2014 US Grand Prix: Weekend Preview

As the F1 paddock arrives in Austin for the third time, they prepare to assemble the smallest grid since the Monaco Grand Prix in 2005, with just 18 cars making the journey following a disastrous week for both Marussia and Caterham. The 18 car grid and latest incarnation of the points scoring system means that this weekend will mark the first time that over half of entrants will score points, in the history of the sport. Financial sustainability will be a buzz word, (or should I say, phrase) this time out, but talk of the ever intensifying rivalry between the title protagonists will dominate the headlines. With 17 points splitting Lewis Hamilton from Nico Rosberg, the latter is in dire need of a triumph over his chief rival.

The Facts…

  • The Circuit of the Americas (otherwise known as COTA) is a 5.5 kilometer layout which hosts a wide range of motorsport series including MotoGP, WEC and of course, Formula 1.
  • The race takes pace over 56 laps
  • Lewis Hamilton won the first ever US Grand Prix to be held at COTA in 2012, from Sebastian Vettel in second.
  • Sebastian Vettel went one better in 2013, taking a comfortable victory and his eighth in succession.
  • Vettel holds the lap record at COTA with a 1:39.347, posted in 2012 behind the wheel of the RB8. 
  • Valtteri Bottas scored the first points of his F1 career in the equivalent event last year, with a solid eight place finish.

Rewind 12 Months

Unlike the 2012 US Grand Prix, the 2013 event was a largely forgettable affair. Sebastian Vettel further etched his name into the history books with his eighth consecutive victory in what was a textbook Sebastian Vettel drive. The German bolted away from his competitors in the opening laps and never looked back. Romain Grosjean continued what had been a timely run of form by securing his career best result with P2. It was an accomplished drive, particularly considering that Mark Webber posed a significant threat in the Frenchman’s mirrors for the entire second and final stint. However, Grosjean’s glory as driver of the day had to be shared with Valtteri Bottas, as the rookie scored the first points of his career with a sublime drive to P8. While Pastor Maldonado suffered an early skirmish with Adrian Sutil, Bottas remained cool, calm and collected, even challenging Fernando Alonso in the opening exchanges – something that he has come accustomed to doing in 2014.

Light In Numbers

This weekend will unquestionably be headlined by those not making the trip to Austin. Marussia and Caterham have made several appearances on the back pages over the last few days, as the pair fell into administration after finally crippling under the weight of financial burdens. Caterham’s fiasco has been defined by a season long saga as Tony Fernandes fell out of love with the sport and passed the baton, (or at least we think) to the mysterious Swiss Middle Eastern consortium, who have failed to halt the runaway train of debts. Meanwhile, Marussia’s news came as far more of a surprise – it was common knowledge that the Banbury squad were on the breadline, as highlighted by the curious Chilton story at Spa, but it was not evident that such a crisis was looming. October has been a truly awful month for the team and sentiments of #ForzaJules will of course be prominent again this weekend.
With neither team making the trip to Texas, the grid will be composed of just 18 cars, making it the smallest grid since the 2005 Monaco Grand Prix, where BAR Honda were excluded due the running of illegal fuel tanks in the prior San Marino Grand Prix. If you are wondering, ‘but surely the infamous US Grand Prix of 2005 had fewer cars,’ it does not count in regards to this statistic, as it technically had 20 entrants, even if only six of those started the race.

The Titanic Title Fight Continues

17 points is the latest margin between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in a dice which has swung back and forward throughout the last 16 races. Momentum has proved to be a powerful tool in the title fight so far and it is very much in the hands of Hamilton at the moment, as the Brit heads to Austin on the back of four consecutive wins. It is an ominous statistic that a driver is yet to win four consecutive races in a season and fail to claim the ultimate prize – Hamilton fans will hope that he does not become the first exception to the rule.
Certainly, Nico Rosberg is in need of a win. The critical error made in Sochi cost him a chance of victory and suggested that the German is beginning to overdrive. He needs to return to his mid-season form, where he managed to control races from the front near faultlessly, with the Austrian and German Grand Prix springing to mind.
With the margin as it stands, there are of course countless permutations, but essentially Rosberg needs to win ‘Abu Double’ plus either the US or Brazilian Grand Prix in order to claim the title, assuming that Hamilton finishes no better than second in the three remaining rounds. Consequently, if Rosberg can record his fifth win of the campaign this weekend, he will relieve some pressure ahead of Brazil, which will otherwise become a must win race. However, considering Hamilton’s prior form on US soil, it could be tough for Nico to shake Lewis out of his current purple patch.

Prediction Corner

Despite the form book suggesting that another Hamilton victory is on the cards for Sunday, I cannot help but think that the 2014 title fight will suffer another significant twist. From the unforgettable qualifying session in Monaco to the famed contact at Les Combes, the duel between Hamilton and Rosberg has had so many story lines and chapters, it would seem contradictory to have a smooth road to the title for Lewis. As such, I cannot help but think that Rosberg will win at least one more round this season and why should it not come this weekend?
Aside from the Mercedes scrap, I would expect Red Bull to be strong in Austin, with the technically demanding sector one playing to their strengths. Meanwhile, Williams could find themselves in the now unfamiliar position of being behind Ferrari this weekend, with just the one long straight allowing them to highlight their straight line advantage. However, after his heroics last season, Bottas could establish himself as a COTA specialist this weekend and as such, is a candidate for the final spot on the podium – he certainly knows how to claim a P3 after recording three so far in 2014.  

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