s son, Nico Rosberg who ultimately lost out. Rosberg had qualified on pole position but wheelspin on lap 48 cost him the race lead to teammate Lewis Hamilton who went on to win the race and 76 point lead was insurmountable.

Circuit information.

The Circuit of the America’s (COTA) is one of the newer additions to the F1 with the circuit outside of Austin, Texas making its debut in 2012. The circuit was designed by Hermann Tilke in collaboration with American Construction firm HKS and it certainly caught the eye.

The sweeping turns of 3, 4, 5 and then 6

A lot of the turns take inspiration from other circuits. Turns 3 through to 6 are not too dissimilar to the maggots and beckets section of Silverstone of the S curves at Suzuka. There is then turns 12 to 15 mimic the stadium section at Hockenheim and is a real challenge for the drivers. That is then followed by a great challenging turn 16, 17 and 18 which replicate the famous turn 8 of Istanbul Park. Apart from the borrowed features, there is the long straight from turn 10 to 11 with the DRS zone which invites a lot of overtaking opportunities. Just ask Lewis Hamilton who passed Sebastian Vettel to take the win there for McLaren in 2012 and for Mercedes last year.

View of turn 1 looking down to the pit straight and down into the next section of the lap [Image from the Daily Mail]

However, the iconic turn is turn 1. The steep uphill gradient approach is unique to F1 and with the turn itself being wide, that too invites overtaking action.

Overall, it delivers a great spectacle but let’s look at some of the stats surrounding COTA.

US Grand Prix at COTA in facts, numbers and stats
Circuit map of the Circuit of the America’s. [Image from formula1.com].

Circuit Name: Circuit of the America’s

Number of races: 6

Circuit length: 5.513km

Number of turns: 20

Number of laps: 56

The final sector of the track [Image from TripAdvisor]

Race Distance: 308.405km

Fastest Lap: 1:37.766 Sebastian Vettel 2017

Most wins (Driver): Lewis Hamilton 5

Most wins (Constructor): Mercedes 4

Most Pole Positions (Driver): Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Nico Rosberg 2 each

Most Pole Positions (Constructors): Mercedes 4

Most Podiums (Driver): Lewis Hamilton 5

Most Podiums (Constructors): Mercedes 7

Won from Pole Position: 3/6

Times race winner won the World Championship: 4/6

Lewis Hamilton celebrates his final victory for McLaren in Austin [Image from formula1.com]

Race winners:
Drivers: Lewis Hamilton 5, Sebastian Vettel 1

Constructors: Mercedes 4, McLaren 1, Red Bull 1

Podiums at COTA
Drivers: Lewis Hamilton 5, Sebastian Vettel 4, Nico Rosberg 3, Daniel Ricciardo 2, Fernando Alonso 1, Romain Grosjean 1, Mark Webber 1, Kimi Raikkonen 1

Constructors: McLaren 1, Red Bull 5, Ferrari 4, Lotus 1, Mercedes 7

Pole Positions at COTA
Drivers: Lewis Hamilton 2, Sebastian Vettel 2, Nico Rosberg 2

Constructors: Mercedes 4, Red Bull 2,

• COTA is one of only five anti-clockwise on the 2018 F1 calendar
• The Circuit of The Americas is the 10th different venue to hold a Formula 1 Grand Prix in the United States which is a record for one country.
• All six of the United States Grands Prix at the Circuit of The Americas have been won from the front row of the grid.
• The Circuit of The Americas features a maximum elevation change of 131 feet from its highest to its lowest points.

How does Hamilton have this lead?

Lewis Hamilton enjoyed himself thoroughly in Japan as he secured his third win at Suzuka to near closer to a fifth world title. [Image from Sky Sports].

Lewis Hamilton won last time out in Suzuka with a composed drive from pole position which was gained in very difficult conditions. However, he needed more than that, something outside of his control to be on the brink of a fifth title this weekend in Austin.

That was Sebastian Vettel. A lot has been said of the German since the race in Suzuka. There have been claims of him throwing the title away to gifting Hamilton the title so much so that his rival has spoken out saying he needs treating with respect. With that in mind, I will aim to keep this respectful.

Suzuka is where the was where the final nail was being placed over the Championship hoes coffin last year and so too it was this year. Vettel made mistakes in Qualifying and started the race 9th. After redeeming himself with a fantastic opening lap to be 4th, he shot himself in the foot again with an incident with Max Verstappen.

Sebastian vettel’s diving down the inside of Max Verstappen proved particularly costly in Japan. [Image from formula1.com].

The race incident happened at the Spoon curve on lap 8. This was the first lap of racing after the safety car period and Vettel was closing in on Verstappen leading up to the turn and went to make a move on the inside of spoon curve. With Verstappen closing the gap by taking the racing line, this was always a risky move. Contact was made and while the Red Bull had a little jump and was able to carry on, Vettel’s car was spun and dropped him to 19th and last. Vettel recovered to finish 6th but the damage to his ever fleeting title aspirations was done.

This is what the two drivers had to say on the incident post-race.

Sebastian Vettel,As for the collision with Max, I was obviously pushing to pass, I knew he had a penalty, but I also felt that we were fast. I could see that his battery was clipping, while I had saved some energy from mine. I saw a gap and went for it on the inside, he obviously tried to defend and I couldn’t go anywhere, so we touched. However, this is part of racing.”

Max Verstappen, ‘The incident with Sebastian was a very similar mistake to mine in China earlier this year, I think he could have passed easier if he had waited. It shows that even the most experienced drivers can make errors when under pressure.

Vettel added more fire to the wood though when he spoke to Sky Sports. In that interview, he seemed to suggest it was Verstappen’s fault.

As the comments from the two drivers suggest, Vettel thought he had the pace to make the move work. However, Verstappen was right to point out the irony. If he had waited he would likely have made the move going down towards 130R. Also, this was a move Vettel did not have to make there and then. The Ferrari pit wall had advised Vettel of Verstappen’s five-second penalty for the earlier incident with Raikkonen. However, Vettel went to make a move there any way having made a move on Grosjean work on the opening lap. The difference being, it was a lot of further back on the approach when overtaking the Haas. Overall though, the move was completely unnecessary.

Developments since Japan…

2019 Calender confirmed
The now approved 2019 F1 season calendar. [Image from twitter].

Following the Japanese Grand Prix, the World Motor Sports Council met and approved the 21 race calendar that was proposed by F1 after the Italian Grand Prix. That just a formality really. As proposed, the 2019 season starts in Australia on 17th March and concludes in December for the third time in F1 history; Abu Dhabi on December 1st. Notably, there is no tripleheader as there was in June and the 1000th Grand Prix will be held in China.

W Series

What is W Series I hear you say? That is the name of the new single-seater all-female Championship that is set to launch in May 2019 with the hope of attracting the worlds best female drivers. Organisers are aiming to give the competitors a chance of being in F1. CEO Catherine Bond Muir has made it her mission to change the fact, ‘There has ever been a female Formula One Grand Prix race winner, let alone a World Champion’. Meanwhile, the statement from W Series claims to be ‘on a mission to provide the skills necessary for rapid progress within the sport up to and including Formula One for the very best of the best’.

Former F1 driver David Coulthard, Red Bull engineer Adrian Newey and former Team manager Dace Ryan are among the backers of the series and the three will be judges of who will fill the 20 race seats through a variety of pre-selection programmes. There is no entry fee for the 20 chosen who will compete over 6 30 minute races on circuits across Europe and aiming to claim the estimated £1.14 million prize money.

Schumacher strikes again!
Schumacher is at it again but this time it is the seven time Champion’s son, Mick. [Image from Motorsport.com].

Before the Russian Grand Prix, there was speculation that Mick Schumacher could one day race in F1 following comments from Ferrari Team principal Maurizio Arrivabene. Mick, son of 7-time world champion Michael Schumacher, has now added another trophy to the Schumacher trophy cabinet. He secured the F3  European Championship with one race to spare in Hockenheim. His 2nd place finish and 14th podium of the season was enough to have an unassailable lead over Dan Ticktum. Following his success, Schumacher jnr said, ‘I am absolutely delighted. What this team has achieved over the last year is unbelievable.’.

The comparisons with his father were there for all to see with former F1 racer Gerhard Berger, now boss of the German Touring Car Championship claiming, ‘Mick has the racing genes of Michael. If he can continue to deliver performances like these, then he will find his way into Formula 1.’ That view has been echoed in the pre-US Grand Prix Press Conference with Lewis hamilton insisting he is 100% sure he will make it to Formula One. It is a name we will have to watch out for in the future.

Alonso WEC update

Following the race in Suzuka, Fernando Alonso still had commitments in Japan as he continues his gruelling 2018 schedule combining both the World Endurance Championship (WEC) and F1. Suzuka was not the circuit for Alonso, but the Fuji International Speedway which is owned by Toyota.

In the number 8 car, Fernando Alonso finished 2nd in Fuji. [Image from Autosport].

Alonso won on his and F1’s last visit to Fuji in 2008. Ten years later and in a different series and his Toyota team dominated proceedings at their home race winning by a commanding four-lap lead over their next placed non-Toyota car. However, Alonso finished 2nd in car number 8 which he shares with former f1 racers Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastian Buemi. The race winners were in the other car, car number 7 driven by….

With the dominant fashion of the team’s victory though, Alonso took aim at criticism directed at Toyota in dominating the races by claiming some of their competitors who spent considerably longer in the pitstops. He argued, ‘People are always talking about Toyota’s dominance, but SMP and Rebellion were doing the same times as us when they had a clear lap. To have a car that’s been developed for four months doing the same times as a Toyota with 10 years of development is unfair, if we want to call it that, but they nailed it. Other times they lose three or four minutes more than us in the pitstops during the six hours, and then when they finish three or four laps behind, it looks as if the Toyotas are racing alone, but that’s the result of a race that’s perfectly executed.

Vandoorne to Formula E
Stoffel Vandoorne will be hoping for better luck in Formula E. [Image from Sky Sports].

We have known for some time that Stoffel Vandoorne would not be racing for McLaren next season. The Belgian’s future in Formula 1 looked bleak after supposed snubs by Toro Rosso and Sauber rejected his services. Indeed, the Belgian’s future is away from Formula 1 as he has now signed up to race for HWA in Formula E. He will race alongside Gary Parrett who won the DTM Championship with Mercedes this year. On the announcement, Vandoorne had this to say, ‘I am honoured that HWA have signed me for their Formula E programme. HWA are such a great team with a long and successful history in motorsport. All the people I’ve met so far are really passionate about racing. Also, it´s great to work alongside such an experienced driver as [HWA FE teammate] Gary Paffett. I am pretty sure that we will benefit from each other during the season. Although we are all newbies to the series, I have no doubt that we will have a steep learning curve. However, it won’t be easy. My objective is, therefore, to become competitive in the series as soon as possible and to make a good impression.’

George Russell for Williams in 2019

Following Suzuka, we have seen another development in the driver market as the 2019 grid continues to take shape. This development came with an announcement from Williams. The Grove-based team confirmed that at least one of their drivers will not be racing for them in 2019 with the announcement of F2 Championship leader George Russell will race for them.

Speaking on the announcement, Russell had this to say, ‘It is a huge honour to join a team of Williams’ prestige and heritage. Formula 1 has been a life-long dream. From watching the races when I was a child, it feels surreal that I will now be lining up on the grid, alongside drivers whom I have admired for years. I would like to thank Claire and everyone at Williams for their faith in making this decision, as well as Toto (Wolff) and the team at Mercedes for their fantastic support throughout GP3 and Formula 2. I am incredibly excited to start working with everyone at Grove and to take my first steps as a Formula 1 race driver. I cannot wait for Melbourne next year and to join Williams at the start of this exciting part of their journey.

Williams Deputy Team Principal Claire Williams added, ‘We have always tried to promote and develop young talent at Williams, and George fits that ethos perfectly. He is already highly regarded in the paddock and a driver whose career we have been watching for a while. In the time we have spent with him so far, we believe that he will be a great fit for our team; his commitment, passion and dedication is exactly what we need to drive the positive momentum building at Grove as we focus on the future.

George Russell signed with Williams for 2019. [Image from TSN].

Russell is currently a Mercedes Development Driver and has been the Brackley outfits Reserve Driver this season alongside his F2 commitments. After making his Grand Prix debut last year in FP1 for Force India in Brazil, Russell has dominated F2. The British driver has 6 wins and 10 podiums this season as well as 4 pole positions. Russell is all but confirmed the F2 Championship winner with a healthy 37 point lead going into the final race weekend in Abu Dhabi. He is certainly an exciting talent and I look forward to seeing him racing in F1 but my only hope regarding this announcement is that the Williams package in 2019 is a lot more competitive than their current car.

Sergio Perez to remain at Force India

The late news coming into the Austin Grand Prix comes from Force India. The Silverstone based team announced one of their drivers for 2019 and it is confirmed that Sergio Perez will remain at the team for a 6th season with the team after joining from McLaren in 2014. Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer was pleased to have Perez staying with the team, ‘Over the last five years, Sergio has confirmed his position as one of the most talented and consistent drivers on the Formula 1 grid. He gives us valuable stability going forward and is a huge asset to the team. As we begin an exciting new chapter in the life of this team, we are delighted that Sergio will race with us going forward.’

Sergio Perez secured Force India’s most recent podium in Baku this year. The Mexican also has the most points and podiums of any driver to race for Force India and will remain with the team for 2019. [Image from Sky Sports].

The Mexican himself was pleased to make the announcement of him staying with Force India, ‘I am very happy to finally announce my future and I’m really motivated for 2019. Force India has been my home since 2014 and has allowed me to grow as a driver and show my skills on track. We have achieved so much success in the last five seasons but I think the best is yet to come. The new investment the team is enjoying fills me with confidence and I am really excited about the future.

This all means that there are now only two seats remaining on the F1 2019 grid with Force India and Willaims with an unannounced seat each meaning the identity of who will partner Russell and Perez is unknown.

Lance Stroll has been linked with a drive with Force India since his father headed the consortium that brought the Silverstone based team out of administration. That has yet to be confirmed so he could easily remain at Williams if his father believes he has not entirely done enough this year. That seems unlikely it must be said.

That would leave the future of Esteban Ocon in the air. Mercedes Team Principal and the man in charge of his career, Toto Wolff claims there is no need to rush and Ocon could take a sabbatical from F1. However, in an exclusive with Sky Sports Claire Williams stipulated he could have a lifeline with Williams. She told Sky, ‘We are still doing a lot of evaluation work. It’s a short short-list. We’re very happy with the drivers we are evaluating and it will not take us a long time to make that final decision. Of course, Esteban is in the mix. We would be crazy not to be looking at him.’ The team had been thought to be reluctant to take on Mercedes development drivers. They have now done that with Russell so would they take on a second? I doubt they do it willingly but the talent of Ocon would make it a no-brainer I feel for the Grove-based team.

That said, there is still the matter of Sergey Sirotkin. His remains up in the air. The fact he was not announced during his home race in Sochi is perhaps an indicator his future is not on the F1 grid. Robert Kubica is thought to be on the shortlist for the seat again after missing out to the Russian last year. The return of the Polish driver would prove popular with F1 fans and what a story it would be for him to return to the pinnacle of motorsport after the horrific hand injuries he sustained in that rallying incident in 2011. However, after Toto Wolff claimed Esteban Ocon could take a sabbatical

Championship Standings coming into Austin…

Drivers Championship coming into Austin. [Image from BBC Sport].

Away from the battle for the Championship title, intriguingly, Valtteri Bottas is nearer to Vettel in the standings than Vettel is to Hamilton as he trails the German by 57 points. Mercedes could still make it a 1-2 in the Drivers Championship. In 4th is Kimi Raikkonen on 196 points. Only 23 points separate him from Max Verstappen in 5th who after two fantastic performances leads Daniel Ricciardo by 33 points; he has 173 points to Ricciardo’s 146. In the battle for 7th, Sergio Perez, Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg are tied on 53 points each while Fernando Alonso in 10th is only three points behind on 50. Esteban Ocon in 11th is only 4 points off 7th as well so it will be interesting to see how that develops. Further down the standings and Romain Grosjean has now only 8 points behind Carlos Sainz for 12th while Charles Leclerc is only 7 points behind Gasly in the battle for 14th. The order of the bottom five remain the same.

Constructors Championship after 2018 Japanese Grand Prix. [Image from BBC Sport].

In the Constructors Championship, Mercedes lead the way on 538 points and have a 78 point advantage over second place Ferrari. Red Bull are comfortable in 3rd place on 319 and cannot reach Ferrari for 2nd. In the battle for 4th, Renault on 92 points have a slender 8 point lead over Haas who after the doubleheader will be optimistic of their chances of beating the Enstone outfit. Mclaren are further back in 6th on 58 points who may well be looking behind their backs to Force India who have 38 points such returning as a new entity in Belgium. Sauber are now only three points behind Toro Rosso in the battle for 8th while Williams remain marooned at the foot of the standings on 7 points.

What to look out for in the US Grand Prix?

• If Lewis Hamilton wins at the United States Grand Prix, it will be only the second time in Formula 1 history that a driver has won a Grand Prix five times in a row. Ayrton Senna set the record by winning the Monaco Grand Prix every year from 1989 to 1993.
• If Hamilton wins the title in Austin, he’ll become only the third five-time champion in F1 history, alongside Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher. He’ll also become only the second driver after Schumacher to win back-to-back championships on two separate occasions.
• Only once since 2012 have both Red Bull drivers finished in the top five in Austin – when Sebastian Vettel won in 2013 and Mark Webber finished third.
• If Mercedes lead a minimum of 43 laps of this year’s United States Grand Prix, they’ll become only the fifth team in Formula 1 history to lead 5,000 racing laps, behind Ferrari, McLaren, Williams and Lotus.
• Daniel Ricciardo will be looking to fight back against Max Verstappen in qualifying in Austin. Ricciardo has been out-qualified by his Dutch teammate at the previous 11 tries, the worst run of his F1 career.
• Kimi Raikkonen is currently on a 37-race streak of not gaining a place on the opening lap of a race. That means he hasn’t made progress through the field on lap one since the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
• Will F1’s only American based team Haas continue their current good run of form and secure points in their home race
• Could Carlos Sainz replicate the fantastic showing he made for Renault in his debut for the team at this circuit last year?
• Will the Sauber’s maintain their presence as a threat at the front of the midfield?

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