Written by Marcus Woodhouse, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
As we near the end of yet another intriguing Formula One season, the teams will fly out to the Circuit Of The Americas (COTA) in Austin, rested and recovered after the drama of the Japanese Grand Prix last time out. With the drivers’ title wrapped up, the focus now switches to the Constructors’ title, with Red Bull on the brink of securing that too. In fact, they need to score only 26 points (e.g. one driver winning and getting the fastest lap, or both drivers finishing third and fifth, with either driver getting the fastest lap) to confirm their 2022 championship double and compound Ferrari’s misery, after such a strong start from the Prancing Horse.
Coming in as the fourth newest current Formula 1 circuit, COTA was opened in 2012, and has brought in record attendance ever since. Approximately 400,000 people attended the 2021 US Grand Prix, the largest number recorded for an F1 weekend in North America. During the circuit’s inaugural race, over 100,000 were there to witness Lewis Hamilton’s last- ever win in a McLaren, before his career-defining switch to Mercedes the following year. Although the Brit is the most successful driver here by some margin, having taken five wins from nine outings, he hasn’t tasted victory at Austin since 2017, as Kimi Raikkonen took his final F1 win in 2018, Valtteri Bottas edged him in 2019, and Max Verstappen came out on top in 2021, after the 2020 edition was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The track is often likened to a roller-coaster, due to its dramatic elevation changes, most notably the run up to turn one, while the widening of corners to encourage different racing lines into the corners, have proved beneficial for overtaking. Another defining trait of the circuit is that some corners have been inspired by vastly successful and iconic corners from the rest of the calendar, which gives the track a sense of familiarity, while remaining challenging and physically demanding at the same time. Upon its introduction to the calendar in 2012, it was one of the few circuits to go anti-clockwise, leading to increased strain on drivers, who were used to driving the other way round a racetrack. All in all, COTA has hosted some epic races for its short lifetime.
This time last year, for example, we were fortunate enough to witness a magnificent duel between the two championship rivals Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton. Despite taking the lead off the five red lights, Hamilton was outdone in the first round of pit stops by Verstappen and his team, but the race was far from over. He once again went long, before pitting to rejoin the circuit 8.8s behind Verstappen on fresher tyres, with around 20 laps still to go. Verstappen was driving his heart out, but could do nothing to prevent the gap between them from gradually ebbing away. There were less than two seconds between them for the last five laps, and Hamilton had made it into DRS (Drag Reduction System) range on the last lap, but the Dutchman just about held off the Briton to take an impressive win, one that eventually proved vital in claiming his maiden F1 world championship.
The Japanese Grand Prix two weeks ago was nothing short of chaotic. Rain delays led to a shortened race, which included another Verstappen masterclass, a dramatic battle between Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez for second place, and a mega battle between Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso that culminated in a photo finish. Controversially, a recovery vehicle was deployed on track as the cars were still driving around, in very similar conditions to those present during Jules Bianchi’s fatal accident at the same circuit eight years ago, which sparked outrage among fans and drivers alike. Finally, Verstappen was crowned champion after a post-race penalty for Leclerc, despite widespread confusion as to whether he was actually champion or not. The Dutch Lion has very much bossed this year, capitalising on the many errors of his nearest competitors, and often being a class ahead of the rest of the grid.
All in all, excitement is rapidly ramping up for the start of the US Grand Prix, and we certainly can’t wait to see all the action unfold. Will Red Bull take its fifth constructors’ title, or can Ferrari delay their celebrations for even just a singular race? Can Hamilton even return to winning ways in one of his favourite hunting grounds, or will the sheer pace of Red Bull be too much for him? We will find out on Sunday.