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 U.S. Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas.
The new Circuit of the Americas is a purpose-built 5.516km (3.4 mile), 20-turn, F-1 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 at the new venue. Former F-1 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 labor-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.
“I think it’s great that we are traveling to the United States again,” said Vettel. “I have been in the simulator learning the Austin track; how it flows and getting a general feel for it. What we know from designer Hermann Tilke is that the hallmark of the circuit will be the big differences in altitude within a lap as the highest point is expected to be 40ft higher than the lowest point. The site has natural elevation changes, which promises a fast course with difficult corners for us to familiarize ourselves with.”
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 U.S., locals will know just how intense red versus blue showdowns can be.