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Preview and predictions: United States GP - F1 cars blaze in the land of Texan Cowboys


We preview this weekend's United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

United States F1 Grand Prix Circuit of The Americas
The uphill Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas promises a good show this weekend

The 2015 Formula Season has been both interesting and exciting given the utter dominance of Mercedes right from the word go. Lewis Hamilton's commanding wins, totaling 9 wherein his triumph at Sochi, took him past evergreen legend Senna's tally of 41 race wins sees him tied to four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel's record of 42 wins.

But despite Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari's late fightback that helped the Maranello-based outfit grab 3 wins along with teammate Kimi Raikkonen's impressive showing at Bahrain, Singapore and a late awakening post Monza, it has been Mercedes' season, where Rosberg and Vettel have had to contend with the spoils.

With a superior car with better straight line speed and better maneuverability, the hybrid engine of Hamilton and Rosberg's Mercedes have exhausted the hopes of their closest rivals' Ferrari and the lesser threatening Williams and Red Bull cars.

The 2015 season is at its closing stages and with the constructor's title sitting pretty on Mercedes' crown yet again, Lewis Hamilton seems to be in blazing form to claim his third world title.

A Hamilton-Mercedes win at the Circuit of the Americas in Texas at Austin and it may all be over for rivals Ferrari who are still working hard to make the maximum of what's left.  With 4 races to go, although the fortune of this season is all but decided, the excitement of competing on a completely different terrain and under variable conditions hitherto less experienced at Asia or Europe is a leveler of sorts.

We take a look at some interesting facets of the United States Grand Prix and decode the importance and excitement of racing at the "cowboy" territory.

The romance between Europe and F1

Usually when one thinks of Formula One racing, one instantly thinks of Europe and it is quite impossible not to relate the continent to the pinnacle of motor-racing.

But if Europe with its amazing ensemble of breathtakingly beautiful and utterly competitive circuits of Monza, Spa-Francorchamps, Silverstone, Hungary, Catalunya, Sochi and Monaco engineers a rush of excitement and competitiveness to F1, then with the American grand prix at Austin, Texas, the only American circuit featuring in the calendar year, the level of excitement of competing and following the sport reaches a different level altogether.

When F1 dons the cowboy hat each year

In the dry arid terrain of a hot Texas that shines ever so brightly under the bright sun, drivers arriving each year around the same time with either 3 or 4 more races to go before a season folds up- yearn to derive the maximum out of their cars. In a contest that is as uplifting in its visual delight as it is engaging given the challenge the 61 laps mount on the world's best driving talents, the winner so far hasn't necessarily been the one who grabs the pole.

Since being added to the F1 calendar year in 2012, we have witnessed 3 racing spectacles thus far of which Hamilton, on the verge of clinching his third overall world championship title, has won 2 impressive battles here in America.

Rosberg, who was last year's polesitter, failed to maximize his advantage and Hamilton made easy pickings of his teammate. Though Rosberg has all the makings of a world class driver having recorded some memorable back to back wins ever since he came of age in the  2014 season, he has been unable to capitalise on it.

It is quite a misnomer to think that Formula One racing would be complete with the round of the races in Europe or in Australia and Asia. While each of the 18 races scattered around the globe at some of the most beautiful and uniquely challenging circuits inspire awe, it is here in the United States that Formula One takes the celebrity plunge each year.

With the starry presence of someone special turning up to witness the battle of nerves and speed each year from Hollywood adds to the unique appeal of F1 here in the West, it is the dynamic tussle unfolding on race-day between the main threat to all drivers and those who are considered the dark sheep that keeps fans to the edge of their seats.

While Hamilton succeeding here at Texas won't exactly make for a surprise given the kind of form he has been in through the season, one cannot and should not take Ferrari lightly.

It is Vettel who holds the lap record at the US GP during his dominant win with Red Bull in 2012. He may want to go faster than his current record of 1:39: 347 seconds, though. 

Even Williams, who have turnedup a few surprises in the form of Massa at Monza, Bottas finishing 3rd  in Canada and a near-podium finish in Spain and Bahrain may just have some tricks up their sleeve to surprise the Ferrari duo.

A bit about the track

The Circuit of the Americas (COTA), officially opened in October 2012 by the 1978 World Champion Mario Andretti is spread around a track layout of 5.5. Kilometer, that’s roughly 3.4 miles. The 20 turn track has drawn the design elements from some of the best circuits in Formula One racing. The natural topgraphy of the race-track boasts of great elevation changes of up to 40 metres. The Hairpin, located on turn one offers jaw dropping excitement where drivers enforced with with significant underbreaking of their cars attempt their best, if not succeed to pass competitors. 

Regarded as the signature “picture perfect” part of the circuit, the steep uphill run into turn one is one of the finest racing spectacles of the two and half hour racing competition. One can see a hint of Silverstone’s famous high speed corners- Maggotta/Becketts at turn 3 to turn 6 out here at Wandering Creek, at Austin. Fans of famous German race track at Hockenheim can see a fabulous imprint of the German track’s stadium section at COTA’s Turns 12 through 15. 

Accomodating as many as 1,20,000 fans in full strength, the Circuit of the America’s is only of the genuinly quick and rigorous tracks in the F1 calendar year. It offers the delight of both, seeing drivers concede minimalistic errors whislt attempting to overtake on it’s high speed corners and the visual spectacle of seeing blazingly fast racing cars compete to triumph in an ultimate test of grit and resolve. 

What to expect on race day

With Rosberg clearly not seeming to be his usual self like his dominant performances earlier at Australia, Monaco and Austria, one can expect either a clear Vettel versus Hamilton show on Sunday or a great tussle between Raikkonen and Bottas who may want to once again lock horns, only this time with more safety and clarity of purpose which the former clearly lacked in Sochi at the recently concluded Russian Grand Prix.

The final lap incident between Raikkonen and Bottas which resulted in the Iceman being handed a 30 second penalty cut short his hopes to finish 4th. Worst, he only rubbed salt in Bottas' wounds, as the younger Finn looked set for a podium finish, having overtaken Force India's Sergio Perez in the penultimate lap.

On the other hand, Red Bull drivers Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo will be looking to earn some valuable points at Texas, where they have barely impressed fans and their teams.

Having opened in 2012 on October 21, this is the 3rd anniversary of the US Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas [it was previously held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.]

The 56-lap contest, marked by 20 turns and tremendous scope for picking up straight-line speed, may not be as easy as it looks. The Williams may just stack up blazing speed as their arch rivals Ferrari who may in turn look to squeeze past Mercedes at every given possibility.

The circuit where Keanu Reeves visited last year to support his favourite team, Infiniti Red Bull Racing, has also seen Tom Cruise cruising up in his very first attempt at driving the Red Bull car, just days before the circuit officially opened for fans and for motorsport.

But on race-day we will have some of the finest and quickest talents in the world gearing up for some fun. Who will be the winner in America's great gun-slinging equivalent of a racing fest, buckle up and sit down to know more. 

Qualifying will flag off at 12:30 a.m. IST on Sunday, with the race 12:30 a.m. Monday morning.

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