MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: United States GP

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After a three-week break, Formula 1 ventures to the United States this weekend for one of the biggest and most popular events of the season.

The Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas is a superb facility that has become a firm home for Formula 1 in the USA after just two grands prix. The third event this year is set to be one of the biggest and best yet, with a number of fan events taking place in the city across the course of the weekend – and of course, Halloween is always done in style.

With just three races to go, the 2014 F1 season is nearing its end, and the fight for the championship is becoming a little one-sided. With four wins in a row, Lewis Hamilton now enjoys a 17-point lead over teammate Nico Rosberg, with the latter failing to win a grand prix since the middle of July. His rut needs to come to an end soon if he wants any chance of following in his father’s footsteps and becoming world champion.

Ahead of the race in Austin, the MotorSportsTalk team has once again made its predictions for the grand prix weekend. Here’s what we think might go down in the Lone Star State…

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. Can anyone stop Lewis Hamilton at the moment? The answer appears to be no. Four wins in a row and looking on top of the world, the Briton is edging ever closer to his second F1 title. His record in the United States is a mightily impressive one, having lost just once. It’s hard to see Nico stopping him this weekend.

Surprising finish: Valtteri Bottas. COTA should suit Williams nicely, and Bottas nearly caused an upset in Sochi up against the flying Silver Arrows of Hamilton and Rosberg. The Finn has been one of the breakout stars of the 2014 season, and another podium finish could yet be on the cards.

Most to prove: Nico Rosberg. Essentially, does he have what it takes to be a world champion? Lewis is in the form of his life, and it will take something titanic from Nico to bring it to a halt. Now is the time to make it happen – pinning his hopes on Hamilton DNFing in Abu Dhabi isn’t good enough.

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. How often do you get a shot to win five in a row twice? He missed at his first chance this year but I think he completes it this weekend in a country he loves and goes so well at.

Surprising finish: Felipe Massa. Massa’s gone well at Austin the last two years in a less than ideal Ferrari and in a much better car this year, may be the Williams driver more likely to upend the podium over teammate Valtteri Bottas. I’d put money on either of them reaching the top three this weekend and I could see Massa doing it with a bit of luck.

Most to prove: Nico Rosberg. Down 17 in the championship and with only a ninth as his best result in Austin, must rise to the occasion. He simply cannot afford to lose any more ground in the championship… although if he does, it builds more angst over double points in Abu Dhabi.

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. If he can avoid mechanical woes, expect Hamilton to keep his current rampage going in Texas. A fifth consecutive victory – and his second career win in Austin – would be another devastating blow delivered on Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in their World Championship battle.

Surprising finish: Nico Hulkenberg. Sochi was a setback for Force India in their fight with McLaren for fifth in the Constructor’s. But while Hulkenberg finished out of the points in Russia, he’s been solid at Austin (eighth in 2012, sixth in 2013). Having been out-raced lately by teammate Sergio Perez, he’s needing a good run.

Most to prove: Nico Rosberg. Rosberg has to start pulling points off of Hamilton this weekend. And now that Mercedes has secured the Constructor’s title, the German may be more inclined to take chances on the track in order to make that happen. Keep an eye on him.

Jerry Bonkowski (@JerryBonkowski)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. It’s hard to pick against the Hamilton Express. With wins in more than half (nine) of the first 16 races, including triumphs in each of the last four, Hamilton is likely to continue to roll Sunday at the Circuit of the Americas. With two more races after the U.S. Grand Prix (Brazil on Nov. 9 and the season finale on Nov. 23 in Abu Dhabi), Hamilton can move significantly closer to clinching the championship with a win in Austin.

Surprising finish: Sebastian Vettel. Call it a gut feeling, but Vettel could very easily win for a second straight year at Austin (even though we’re picking Hamilton). Vettel looked outstanding when he won in last year’s race (while Hamilton finished a distant fourth). It definitely has not been the season that Vettel had hoped for, so any chance of redemption would be heightened with a win at Austin. Not coincidentally, it would also be Vettel’s first win of the season, if he can pull it off, and likely his best chance at victory in the three remaining races. Bottom line, we think it’ll be Vettel vs. Hamilton head-to-head all the way to the checkered flag on Sunday.

Most to prove: Nico Rosberg. Can Rosberg stop Hamilton’s championship? With just three races left, it’s a very difficult feat. But Rosberg isn’t about to pull over and let Hamilton coast to the championship, either. He’ll give his Mercedes teammate everything he can handle. There’s nothing like putting pressure on the guy who’s leading the championship chase, and hoping he makes a costly mistake.

NBC/NBCSN SCHEDULE FROM UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX

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

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, 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, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had 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 inevitably will 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 chief 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.