It wasn’t but little more than a week ago that we were all out west for the 2012 SEMA show and some spirited California driving in the 2013 Nissan Altima, but now it’s mid-November and that means Down Shift photo journalist and Texas resident Ricardo Quintanilla is packed, ready and eager to cover the inaugural Formula 1 United States Grand Prix in beautiful Austin, Texas.
It’s been five years since Formula One last raced in the USA but for the 19th and penultimate round of the 2012 season the series is returning to America this weekend for the US Grand Prix in Austin, Texas.
The new Circuit of the Americas is a purpose-built 3.4 mile, 20-turn, F1 standard facility located 15 miles outside downtown Austin and promises to provide teams with some interesting challenges, and spectators with some thrilling racing.
Chief among the challenges is, of course, the fact that no team has yet turned a wheel in anger here. Former F1 driver David Coulthard drove a Red Bull Racing showcar here when circuit construction had just begun and more recently Lotus test driver Jérôme D’Ambrosio piloted a 2010 Renault R30 on opening day at the track, but beyond those very different laps teams will only have simulator data upon which to base their weekend preparations.
That should make Friday’s free practice sessions labour-intensive workouts for the teams, though again it will present a challenge as the new track will undoubtedly be largely free of grip in the early stages of the weekend.
It means that the unknown of Austin represents the perfect wildcard for a championship that has become increasingly hard to call in recent weeks. After a dramatic race in Abu Dhabi, defending champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull Racing leads Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso by just 10 points, with a maximum of 50 on the table over the final two rounds. Kimi Raikkonen’s win in the UAE was a spectacular feat in his comeback year but even with that victory the Finn is now out of the title fight.
So it comes down to a head-to-head battle between the famous red of Ferrari and the blue of Red Bull Racing. And after recent events in the US, locals will know just how intense red versus blue showdowns can be!
–Made up of 11 left and nine right turns, the Circuit of the Americas is 3.4 miles long. It is one of just five current F1 circuits to run counterclockwise, the others being Singapore, Korea, Abu Dhabi and Brazil. Curiously, all five circuits feature in the final seven-race stretch of the 2012 season.
–COTA’s track surface took four months to lay and the third and final layer was completed in late September. The final layer is made up of aggregate from all over Texas. All told, over 640,000 cubic metres of material have been used to construct the track.
–Race organizers are billing turn one as the track’s signature corner. From the start/finish line the track rises 133 feet before heading into a tight and blind first-gear left-hand turn.
–Turns two and three pay tribute to the Senna ‘S’ at Brazil’s Interlagos, while turns four, five and six have been designed as an homage to the Maggots, Becketts, Chapel complex at Silverstone. Other recognizable elements include a section, from turns 12-14, reminiscent of Hockenheim’s stadium section and the triple apex stretch through turns 16-18 has been modeled after Istanbul Park’s turn eight.
–The first lap of the finished circuit was completed by legendary US racer Mario Andretti. In his 131-grand prix F1 career, Andretti raced in 11 U.S. Grands Prix, seven races billed as the U.S. GP West and both of the races held in Las Vegas, but recorded just one win on home soil. That was at the the U.S. West race at Long Beach in 1977 where, driving for Lotus, he finished ahead of Ferrari’s Niki Lauda and Wolf’s Jody Scheckter.
–Nine U.S. circuits have previously hosted grands prix: Sebring, Riverside, Watkins Glen, Phoenix, Dallas, Detroit, Las Vegas, Long Beach and most recently Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
–The last winner of a U.S. Grand Prix was Lewis Hamilton in 2007. Racing for McLaren in his rookie season, Hamilton scored pole position at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the following day took his second career win. His first victory had come a week earlier at the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal.
–That 2007 U.S. GP at Indianapolis was also notable in that, as well as seeing a future world champion win in Hamilton, it handed a race debut to another future title winner, Sebastian Vettel. The German replaced the injured Robert Kubica at the wheel of a BMW Sauber. Aged just 19, Vettel qualified in seventh position and finished eighth, for which he earned one point. In so doing, he became F1’s youngest ever points scorer, a record he still holds.
–In recent times Michael Schumacher, due to retire for a second time after next week’s Brazilian GP, has been the most successful driver at the U.S. GP. In the period from 2000-2007, when the race was staged at Indianapolis, Schumacher won five of the eight events (2000 and ’03-’06).