18th October 2018, Circuit of The Americas, Austin, USA; Formula One Grand Prix of The United States, driver arrivals and press conference; New Kerb added to Turn 17 (photo by Octane/Action Plus via Getty Images)

This weekend, Formula 1 returns to North America with the US Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas. The 18th round of the 2018 season will be held at this race track which is by far one of the most interesting tracks on the F1 calendar. This is the seventh running of the race at COTA after F1 returned to the USA in 2012 after a prolonged gap. With Mexico also returning to the calendar in 2015, we now have the three races held in close proximity in the USA, Mexico and Brazil as F1 swings through the Americas, before culminating in the final race in Abu Dhabi.

United States GP – History, Stats, Circuit Guide

The History

Austin is the tenth venue for an F1 race in the USA after Dallas, Detroit, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Long Beach, Phoenix, Riverside, Sebring and Watkins Glen. The US Grand Prix races have been mostly held at oval tracks or street circuits. Watkins Glen in New York was the most popular home of the United States GP. It was a purpose-built track that hosted a round of the world championship for almost twenty years.

Despite the long history of the sport in the US, F1 races could not penetrate the American market and stand up to the competition of the indigenous high profile racing series like NASCAR and IndyCar. The lucrative American market had proved difficult for F1 to capture. The race at COTA in Austin, a university-city and capital of Texas, has attracted large crowds. This brand new attempt by F1 to set roots in the United States appears to have finally succeeded.

The Austin GP was first promoted by the Austin native Carl Tavo Hellmund. He is a former American racing driver who drove in the lower formulas in Britain. After financial problems and many disputes, Hellmund exited the project. The initial track design was conceived by him and was later developed under the supervision of Hermann Tilke. The US Grand Prix returned to the calendar in 2012, after it was last held at Indianapolis in 2007.

The Teams and Drivers

The Ferrari team sits atop the leaderboard with nine wins at this Grand Prix. Arch-rival McLaren has eight wins, along with the great Lotus team of yesteryear. Mercedes has won all four races in the hybrid era (2014-2017).

Lewis Hamilton is on top of the leaderboard with six wins (2007, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017). Michael Schumacher has five victories at the US GP. Sebastian Vettel is the only other driver on the current grid who has a win with his 2013 win for Red Bull Racing. Jim Clark and Graham Hill have three wins each.

The inaugural race at COTA was won by Lewis Hamilton who incidentally won the last Grand Prix before that at Indianapolis in 2007.

The Circuit

The race will be held over 56 laps with a total distance of 308.405 kilometres. The track appears to feature elements similar to the Becketts complex of Silverstone, Istanbul Park in Turkey and the Yeongam circuit in Korea. The anti-clockwise 5.513 kilometer COTA track has 20 turns (11 left-handers, 9 right-handers) and an elevation change of 41 meters.

The circuit is a highly technical one and has an average speed of 197 km/h. The circuit has tight high to slow speed corners which demands a medium to high downforce setup. The cars are on full throttle 58% of the time and the fuel consumption is medium. The brake-wear is low, with medium loads placed on engines.

The FIA has taken measures to avoid the controversy created by Max Verstappen’s penalty for overtaking Kimi Raikkonen on the last lap by going outside track limits in 2017 by installing kerbs at the apexes of turns 16 and 17.

Sectors, Corners, and DRS Zones

Sector 1 (Turn 1 to Turn 6) has a series of high speed corners like the Maggots-Becketts sequence at Silverstone. Turn 1 is being talked about as a potentially iconic corner like the Eau Rouge corner at Spa. The track rises sharply, climbing nearly 41 meters between the start/finish line and Turn 1 before a blind apex. The Esses that follow between Turn 3 to Turn 5 offer overtaking opportunities at Turn 6.

Sector 2 (Turn 7 to Turn 12) features a long straight between Turn 11 and Turn 12 with hairpins at either end.

Sector 3 (Turn 13 to Turn 20) has a triple apex stretch between turns 16-18, which is similar to Istanbul Park’s famous turn 8.

There are two DRS zones this year.  The first DRS detection point will be after Turn 10, with the first DRS activation point after Turn 11. The second DRS detection point will be after Turn 18, with the second DRS activation point after Turn 20, just before the start/finish line. This track offers many overtaking opportunities for adventurous drivers.

Tyre Strategies

Pirelli tyre choices are the yellow-striped soft tyres, red-striped supersoft tyres and purple-striped ultrasoft tyres. The softest tyre is the tyre of choice of the drivers with drivers choosing seven or more sets of the ultrasoft tyre of the allocated 13 sets for each driver. A two pitstop race is predicted. Overcast skies and lots of rain is expected with mixed weather conditions predicted throughout the weekend.

Current Form

Mercedes (538 pts) has extended the lead in the constructors’ championship by 78-points from arch-rival Ferrari (460 pts). Red Bull Racing (319 pts) is in third position. Renault (92 pts) leads the midfield teams in fourth position. Haas F1 (84 pts) is in fifth position, just eight points behind the French manufacturer. McLaren (58 pts) and Racing Points Force India (43 pts) are now in sixth and seventh positions respectively.

Mercedes has steadily edged ahead of Ferrari since the Italian GP and is now firmly in control of the constructors’ championship title battle. They will probably clinch the title in the next race in Mexico.

The midfield battle is as tight as ever as Renault leads the pack, but the team is under pressure from Haas F1 and a fast-improving Force India team. For Haas F1, it is their home Grand Prix and there is much expectation that they will overtake Renault for fourth position in this race.

Drivers’ Championship

Hamilton (331 pts) leads the title race by 67-points from Vettel (264 pts). Valtteri Bottas (207 pts) is in third position, extending his lead in recent races. Kimi Raikkonen (196 pts) is in fourth position. Max Verstappen (173 pts) is fifth and rounds out the top 5 positions in the drivers’ championship.

The reigning world champion Hamilton has been in superb form winning six of the last seven races that includes four straight wins from Monza onwards. Hamilton is the defending champion at the United States GP. The Briton has won the last four races held at COTA. His recent form makes him a favourite to win this race. If Hamilton wins the race and Vettel finishes third or lower in the race, he can win a historic fifth world championship.

Vettel’s title challenge has slowly evaporated after the summer break. Vettel and Ferrari will push back hard to stop the rot and win their first race since the Belgian GP to redeem some pride. With wet conditions and the season slowly winding down, it will be as exciting a race as ever at COTA.

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