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RENCKEN: 2013 US GP preview

2013-11-14 08:19

TAKE THE DAY OFF VETTEL: Three drivers are chasing second place in the 2013 F1 championship as F1 heads to the Circuit of the Americas. Things might be easier on the runners-up if Vettel took the day off. Image: AP


Formula 1 could hardly have selected a better venue for its umpteenth return to the United States for not only is the Circuit of the Americas 20km from one of the US's quirkiest cities, Austin, the capital of Texas but it’s within 400km of the Mexican border.

This means the 2013 US GP can draw fans from two countries.


Through the past 60 years F1 has raced at nine US venues but, based on the showing of 2012's inaugural round, 118 000 spectators watched Lewis Hamilton (then McLaren) beat Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel after a scintillating scrap, it seems F1 has at last found a Stateside home, and none too soon.

Like Abu Dhabi and Brazil,  which sandwich the November 14 race, the 5.513km circuit runs counter clockwise. Designed by F1 tsar Bernie Ecclestone’s favourite architect Herman Tilke, the circuit’s layout is a unique mix of the creative, a variety of copycat corners and typical Texan largesse.

It incorporates a steep incline leading into an (unsighted) hairpin left at the start of each lap (posing challenges on out laps due to cold rubber) and a daunting downhill left at its close. Some turns are modelled on other circuits such as Interlagos’s daunting Senna S, Silverstone’s swoopy Becketts-Maggots complex, the stadium-like Motordrom in Hockenheim and the infamous multi-apex Turn 8 which once gave drivers so many sleepless nights in Turkey.

In total four of Circuit of the America’s 20 corners (11L/9R) are taken at over 250km/h, with five negotiated at sub-100km/h speeds to deliver qualifying average speeds of around 200 km/h. Car set-up requires the usual trade-offs between straight-line speed and downforce, particularly through Sector 1’s high-speed sweeps.


In 2012, teams experienced variances of almost 20°C between morning and afternoon practices, which affected car balance. Light rain is expected on November 16 and dry, cloudy skies are forecast, with peak temperatures varying from 22 and 26°C over the three track action days.

Overall, the track is considered a “medium” braking track despite four of its ten braking events being rated “hard”, with Turn 12 proving the most demanding. Drivers shed 230 km/h in 125 metres (2.6 seconds), with forces hitting -6g as they dissipate 2700kW of energy – amongst the highest values on the trail.

Two straights and long sweeping sections mean drivers are on at peak revs for 68% of each lap, with the longest single full-throttle stretch lasting 13 seconds. Drivers change gear an average of 54 times for lap, equaling over 3000 shifts during the race.

As per 2012 Pirelli has specified its Medium (white sidewalls) and Hard (orange) compounds, although their lap time delta has for this year almost doubled to a second due to changes in composition.

Given no Safety Car deployment in 2012, teams have no historical data upon which to base strategies; however, barring the unforeseen, strategies similar to those used by the 2012 podium trio - namely a single stop shortly before half distance, swapping from softer tyre to alternative compound - are expected on November 17.

In keeping with 2013 convention, two DRS zones will be in operation, with detection for the first zone being 150 metres after Turn 10 and activation 320m after Turn 11. Detection for the second will be 65m after Turn 18, with activation on the main straight leading up to the Turn 1 hairpin for which cars slow from 300 km/h to a third that – thus providing for superb overtaking potential under braking.

Such are the opportunities by the track that last year’s grand prix saw a total of 55 overtakes - one per lap - with, unusually, non-DRS manoeuvres overshadowing traditional moves by 32min23, although it must be stressed that seeping from the newly-laid surface, which became increasingly oily as the race progressed, was a contributing factor.

What will the ratio prove to be on November 17?

Although both world titles were decided in favour of Vettel and Red Bull Racing - for the fourth consecutive season,  after the last round it seemed Texas would provide the battle ground for runners-up placings in both classifications behind the blue steamroller.

True, finishing second in the driver’s classification is about as sexy as kissing one’s sister, but pride is at play,  particularly as 2005/6 champion Fernando Alonso (Ferrari, 217 points) and his title successor Kimi Raikkönen (Lotus), on 183, were the last two drivers left in the running.

However, despite there being 50 points left to play for after 17 (of 19) rounds completed, the Raikkonen elected to sit out the final two rounds in order to undergo surgery for a recurring back injury ahead of switching to Ferrari.

Whether his decision is linked to his documented salary wrangles with the team time will surely tell; whatever, his decision has prematurely gifted Alonso with his third runners up finish in four years.

He can, though, expect a challenge from Red Bull’s Mark Webber, who aims to leave F1 on a high and has two races to remaining to keep his record of having won a race every season since 2009. That, though, would depend largely upon Vettel…


Hamilton, although out of the title running, has been off the pace of late but cannot be discounted, particularly in Mercedes’s prime market, while the 2007 champion’s team mate Nico Rosberg is always a factor.

Then, a variety of drivers such as Nico Hulkenberg (Sauber) and McLaren’s Sergio Perez are expected to go out all out as they use the race as shop window for their 2014 services, while Felipe Massa - Williams-bound for 2014 -  plans to leave Ferrari on a high. 

While the Constructors’ championship, in which both cars score points, does not hold the same attraction for fans, it is absolutely crucial to teams, as F1’s so-called “Bernie Money” is distributed on the basis of final classification.

With the difference between second and fourth being worth up to R60-million, Mercedes (324 points), Ferrari (323) and Lotus 297 have every incentive to chase points and thus a battle royale is expected between this trio of teams - although last-named is obviously at a major disadvantage through the loss of Raikkonen, whose replacement is still to be announced.
The November 17 2013 56-lap race will start at 9pm (SA time), qualifying at 8pm on November 16. Thereafter teams will face a huge rush to ship cars and kit to Sao Paulo for the Brazilian GP a week later.
Read more on:    red bull  |  mclaren  |  ferrari  |  usa  |  racing  |  f1  |  motorsport

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