2014 United States Grand Prix Preview

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After a three-week break following the Russian Grand Prix, Formula 1 heads to Austin this weekend for one of the biggest race weekends of the season: the United States Grand Prix.

Since returning to the calendar in 2012, the event has been an unmitigated success, welcoming huge crowds and becoming one of the most popular races on the calendar among the F1 community and the paddock faithful.

This year’s race will be run under a cloud following Jules Bianchi’s accident and the recent demise of both Caterham and Marussia, but the show must go on. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg will continue to fight for this year’s world championship, with a 17-point gap making the race for the title quite one-sided at the moment. Of course, that could all change this weekend in Austin.

Here’s our complete preview of the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas.

2014 United States Grand Prix – Talking Points

Lewis chases a high-five in the USA

America has been a very happy hunting ground for Lewis Hamilton in the past. The Briton has lost just once, winning the final race at Indy in 2007 and the first event at COTA in 2012. This year, he has the best car on the grid underneath him, and appears to be in the form of his life, winning the past four grands prix. With Rosberg rattled, Lewis can seek a knock-out blow in Austin that could give him a healthy breathing room of 24 points at the top of the championship.

The grid may be two light, yet the show must continue

Caterham and Marussia will both not be racing in the United States this weekend after encountering economic difficulties since the last race in Russia. As a result, just 18 cars will line up on the grid in Austin. Will it be a repeat of Indy ’05? No. However, one similarity is there: once again, this is a problem that is a result of the selfish interests of the teams in Formula 1.

The FIA interestingly issued a statement earlier today saying that it felt its fears about cost control made public at the beginning of the year were truer than ever, and that it would be “in favor of any initiative that will help reduce costs in order to ensure the survival of the existing grid and attract potential new entrants” – basically, ‘we told you so’.

Vettel and Alonso remain coy

If you were hoping that either Sebastian Vettel or Fernando Alonso would make their futures known in Austin, prepare to be disappointed. Both drivers look to be on the move for 2015, and their moves appear to be simple: Vettel to Ferrari, Alonso to McLaren, right?

One would imagine that this is how things will end up, but across the United States GP weekend, the intrigue is set to continue. Both drivers will be gunning to complete the podium behind the Mercedes drivers, but with Williams looking in particularly good stead, they may be left fighting over fifth and sixth place – hardly the stuff of champions.

The race for points at Sauber

With Marussia and Caterham out of the equation, Sauber will be breathing a sigh of relief as it has no chance of being upstaged this weekend by the backmarkers as we saw in Monaco earlier this year. Scoring in Austin would be particularly timely for the team given the fact that it ranks behind Marussia with not a single point to its name. It would be all the more timely given that Esteban Gutierrez will be racing in front of many of his home fans who have made the trip over from Mexico for the weekend. As pressure builds on the Swiss team, breaking its duck in Austin would be a huge result.

Cracking the US market

For the first time, the V6 turbos will be racing in the United States in front of the American audience, meaning that many will be hearing the new sound of the cars in person for the very first time. Like many, they could end up disappointed and compare the sound to that of a vacuum cleaner, but this is unlikely to be much of a dent on the booming growth that the sport is enjoying in the United States at the moment.

United States GP – Facts and Figures

Track: Circuit of The Americas
Laps: 56
Corners: 20
Lap Record: Sebastian Vettel 1:39.347 (2012)
Tire Compounds: Soft (Option); Medium (Prime)
2013 Winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
2013 Pole Position: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 1:36.338
2013 Fastest Lap: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 1:39.856
DRS Zones: Main Straight (T20 to T1); T11 to T12

NBC/NBCSN SCHEDULE FROM UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.