Formula One has made many attempts to crack the American market, without success. It’s five years since the last race at Indianapolis, but now F1 has a new home in the USA.
The newly-built Circuit of the Americas, located outside Austin in Texas, certainly looks like a venue worthy of holding the race that could determine the outcome of both world championships. Its impressively steep first corner is followed by a fast, sinuous opening sector. Highlights later in the lap include a long straight which should allow for some overtaking and a quick, triple-apex right-hander.
One cliché you will hear this weekend is the idea that racing on a new circuit for the first time creates a ‘level playing field’. This isn’t really the case, except perhaps for first-year drivers like Charles Pic and Jean-Eric Vergne, who for once will be arriving at a circuit where they have as little prior F1 experience as their rivals.
But as far as the championship contest between Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso goes, it will make no difference. Both have driven the track on their teams’ simulators and neither will have left anything to chance.
On paper the track looks better suited to Red Bull. The high-speed direction changes in the first part of the lap should play to the strength of the RB8. The second half of the lap features several slow corners where low-speed traction will be at a premium, which has previously been a weakness for Ferrari.
With this being a brand new circuit, practice times are an even less useful guide to true performance than usual. The track was extremely slippery in the first session and lap times tumbled throughout. Vettel ended up a huge 2.2s ahead of Alonso, with Hamilton splitting the pair of them. Red Bull and McLaren are likely to be the cars to beat in qualifying on Saturday, but not by anything like that sort of margin.
Grosjean the value pick
As usual Vettel and Hamilton have the shortest odds on pole position – 1.9 and 2.4 respectively. A better value tip for pole position is Mark Webber on 7.0, as he has out-qualified Vettel in two of the last three races and has generally been closer to his team-mate on pace this year compared to last.
However, think twice before you put any money on Webber to win – with Vettel the only Red Bull pilot capable of winning the drivers’ championship Webber is unlikely to be allowed to finish ahead of his team mate in the race.
Of course there are two championships to be won but the other one – the constructors’ championship – is over as far as betting goes. Red Bull only need to score four points (equal to one eighth place) in the last two races to secure their third championship in a row.
One other bet to consider at this early stage is on Romain Grosjean. His Lotus team mate Kimi Raikkonen won the last race in Abu Dhabi, so the car is clearly quick. Grosjean tends to qualify well and has already finished on the podium three times this year.
With Raikkonen out of the running for the championship Lotus have no need to use team orders. Grosjean has not recaptured his early-season high since being suspended for one race for causing a crash in Belgium, but this weekend could be his chance to shine. He offers enticing odds of 11.0 for a top three finish.
Keith Collantine is the editor of Formula One blog F1 Fanatic.