As F1 heads to Austin for the first time in two years, Trackside Tipster takes a look at which drivers and teams the circuit should suit and tries to spot where some of the surprises could come from in this weekend’s US Grand Prix.
Fans fill the grandstands on race day
Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images
Bottas on a roll
This really should be another one for Mercedes. The reigning champions have won all but one of the races at the Circuit of the Americas since 2014 and in the eight events ever held in Austin, Lewis Hamilton has proudly donned the winner's Stetson five times. He looks very comfortable in it.
The track is challenging with flowing corners that feed into one another rather than being intersected by straights. That means a well-balanced car is crucial, as the constant changing of direction is hard on tyres. So too are the higher temperatures, which are likely to hover just below 30 degrees all weekend. Mercedes' slight tire wear advantage should benefit them, and good front-end grip will also help in those high-speed changes of direction.
The strength of Hamilton's record makes him a firm favourite but far better value is to be had on the other side of the garage. His team-mate Valtteri Bottas' odds are good considering he had the upper hand last time there, winning from pole, and he is on a high having just won his first race since September 2020.
Given the certainty of team orders in Mercedes, for Bottas to win things would need to go wrong for Hamilton – but recent form and past history suggests the Finn could minimise damage for Mercedes if Hamilton fails to have a smooth ride to a comfortable victory.
Pre-race airshow, flyover and parachute jump
Photo by: Joe Portlock / Motorsport Images
Order matters for podium pick
Although it should be Mercedes' race to lose, Max Verstappen has actually performed pretty well himself at Austin – he finished third in 2019, second in 2018 and fourth in 2017. This year, he has a far better race car than he did last time at the track – so he is a fairly obvious pick for a podium.
There is no value to be had on an individual result, but picking the top three provides more interest – with Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen highly likely candidates to fill those spots.
In 2019, those three stood on the three podium steps and this season they have done so in just under a third of all races. At an event that is more likely than many to run to form, a Hamilton-Verstappen-Bottas podium (in that order) could be a good value bet.
Can Ricciardo recover his revolution?
The only team other than Mercedes to win at the circuit since 2013 is Ferrari – when Kimi Raikkonen took the flag in 2018 – but it could be tough for them to match McLaren this time.
As mentioned before, success will be down to power balance and good grip through the curves. McLaren's ascendancy on power-sensitive circuits could be evened out by Ferrari's recent engine upgrade, but the Italian team's struggles with front end grip could hurt them.
That is why Lando Norris is the favourite to be the 'winner without the big four' – but look past him and his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo is the least favoured of the Ferrari and McLaren drivers.
He has a sixth and a third here in the past – with two potential successes cancelled out through retirement – so could be worth a look, especially as he was getting his mojo back when he won in Italy, and the races since have been disrupted by penalties and wet weather.
Who will put in a flyer?
It is a bit of a long-shot, but Sebastian Vettel has a habit of setting fastest laps around Austin. Could he do it here again, this time for Aston Martin?
The German has been the fastest around Austin in the race five of the last seven races, mostly with Ferrari. His Aston Martin has the grunt of a Mercedes engine and his team has been impressed by his 'remarkable' feedback on set-up, which could help him get the car balanced well. If so, his smooth technique will help him through the continuous curves and the huge odds on the team setting fastest lap could be worth a punt.
Charles Leclerc is the driver who currently holds the lap record and while his long-run pace in the Ferrari may suffer from lack of front grip (see above) his new power unit has given him an extra boost and he has always been hot on a single lap. That could put him in with a shout – and he is not bad value either.
Fastest lap, of course, very much depends on the way the race plays out, and if one or both of the championship contenders are in a position to do so, that extra point could be worth them fighting for too.
Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo Racing C38, leads Nico Hulkenberg, Renault F1 Team R.S. 19, Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso STR14, and Romain Grosjean, Haas F1 Team VF-19
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
Can Ocon better Alonso?
At Alpine, performances have gone up and down this season but the inter-team battle between Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon has been closely fought and interesting to watch.
Former world champion Spaniard Alonso started on the back foot but regained control as Ocon hit a slump. Then, after discovering and overcoming a technical problem in his car, the French driver recovered some form.
Of all the team-mate head-to-heads to look out for, Ocon is good value to better Alonso – especially as he finished sixth in 2017 and the last time he raced here in 2018 he qualified sixth in a Force India (four places ahead of team-mate Sergio Perez) and finished eighth before being disqualified.
A win for Williams?
Williams are improving fast, but we are not talking about a victory on the race track just yet– we are talking about a possible victory in the pit lane.
Everyone knows Red Bull are fast stoppers, but Williams is a close second and with its new management focusing on fine-tuning teamwork ready to capitalise on 2022's new regulations if the car is up to it, they are only going to get faster.
The time for wagering is calculated between pit entrance and exit, and with that in mind there is every chance that George Russell or Nicholas Latifi could be worth a flutter as the fastest stoppers in Austin.
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