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F1 Preview: 2017 United States Grand Prix

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The Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas may only have hosted the United States Grand Prix since 2012, yet it has quickly made itself a big part of Formula 1’s recent championship stories.

Results at COTA have played a crucial part in all but one of the F1 championship races – the exception being 2013 when the drivers’ title had long been settled – with the track also being the site of Lewis Hamilton’s third title win two years ago.

Hamilton arrives in the Lone Star State on the verge of taking a fourth world title, and could reclaim the crown this Sunday should results fall his way.

For a driver with such an affinity for the United States as Hamilton, clinching the title in Austin would be very significant.

This race is also a significant one for F1’s owner, Liberty Media, as its first on home soil since completing its $8 billion takeover of the sport back in January.

The United States has long been a target growth market for F1 after a patchy history. Significant progress has been made in the last five years, but seeing how Liberty plays the US GP will be of interest to those with an eye on F1’s future.

Here are the key talking points ahead of this weekend’s United States Grand Prix.

2017 United States Grand Prix – Talking Points

Will COTA be king-maker again for Hamilton?

There is a similar sense of inevitability heading to COTA this weekend as in 2015. It is not a case of if Lewis Hamilton will win the drivers’ championship, but when.

Ferrari’s remarkable capitulation in the last six weeks has seen Sebastian Vettel go from championship leader to heavy outsider, trailing Hamilton by 59 points with just 100 left to play for this season.

A 16-point swing will see Hamilton clinch a fourth title at COTA – full permutations here – meaning that next weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix is perhaps the more likely site for his coronation.

That said, on Ferrari’s recent form, losing another 16 points would hardly come as a surprise.

Silver linings for Ferrari despite recent losses

The failures that have seen Ferrari throw away a shot at both championships in 2017 will surely lead to heads rolling come the end of the season, having been the Italian marque’s best chance of silverware since 2008.

For now though, the team must do all it can to put the brakes on its collapse and bounce back at COTA, with its race pace form in Malaysia suggesting it may not be as far off Mercedes as once feared this weekend.

Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen have both said there is no track for Ferrari to fear in the closing races this season, meaning that while the titles may already be out of reach, a fighting end to the season would at least save some face.

Alas, with Mercedes very likely to wrap up the constructors’ championship this weekend, for Ferrari to have gone from pre-season favorite with the fastest car to losing the title with three races to spare is a serious failure that will take some recovering from.

Red Bull’s flying finish to continue in Austin?

Red Bull’s late-season form is traditionally pretty good, but the team has been particularly strong in recent races as it looks to build momentum before a renewed title bid in 2014.

Max Verstappen’s dominant victory in Malaysia proved the team can win races on merit and take the fight to both Mercedes and Ferrari, while Daniel Ricciardo has also been on the podium in the last two races.

For a team that was marooned in P3 for much of the season, the updates for the RB13 car have put Red Bull into the thick of the fight at the front – sadly, there is not title race for it to influence.

Nevertheless, Verstappen and Ricciardo will be pushing hard to keep the team’s good late-season form going at COTA. Four years after the team’s last win in the USA, can Red Bull hit the top step again?

Hartley gears up for shock F1 debut

2017 has been full of odd storylines in F1, but Brendon Hartley’s shock debut with Toro Rosso this weekend has to be right up there.

Seven years after being dropped from Red Bull’s junior program, Hartley will line up in the colors of the energy drink giant’s B-team in F1 after Pierre Gasly was forced to stick to his clashing Super Formula commitments in Japan.

Toro Rosso will race with a totally different line-up to two weeks ago at Suzuka, with previously-benched Daniil Kvyat also returning in place of Carlos Sainz Jr., who moves up to Renault.

Heroics cannot be expected of Hartley, who has raced with great success in the FIA World Endurance Championship with Porsche since 2014, but it will be fascinating to see how he gets on back in single-seaters.

The Land of Liberty

Liberty Media’s takeover of F1 back in January was a significant moment for the sport’s future, with a great focus being placed on the United States given the company’s American roots and the importance of the market.

F1 CEO and chairman Chase Carey has made his ambition to make each race a Superbowl-esque event clear for some time, with plans to improve the spectacle around races still in the works.

The US GP has traditionally done very well with its off-track spectacles, with last year’s Taylor Swift concert playing a huge role in breathing new life into the race after a washout in 2015. This year, Justin Timberlake and Stevie Wonder will both be performing at COTA’s amphitheater.

Another big name confirmed to be attending is Usain Bolt, who will act as the official starter for the race, while iconic boxing announcer Michael Buffer will be on-hand for the pre-race driver introductions, a new step for F1.

This weekend will also see the F1 paddock turn pink in aid of Breast Cancer Awareness month and Susan G. Komen, with more information available by clicking here.

2017 United States Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Circuit of The Americas
Corners: 20
Lap Record: Sebastian Vettel 1:39.347 (2012)
Tire Compounds: Ultra-Soft/Super-Soft/Soft
2016 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2016 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:34.999
2016 Fastest Lap: Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 1:39.877
DRS Zones: T2o to T1, T11 to T12

2017 United States Grand Prix – TV/Stream Times

NHRA: Funny Car driver J.R. Todd looks to snap slump, make history at U.S. Nationals

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In addition to being the most gratifying achievement of his NHRA drag racing career, winning the 2018 NHRA Funny Car championship was also the hardest thing J.R. Todd has ever done.

That is, until he tried to defend the title in 2019 – which has now become the hardest thing Todd has done behind the wheel.

After winning a career-best six wins en route to his title last season, Todd has had a rough campaign in the first 17 races of the current season, having earned just one win (Las Vegas) and two runner-up finishes.

In addition, he’s failed to make it out of the first round six times, and was stopped in the quarter-finals eight other times.

And as he prepares for next week’s Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in suburban Indianapolis – the biggest race of the season – the 37-year-old Todd is mired in a difficult slump. Since losing to Ron Capps in the final round at Richmond, Todd has dropped from second to eighth in the Funny Car standings, unable to get past the second round of the nine subsequent events.

That’s why Todd is hoping for a major turnaround at the U.S. Nationals, the final qualifying race for the upcoming six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

J.R. Todd (Photo: NHRA).

A massive 416 points (the equivalent of more than three wins points-wise) out of first place, Todd needs to start a big comeback if he hopes to do well in the playoffs, and the U.S. Nationals is the perfect place for him to do so. Todd comes into this year’s race having won the last two Funny Car crowns at Indy in 2017 and 2018.

If he can make it three in a row, Todd will make NHRA history. To date, only two drivers – Top Fuel greats “Big Daddy” Don Garlits and Tony Schumacher – have won three in a row at Indianapolis. But no Funny Car driver has ever done so, not John Force, Kenny Bernstein, Don Prudhomme or anyone else.

“That’s some pretty elite company right there with Big Daddy and Tony Schumacher,” Todd told NBC Sports. “Really you try not to think about things like that and just focus on the mission at hand – and that’s to win the race.

“When you do that, then you can enjoy all the accolades that come with it. I have the two trophies that I can look at every day – and it’s an awesome reminder of what we’ve done. It was a dream of mine as a kid to go there and race in the U.S. Nationals as a professional someday and to have won it is still kind of a surreal feeling.”

Todd, who lives in nearby Lawrenceburg, Indiana, wants to be the first Funny Car driver to pull off that achievement — and at his home track, to boot.

“It’s the biggest race of the year and the one that everyone wants to win,” Todd said. “To go back there and win there three years in a row would be pretty special.

“For me, it’s the race I grew up going to as a kid. I have a lot of family and friends that go there. I live five minutes from the track, so it means everything to me.”

In a sense, his situation this season is kind of deja vu for Todd. Last season, he won two races earlier in the season (Las Vegas and Houston), then went into a slump much like the one he’s currently in.

But starting with last September’s win at Indianapolis, Todd went on to win four of the final seven races of the season — including three in the playoffs — to motor on to the championship.

What makes Todd’s success at Indy all the more unique is that while he’s a long-time drag racer, he only switched to Funny Car prior to the 2017 season. That means in just two seasons, the former Top Fuel pilot has not only twice won the sport’s biggest race, but also the championship.

The team Todd races for, Kalitta Motorsports, has a history of starting to hit its stride just before the playoffs begin in Funny Car. From 2014 through 2018, the organization has won 13 Funny Car races beginning with the second-to-last regular season race at Brainerd, Minnesota through the six playoff races. That’s 13 of 40 races, roughly 33% of the races that NHRA has won.

In addition to Todd’s two U.S. Nationals wins, Team Kalitta also won the Funny Car event in 2014 with now-retired driver Alexis DeJoria.

I knew coming over to drive the DHL Toyota Camry that we would have some good opportunities to win races,” Todd said. “For whatever reason, it seems like we pick up a lot of momentum at that time of year. We’re hoping we can keep that trend going this year.”

In a sense, the U.S. Nationals – the 18th and final regular season race of the overall 24-race NHRA schedule – are to the NHRA what the Daytona 500 is to NASCAR or the Indianapolis 500 is to IndyCar.

“It sets the tone for the next six races,” Todd said of the playoffs. “The U.S. Nationals are a marathon. It’s the one race where everyone brings out their best stuff because it’s so important.  So much of that preparation then carries over into the Countdown.

“If you ask drivers that haven’t won Indy before, I think they’d trade pretty much any win for that one.”

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