F1 Grand Prix of USA - Practice

FP2: View from the ground in Austin

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Rather than doing your traditional “Sebastian Vettel was fastest” post-session report – my colleague Luke Smith has that covered – I spent most of the 90-minute second free practice session roaming the grounds here at Circuit of the Americas to get a gauge on the atmosphere and the sensory overload of Formula One here at the circuit. A few thoughts to follow:

SPEED AND BRAKING

Although I’ve followed Formula One since the mid-1990s, I’ve only been to one prior Grand Prix on site, and that was eight years ago. So of all the things that you witness on the ground, the speed and transition to braking has to be the most surreal.

Standing at the end of the longest straight on the circuit, where Lewis Hamilton made his race-winning, albeit DRS-assisted pass on Sebastian Vettel last year, your jaw just drops as the cars decelerate from, according to Brembo, north of 190 mph down to 55 in 125 meters. The stopping power on an F1 chassis is just incredible – especially compared to an IndyCar, even though it also has carbon brakes.

The speed drop looks less severe as the cars head up the hill into Turn 1, aided by the huge elevation change that helps to slow the cars down. More intriguing there is the launch out of Turn 1 into Turn 2, as the steep downhill drop is an underrated part of this course.

DIRECTION CHANGE

I was here for the FIA World Endurance Championship and American Le Mans Series sports car doubleheader weekend in September as just a fan, and through the esses, the Audi, Toyota and HPD prototypes inhaling the GT cars were also surreal to watch. They looked like sharks chasing goldfish if I’m honest, to give you an idea of the speed differential.

Yet watching an F1 car go through the same section two months later, the prototypes look the smaller fish from an optics standpoint. An F1 car hits its turn-in points with laser precision, and it doesn’t even look real how fast the car changes directions. The fans obviously noticed too – I’d reckon there were more in the Turns 2 to 7 section just today than there were in total on Friday in September.

ELEVATION

I touched on this briefly in the first bit but yes, the climb up Turn 1 and the fall back down Turn 2 is more severe in person than it appears on television. Other areas of the track – the tail end of the esses, the dip through the back straight and the dive down from Turns 19 to 20 are also sizeable, but not as much as the first two corners. The elevation poses a true challenge for engineers on the pit wall and drivers alike as they negotiate the 3.4-mile circuit.

FAN FERVOR

There’s a diverse mix of fans on the ground, as you’d expect. Track president Jason Dial told me yesterday to expect fans from all 50 states and 40-plus countries on hand for the race. There’s a multicolored festival of team hats, humorous anti-other-championships shirts (the “BORING” signage over the NASCAR logo colors is a classic) and a genuine buzz in the air.

If there were ticket issues for fans, it didn’t appear as such from the turnout on the ground today. You’d have to think there was an easy 60,000 or so judging by the grandstands in Turns 1, 4, 11, and 15 plus all the ones on the ground.

CELEBRITY PRESENCE

It wouldn’t be America without some level of celebrity. NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton – whose “Buxton’s Big Time Bash” last night was a rousing success to raise money for Meals on Wheels – spoke with former Friends star Matt LeBlanc in the paddock today. There’s likely going to be more of these vignettes to come.

FIA confirms 2017 to 2020 set of engine regulations

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 29: Daniil Kvyat of Russia driving the (26) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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The FIA has confirmed the regulations governing the 2017 to 2020 power units, following an agreement reached between the governing body, the four power unit manufacturers and the Commercial Rights Holder.

With the agreement reached by the World Motor Sport Council, these regulations will be included in the Technical and Sporting Regulations starting in 2017 and 2018.

Cost cutting is the primary objective of the new regs, although it’s one of four key areas outlined within the regulations. The others are supply, performance convergence and sound.

The cost cutting element first: in 2017, the power unit price for customer teams will be reduced by €1 million per season compared to 2016.

That’s the first step towards an even further reduction in 2018, with the annual supply cost to be reduced by a further €3 million.

The regulations seek to reduce the number of power units used per driver per season. Currently, the allowed number is four, with penalties coming into play if or when drivers exceed that number at a given point.

Supply is the next objective outline, with the regulations stating that the homologation will include an “obligation to supply” if a team were to face an absence of supply.

This hasn’t been an issue this year but could have propped up had Red Bull not got its own deal sorted. The key difference in phrasing is here is “obligation” and not “disagreement with supply.” The team has extended with its rebadged TAG Heuer (nee Renault) engines this year.

When we get to performance convergence, the token system for upgrades will be removed for 2017. Previously, each manufacturer had been allowed a certain number over the course of the year.

Finally on the sound component, the statement from the FIA reads: “Manufacturers are currently conducting a promising research programme into further improving the sound of the current power units, with the aim of implementation by 2018 at the latest.”

The 1.6L V6 turbos introduced in 2014 came under a fair bit of scrutiny for being quieter than the previous generation 2.4L V8s normally aspirated engines that ran through 2013. But there have been changes in pitch this year in particular and they’re on their way to being a more pleasing sound – all depends on the ear of course.

The 2017 regulations have been a hot topic this weekend in Sochi as the regulations were meant to be sorted in February, but delayed until the end of April. Figure there should be more to come with regards to the technical regulations in the coming days, if not hours.

Alexander Rossi returns to Manor F1 duties in Sochi

Alexander Rossi (USA) Manor Racing Rerserve Driver.
29.10.2016. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 4, Russian Grand Prix, Sochi Autodrom, Sochi, Russia, Practice Day.
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Alexander Rossi made his first appearance of the year in the Formula 1 paddock on Thursday as he returned to work with Manor Racing in Sochi.

Rossi raced for Manor in five grands prix towards the end of 2015, but was dropped to make way for an all-new line-up of Rio Haryanto and Pascal Wehrlein.

Rossi sought refuge in IndyCar, taking the no. 98 Andretti Autosport/Bryan Herta Autosport joint entry ahead of the first race of the season in St. Petersburg.

However, it was announced shortly after that Rossi would also be joining Manor for a third time in the role of reserve driver, offering support on free weekends to the race team.

Despite racing at Barber last weekend and with the hectic month of May schedule at Indianapolis Motor Speedway about to begin, Rossi has managed to make his way over to Sochi for the Russian Grand Prix weekend.

Rosberg’s early championship lead ‘a big deal’ to Hamilton

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 29: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton is refusing to play down the significance of Nico Rosberg’s early lead at the top of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship in 2016, calling his 36-point advantage “a big deal”.

Hamilton entered 2016 looking to end Rosberg’s run of three straight victories to close out the 2015 season, only for the German to extend his streak to six by winning the opening three rounds of the year.

Hamilton has suffered a messy start to the season, with incidents in Bahrain and China plus a poor start in Australia limiting him to just 39 points from the first three races.

Rosberg has downplayed the significance of his early lead with 18 rounds still remaining in the season, but Hamilton believes it is important.

“For me that is a big deal,” Hamilton told the official F1 website.

“36 points are a lot of points. It is a race and a bit.

“But there is a flip side to this as well: it is an average of two points per race, so it is possible to make up. As long as it is not impossible, anything is possible.

“I have been racing for over 23 years so I have had a lot of challenges before, and some of them were probably even bigger. From the get go, the first year of racing, the first championship that I have battled in, to the first one I have lost.”

Mercedes worked on its start procedure after poor getaways in the first two races, but Hamilton is happy with his last jump off the line in China – although he did start from 22nd after an engine issue in qualifying.

“I don’t think that I need to do any more [work on starts] now,” Hamilton said.

“I think I had the best start of the entire grid at the last race. We have been working of course on that issue.

“The last two races I have been driving with a loss of performance of nearly one second per race and been trying to climb a mountain with that, which was not so easy.

“I would like to have a good and clean weekend this race – and apply a good start.”

Hamilton will be looking to end Rosberg’s run of victories in Russia this weekend, with all of the action from Sochi being broadcast across CNBC, NBCSN and Live Extra.

Hamilton back on top in Russia FP2

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 29: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton topped the charts during second free practice for this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix, the first time he’s led a session since taking pole in Q3 for the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Hamilton posted his best time of the session early at 1:37.583 in the Mercedes W07, which was six tenths and change up on Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.

Vettel’s session was halted early with an electronics issue, which brought out a virtual safety car period with just under an hour left in the 90-minute session. Both Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen are using a new internal combustion engine this weekend.

Nico Rosberg was a bit further off in third at 0.867 of a second back, before the rest of the session settled into the usual longer runs.

Romain Grosjean had a spin in the Haas but resumed, while Manor had a nightmare session. Both Pascal Wehrlein and Rio Haryanto spun and Wehrlein parked on the side of the road right at the checkered flag, having lost power.

The hope is that the race evolves into something more than a one-stopper; Pirelli’s medium compounds are rare this weekend with a majority of the field running longest on the soft compound and also using the supersoft as the sofest compound.

FP3 runs at 5 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Live Extra tomorrow morning, before LIVE qualifying airs on CNBC from 8 a.m. ET tomorrow.

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