The purpose-built Circuit of The Americas heralds Formula One's latest attempt to establish itself in the USA. While question marks remain as to whether the sport will – or even can – put down firm roots in a country that has yet to prove it really 'gets' F1, there are no such doubts about the circuit on which Formula One embarks upon the penultimate race of the 2012 season – a tantalising 20-turn facility incorporating clones of some of the best sections of racetrack on the calendar, which should dispel the notion that all Hermann Tilke-designed tracks produce boring races.
The Austin circuit has had drivers drooling at the prospect of tackling its impressive-looking layout ever since it was revealed last year. Turn 1 resembles the steep climb into the first corner in Austria, albeit the American version turns left instead of right. From there it's a short blast down the hill into Turns 3,4 and 5 which are modelled on the Maggotts-Becketts section at Silverstone.
A tight left-hander at Turn 11 opens out onto the long back straight, where the DRS zone is expected to be placed for Sunday's race. This leads into an area mirroring the stadium section at Hockenheim, which then flows directly into a right-handed version of Turn 8 at Istanbul Park. Two 90-degree left-handers close out the lap and the 40-metre climb to Turn 1 starts all over again just after the pit exit.
As Austin is a new circuit teams are relying heavily on simulator data from which a hyper-accurate model of the track can be constructed digitally and then driven in order to learn the circuit and start on a base setup. These can be prone to mistakes though, such as when Silverstone was remodelled for the 2010 race. Drivers were finding a large bump in the racetrack which didn't show on their simulator model, and it transpired that in the intervening period, diggers used to remodel the infield section had driven across the track at the same point, softening the track surface and creating a bump where none previously existed.
The teams will arrive with a pretty good idea of the setup they will use, honing it further in Friday's free practice sessions. There will be an exceptional amount of track evolution given that there is no rubber at all on the surface – indeed the final layer of tarmac was only laid in September, so expect to see lap times approaching 10 seconds faster from the start of practice to the finish of qualifying.
Race not held.
Tyre wear: 7/10
Pirelli are into the unknown here and as such have understandably gone conservative with their tyre choices, bringing the medium (white) and hard (silver) tyres to America. This will combat the effect of lower grip but could well mean a one-stop race for most drivers.
There are several sections which will really reward an aerodynamically-efficient car, principally the high-speed direction changes of Turns 3, 4 and 5, and the long double-apex right-hander at Turn 16. Cars quick here will record the best times.
Average speed: 7/10
After Turn 2 it doesn't look as if the cars will drop below fourth until they arrive in the braking zone for the tight left-hander at Turn 11. A series of tighter 90+ degree turns towards the end of the lap mean the final sector will be slower, and possibly favour the McLarens, particularly Lewis Hamilton.
Track difficulty: 9/10
A high rating because it is brand new, and despite all the simulation no-one truly knows what the Circuit of The Americas is going to be like to drive until they get out there. With several technical sections requiring a responsive front end and well-planted rear, it will be imperative to nail the car setup early.
A hard one to call until we see cars racing together, but at first glance there appear to be only two prime opportunities to pass – into Turn 12 at the end of the back straight, and up the hill into Turn 1. Turn 11 is a possibility but it relies on cars being able to stay close through the high-speed corners preceding the run-up to it.
It should be brilliant – the circuit appears to have everything, and with the added spice of a hotly-contested title the track could see a champion crowned on its debut. Away from the track, Austin is a great location. Its proximity to the border means thousands of South American fans will flock to the track, and in the nearby towns there is plenty of good food, bars live music and a relaxed atmosphere.
Venue Circuit of The Americas, Austin (Texas)
Lap record n/a
2011 Winner n/a
US GP History (only races held as part of the Formula One World Championship are included):
Watkins Glen 1961-1980
Stats from Mercedes AMG Petronas
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