When Sebastian Vettel took the chequered flag at Silverstone in July, fans around the world braced themselves for an action-packed, tight and keenly contested title race.
But then, Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton won six of the seven races since and opened up a commanding 67-point lead, placing the Drivers Championship within arm’s reach.
With this in mind, it would be understandable if there was an anti-climatic atmosphere at the Austin Grand Prix at the Circuit of The Americas. However, with Hamilton looking to seal the deal and Vettel hoping to stay afloat, there could still be fireworks.
The Drivers to Watch
Both Hamilton and Vettel have won previously in Texas, although Hamilton clearly has an advantage on this track. After all, Vettel has won only once at the Circuit of The Americas, while Hamilton has been victorious on five occasions and triumphed at every single U.S. Grand Prix since 2014.
This season has been a strange one, and this could offer some solace to Vettel ahead of the race. After all, Ferrari have managed to unseat Mercedes at several of their strongholds this year, including Silverstone, Spa and Montreal. Conversely, Mercedes romped home in Monza, Sochi and Suzuka, where Ferrari were expected to dominate.
Hamilton’s recent run, which has included four consecutive victories, will ensure that he arrives in America full of confidence, knowing that a win will seal the title if Vettel finishes lower than second.
This is a distinct possibility given the form of Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas, and Kimi Raikkonen can scarcely be relied upon to play a role given his recent struggles. The announcement that the Finn will be replaced at Ferrari by Charles Leclerc in 2019 has hardly helped, and his seasons appears to be winding down as we draw to a close.
The Key F1 Statistics
From Hamilton’s perspective, the Brit is also aiming to become the first F1 driver since Ayrton Senna to win a single Grand Prix five times in a row. The brilliant Brazilian set this record by winning the Monaco Grand Prix between 1989 and 1993, meaning a win would be a huge feather in Hamilton’s cap.
If the Brit does win the title in Austin, he’ll also become the third five-champion in F1’s illustrious history. He’ll join the esteemed company of Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher, confirming his status as one of the best drivers of all-time.
A title win for Hamilton would certainly be fitting, given that the first day of the Austin Grand Prix will mark the 60th anniversary of Mike Hawthorn becoming the first British F1 champions back in 1958.
While it may well prove to be Hamilton’s (and indeed Mercedes’) weekend, there are other drivers with something to race for in Texas. Take Daniel Ricciardo, for example, with the Red Bull driver hoping to correct a poor run that has seen him fall 27-points behind teammate Max Verstappen.
In fact, Ricciardo has been out-qualified by his Dutch teammate on the last 11 occasions, representing the worst run of his F1 career. He’ll be keen to put this right, even if it means little in terms of the title race.
What About the Circuit and the Tyres?
If you’ve learned anything from watching the Belgian Grand Prix at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, it’s that elevation change makes for a more enjoyable F1 race. This will certainly be on show at The Circuit of the Americas, which is a roller-coaster of a circuit that typically delivers a stunning racing spectacle.
In fact, this track has been designed with a number of iconic circuits in mind, with elements of Silverstone, Suzuka and Hockenheim combined within a single, thrilling venue.
Turn 1 is particularly iconic, with its steep uphill surge into a tight left-hander providing a huge challenge to the tightly packed field at the beginning of the race.
Overall, the race suits racing skill and strategy rather than pure power, and this should play into the hands of Hamilton and Mercedes. Make no mistake; the Brit remains the best and most naturally talented driver of his generation, while the Silver Arrows have out-thought and bested Ferrari throughout the second half of the season.
In terms of the tyres on show, Pirelli have opted for the soft, supersofts and ultrasoft tyres for use at the Circuit of the Americas. This makes sense, given that the track is not particularly abrasive but inclusive of some high lateral g-force section ands and big breaking events.
The tyre range of offer certainly offers a range of strategy choices to the teams, which is important given the nature of the track. A one-stop strategy is arguably preferable here (Hamilton won with this in 2017), but this is not necessarily as crucial as it may be on other tracks.
Like many other elements of this race, this is another great unknown that helps to distinguish Austin as one of the great F1 destinations in the modern age. Despite this, it’s hard to look beyond Hamilton as the winner given his form, ability and love of the circuit, no matter what Vettel manages to bring to the party.