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The United States Grand Prix Preview (23-25 October 2015)

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Can Lewis Hamilton become the first British driver in F1 history to claim back-to-back world titles this weekend at the United States Grand Prix? After taking victory in Russia, he has one hand on his third world title and gets closer to the possibility of becoming only the second Brit to do so, after Jackie Stewart. Sebastian Vettel will have renewed hope in the Championship having leapfrogged his German compatriot Nico Rosberg into second place, but can either of them prevent Hamilton from taking the spoils and his 10th win of the season.

Headlines from Russia

Hamilton edges one step closer to title with ninth win of the year. Hamilton was beaten to pole position for the second weekend in a row, but managed to come away with the race victory and 25 points after his team-mate was forced to retire. Lewis could not match his team-mates pace on Saturday, yet by Lap 8 on Sunday, found himself leading the race with his closest competitor out. And once he took the lead, there was no looking back as you would expect. With his ninth win of the season in Russia, Hamilton extended his lead at the top of the championship to 66 points and with a maximum of 100 left available, it would pretty much take four retirements in a row now to stop the Brit winning back-to-back Championships.

Rosberg’s title challenge effectively ended by poor reliability. Nico dominated his team-mate and the rest of the field for much of the weekend, comfortably qualifying in first place on Saturday in front of Lewis who aborted his final lap after making a late mistake. However, he was robbed of any (much needed) points when his throttle pedal failed. Rosberg first made his team aware of the issue on Lap 5 when he radioed in, but by the time he pitted at the end of Lap 7, he had already been passed by Hamilton, Bottas and both Ferrari’s. Unfortunately the team couldn’t make the necessary repairs and Rosberg was forced to retire. Thanks to Vettel’s second place in the race, Rosberg has now dropped to third in the title race, six points adrift of his compatriot and a mighty 73 points behind his team-mate.

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Sergio Perez took his first podium of the season in Sochi, shared by Steve Harris via the Creative Commons License.

Sergio Perez makes it onto the podium for only the fifth time in his career. Perez helped Force India to their best qualification of the year by grabbing seventh on Saturday, one place behind team-mate Nico Hulkenberg. While Hulkenberg was taken out at Turn 2 on the first lap, Perez managed to stay clear of the mayhem and move himself up into sixth position. He then profited from the second safety car that was brought about by Romain Grosjean’s crash, heading into the pits immediately and cleverly switching strategy to a one stop race. This enabled him to leapfrog both Raikkonen and Bottas when they pitted later on, but was eventually re-taken by them on the penultimate lap. However, he regained third spot when those two came to blows a little further up the road and snatched Force India’s third ever podium, much to his obvious delight.

Kimi Raikkonen takes out Bottas on final lap in desperate manoeuvre. Bottas qualified in third for the second year in a row in Russia, and Raikkonen started fifth, so both drivers would have had one eye on a podium at the start of the race. Raikkonen managed to get off to a flyer and had made it into P3 by the time the safety car was deployed on Lap 1, however, Bottas reclaimed the spot swiftly after the re-start. They moved up into second and third when Rosberg retired, and held position until Bottas was forced to pit for new tyres on Lap 30. However he lost a spot back to Vettel when he was released back into traffic, as the German went second. Now Bottas and Raikkonen had to chase down the one-stoppers to regain position. After negotiating their way past Daniel Ricciardo on laps 45 and 48 respectively (whilst continually going jostling between themselves), they overtook Sergio Perez with just over one lap to go. But, as they battled it out for the final podium spot, Raikkonen tried pulling off a hopeful move down the inside and only succeeded in collected his compatriot instead. Bottas was forced to retire from third place and Raikkonen limped home in fifth, but did also receive a 30 second penalty post-race that demoted him down to eighth.

Felipe Massa manages a remarkable fourth place after qualifying in 15th. The Brazilian got held up in qualifying on Saturday and so failed to get through Q3, dumping the Williams all the way down to 15th place. However, we knew that was not performance related so there was an outside chance that Massa could get into some decent points if he got off to good start and kept his head down in the race. Doing just that, Massa found himself benefitting from the multiple retirements in front of him- Hulkenberg and Ericsson on Lap 1, Rosberg a few later, next came Grosjean, before Carlos Sainz Jr and Daniel Ricciardo had late retirements. Then of course, Valterri Bottas was wiped out on the final lap and Kimi Raikkonen sustained serious damage, allowing him to glide home for a much unexpected fifth place.

Mercedes on top again

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Racing is a state of mind according to Mercedes, shared by Ming-yen Hsu, via the Creative Commons License.

Lewis Hamilton’s 25 points in Sochi for the race win, compared to Ferrari’s combined 22 points, meant that Mercedes took an unassailable 172 point lead and a second Constructor’s Championship in a row last weekend. Congratulations to them, because it has been thoroughly deserved.

For four crushing years in a row from 2009-2013, Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel had a tight grasp on the sport, but in 2014, new regulations including the adoption of hybrid turbo power units and energy-recovering components came into place and everything changed.

The power shift over the past two seasons has been monumental and Mercedes’ domination has been akin to that of Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ of 2003-2004 or the current All Blacks squad who could set a new World Record for consecutive wins in World Cup games on Saturday should they come through their semi-final against South Africa.

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The Mercedes team working on Nico Rosberg’s car, shared by J.H. Sohn, via the Creative Commons License.

Mercedes have manged to wrestle control of the sport with clever design, heavy investment and constant development- taking over the mantle as the team to beat in this new era of efficiency and austerity. It doesn’t look like anyone will be knocking them off their perch any time soon either…

In the 34 races that have taken place since the start of the 2014 campaign, Mercedes have taken a phenomenal 28 wins, with Lewis Hamilton taking 20 of them and Nico Rosberg, eight. To put that into context, in that same time period, the other manufacturers have taken a combined six race victories, with both Ferrari and Red Bull managing three each. If Mercedes go on to win the final four races of this season (which is entirely possible), then they will match their record of winning 16 from 19 as they did last year.

The more you look at the numbers, the more you realise just how dominant Mercedes have been in the time since the 2014 season began. Pole position in all but two of those 34 races, with 23 front row lock-outs and 19 one-two finishes (11 in 2014 and 8 so far in 2015). During that time period, the team has amassed 1,232 points, at an average of 36.2 a race and now has two Constructor’s Championships to show for it.

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Michael Schumacher makes it onto pole in Monaco in 2012, shared by Mariom990, via the Creative Commons License.

It seems a long time ago that Michael Schumacher was making an ill-returned come-back in 2010, finishing second best to Nico Rosberg with no race victories and ninth, eighth and thirteenth place finishes respectively in the Driver’s Championship.

At this point, if a Mercedes driver is not on pole on Saturday or winning on Sunday, then it is seen as an upset. And with the regulations in 2016 only looking to change the sound that the cars produce at current, it is unlikely that any team will be able to catch up significantly with Mercedes again next season. Sometimes it can be boring and monotonous watching the same team winning over and over again, sometimes, you just have to sit back and admire brilliance.

The United States Grand Prix

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This is the third year in a row that the United States Grand Prix has been held in Austin, Texas and so far it has proved hugely popular with fans and drivers alike. Austin has taken advantage of a gap in the market presented by the fact that it is the largest city in the U.S without a club in a major professional sports league (NBA, MLB, NFL, NHL), but has made its home in Formula 1 with fantastic hospitality from its citizens.

The Circuit of the Americas was designed by German architect and track designer Hermann Tilke and is one of only four anti-clockwise tracks on the current calendar, alongside Singapore, Abu Dhabi and Brazil. The 56 lap race has 20 corners and is epitomised by its undulations, with changes in elevation of up to 40 metres.

There have only been two winners round the current track, from three different constructors since its inaugural race in 2012, with Hamilton winning for McLaren in 2012 and last year with Mercedes, and Sebastian Vettel winning for Red Bull in 2013. Both of Hamilton’s victories have come from second place on the grid though, so it might not be a done deal for the pole sitter come Sunday.

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Track layout for the Circuit of the Americas, shared by Gustavo Girardelli, via the Creative Commons License.

There have been 36 Formula 1 World Championships races held in the U.S since its first in 1959, across six different locations; Sebring (once, 1959), Riverside (once, 1960), Watkins Glen (20 times, 1961-80), Phoenix (three, 1989-91), Indianapolis (eight, 2000-2007), and Austin (three, 2012-2014).

Historically, Michael Schumacher has won the most amount of times in America, with all five of his victories coming in Indianapolis in 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006. Behind him, a trio of British drivers have all won three times in Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Lewis Hamilton, and then four drivers can claim to be double winners in the U.S (Stewart, Hunt, Reutemann and Senna). Interestingly, Lewis Hamilton is the only driver to have won the United States Grand Prix at two different locations, having won the final race at Indianapolis in 2007 and in Austin in 2012 and 2014.

Predictions

This weekend’s race will surely be all about whether Lewis Hamilton can claim his third World Championship and second in consecutive seasons. If the Brit finishes nine points ahead of Sebastian Vettel and two points ahead of team mate Nico Rosberg, then the 2015 crown will be his. If so, Hamilton will become only the 10th driver of all-time to win three or more World Championship’s. In his current form, who could resist him?

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Sebastian Vettel and Nico Rosberg will be fighting tooth and nail to stay in the running for the championship, knowing all too well that it is never over until it is over. However, Williams showed promise in Austin last year, and with Valterri Bottas looking very competitive again in Sochi, you wouldn’t rule out a podium for the Russian this weekend.

It is highly unlikely that Sergio Perez will repeat his podium heroics again and you can bet that Kimi Raikkonen will have put last week’s incident behind him already, but Red Bull have also been boosted with an engine upgrade from Renault, so they could feature more prominently in Austin.

We should mention that Sauber will be celebrating their 400th Grand Prix in Formula 1 since their first race in South Africa in 1993, so it would be nice for them if they could land a point or two to cap off their weekend.

Alexander Rossi will also be the first American lining up the grid at his home Grand Prix since Scott Speed in 2007, so let’s hope that the Manor Marussia driver can make it through the race.

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