If you were to design a brand new Formula One race, you could do a lot worse than use the current United States Grand Prix as a template. It has all the right building blocks.
Firstly, the Circuit of the Americas works perfectly for F1. The first sector does the glamour thing of showing F1 cars performing at their absolutely best, with a high-speed flick-flack of successive corners reminiscent of Suzuka’s Esses or Silverstone’s Maggotts-Becketts-Chapel complex. After this, it’s got a hairpin, then a mirror image of Hockenheim’s Stadium Section, after which there’s a surprisingly quick final corner that catches lots of drivers out. Best of all, it’s designed with a couple of good overtaking spots, where the layout of the corner doesn’t really provide a guaranteed defensive line.
Because of these factors – and some interesting weather – we’ve never had a dull race at COTA and the race has developed a really strong following. It’s a big circuit, but happily it’s always full for the grand prix.
That may also have something to do with the location. Austin is a place that just naturally makes us all very happy to be in town. The city bills itself as the home of live music, and while a race team doesn’t have a great deal of time for hanging out, there’s usually an opportunity to listen to a band while tucking into a plate of barbecue. We’ve never experienced it as the second race of a back-to-back – it’s always been the first part of a double-header with Brazil or Mexico – so arriving early is something new. Fans in town don’t suffer the same time constraints, and it seems like a city that fully embraces the grand prix week.
While some grands prix settle into a pattern, that’s never really happened in Texas, mostly because the track is still evolving and the weather at COTA makes Silverstone and Spa look normal. Late October/Early November in the Texan capital has presented us with high winds, torrential rain, mornings so cold it’s been icy on the way into the circuit and beautiful, sunny blue-sky days that roll back the clock to high summer. Who knows what we’ll get this weekend?
We’ve enjoyed some good times in Texas. Sebastian Vettel took pole position for the first two races at the circuit, and won in 2013 as part of his nine-in-a-row magnum opus. Those two races have other significance. While we had to settle for a second place in 2012, it was enough to give the Team a third Constructors’ Championship in a row, and while the 2013 victory was sweet, it was the 1.92s pitstop for Mark Webber on his way to third that made history. To the best of our knowledge it was F1’s first sub-2s stop, beating the record of 2.05s we set earlier in the season.
We’ve regularly picked up the trophies since then. Daniel Ricciardo finished third in 2014 and 2016. Max finished third in 2017 after a quite brilliant drive from P16 – though he lost the place before even getting to the podium with a five-second track limits penalty. He made up for it last year though, with an even better drive from P18 to P2. After pole position last weekend, everyone is very keen to start higher and go one better this time out.