Rookie watch: how have the newbies fared?

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A Formula One debut is usually labelled as being a “baptism of fire” as young drivers step up from the feeder series to challenge the very best. 2013 has seen five new drivers join the sport, all of whom have considerable racing experience, but their first two races have differed in terms of success.

Esteban Gutierrez

Gutierrez has done a solid job so far for Sauber, but nothing out of the ordinary. In Australia, he represented the team alone following Nico Hulkenberg’s fuel system failure, and he finished a good 13th ahead of Valtteri Bottas. Malaysia was a difficult weekend, and he came close to scoring his first points, only to drop off at the end. It has been a good start for the Mexican, but nothing that will worry the front runners.

Valtteri Bottas

The Bottas revolution has been stunted greatly by the Williams FW35. It is unfortunate that the Finn’s long-anticipated debut has been hindered by a troublesome car, although this could in fact make his P11 in Malaysia a huge achievement. He outraced the backmarkers and Gutierrez to finish just outside the points, but his qualifying has lacked the spark that Maldonado gave the team last season. Regardless, outpeforming his race-winning teammate in both of the opening two races shows that Bottas is certainly quick.

Giedo van der Garde

At 27, van der Garde is by far the oldest rookie on the grid, yet his experience has failed to produce any inspired performances. It is true that both he and Charles Pic are struggling with the CT-02.5 (i.e. a lot of the 2012 car is in the CT03), but the Dutch driver looks set to be racing Max Chilton for last place this season unless his fortunes change.

Max Chilton

It is essentially the same story as van der Garde for Max Chilton, but his lack of experience compared to the Caterham driver could explain this. What will be worrying Chilton’s backers is the ease with which Jules Bianchi has outpaced him, but this yields the question: is Bianchi brilliant in a poor car, or is Chilton underperforming?

Jules Bianchi

Bianchi is undoubtedly the star of the ‘class of 2013’. In two races, he has already made a bigger impression than any of the Caterham or Marussia drivers since 2010, and comparisons are already being drawn to Fernando Alonso’s debut season with Minardi in 2001. The points drought for the backmarkers could soon end courtesy of Jules Bianchi. There is no doubt this kid is special.

How Hamilton, Mercedes can clinch F1 titles at the United States GP

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Sunday’s United States Grand Prix could go down as a memorable race in Formula 1 history as both Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes bid to clinch their fourth world championships (live on NBC and NBC Sports app from 2pm ET).

Hamilton gave his chances of wrapping up the drivers’ title and re-claiming the crown he lost to Nico Rosberg in 2016 a world of good by charging to pole position on Saturday at the Circuit of The Americas.

However, with chief rival Sebastian Vettel starting second for Ferrari and a 16-point swing required, it seems likely that the title race could continue to next weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix.

Nevertheless, here are the permutations for Lewis Hamilton to win his fourth F1 world title on Sunday in Austin, Texas.

  • If Lewis Hamilton wins the race (25 points) and Sebastian Vettel finishes sixth or lower (maximum eight points), he is world champion.
  • If Hamilton finishes second (18 points), Sebastian Vettel finishes ninth or lower (maximum two points), and Valtteri Bottas does not win the race, he is world champion.

While Hamilton’s coronation seems likely to be postponed until the next race in Mexico, Mercedes looks nailed-on to wrap up its fourth consecutive constructors’ championship in Sunday’s USGP.

The German marque currently leads Ferrari by 145 points in the teams’ standings, and requires a lead of 129 after the race to clinch the crown.

As a result, a double top-four finish from Hamilton and Bottas would be enough for Mercedes to wrap up the title, regardless of how Ferrari fares.

The success would see Mercedes become just the fourth team in F1 history take four straight constructors’ titles, following Red Bull (2010 to 2013), Ferrari (1999 to 2004) and McLaren (1988 to 1991).

The United States Grand Prix is live on NBC and the NBC Sports app from 2pm ET on Sunday.