US Grand Prix Preview: Hamilton’s American dream to finally become reality

Having missed out on winning a dream championship in the ultimate sporting holy grail last year, Lewis Hamilton has a chance to realise this goal 12 months later. He needs just four points this weekend to seal a sixth world championship.

It would make him only the second driver in history to claim six titles, and put him one behind the great Michael Schumacher. What’s more, for the first time in his career he is set to win the championship three years running. He would be one behind Sebastian Vettel for consecutive championships won (2010-2013) and two behind Michael Schumacher (2000-2004).

The stats are both remarkable and stunning. Hamilton is a living legend of the sport right in front of our eyes, but for him, and many others, it is not just about the numbers.

It was evident last year, when Kimi Raikkonen took the win away from Hamilton, that a moment which would have achieved hopes and dreams conceived long ago had escaped Hamilton’s grasp. It was no secret that he would have loved to claim his fifth title at what is considered to be the home of world sport, with some of the most energetic and adoring fans of not just Formula One, but of many others too. To win the championship in the US, like he did in 2015, would be another huge accolade for Hamilton, and it is something that would mean so much to him personally.

His title rival Valtteri Bottas, however, will still be full of belief that he can at least overshadow his team-mate’s inevitable title celebrations with a victory at the 5.5-kilometre-long Circuit of the Americas. While it is almost impossible for him to win the championship from here, Bottas had a positive race in Japan, winning from second on the grid. But a stunning drive from Hamilton in Mexico, out-qualifying Bottas while the Finn’s Mercedes took a huge bite out of the barrier, saw him fend off Sebastian Vettel with a mega second stint to take a well deserved win, and put himself in prime position for the championship this weekend.

2019 Mexican Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

The Mercedes cars are expected to be challenged well again by Ferrari this year. The two teams been typically evenly matched at this circuit in each of the last two seasons, but Ferrari’s advantage in power this year will leave them hopeful of a victory again as they did last year, and team principal Mattia Binotto’s plans for ‘better race management’ in the last three races of the season may aid them achieve a win in what has turned out to be another heart-breaking season for the Scuderia.

The tricky first sector will certainly help to bring the Red Bulls into play, with Alex Albon’s impressive performances seeing him prove his worth at the Austrian team. He has out-scored Verstappen since they have been team-mates, although this has been down to a few slices of misfortune for the Dutchman, as well as one or two clumsy errors. Red Bull, however, should not be expected to challenge for the win, frustrating for them after a thoroughly wasted opportunity by Verstappen in Mexico.

Coming home this weekend are Haas, but we should not expect a particularly happy home-coming for them in what has been a confusing, tiresome and dire year. Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean are really just looking forward to 2020 now, but the home crowd may just inspire a point or two from the French-Danish partnership which has been tested and strained at various different points of the season.

Though Lewis Hamilton’s partnership with race engineer Peter Bonnington will not return until Brazil, Hamilton has no intention of holding back on the title party this weekend, but Valtteri Bottas and Ferrari have no intention of seeing him stand on the top step on race day.

 

[Featured image – Ferrari Media]

Expanding to the US: How it can be properly done

Formula One’s unfulfilled dream is and has always been to expand to the USA and gain popularity in a market of 300 million people—but how can this be properly done?

Thirteen years have passed since that bizarre 2005 US Grand Prix, when Michelin’s teams decided not to race, scared of what could be the outcome of a tire exploding on the mighty Indy oval. F1 remained in the States for the next two years, but its pride had been hurt irretrievably.

F1’s journey in America has been an adventurous one, with many ups and downs along the way. It’s not so common for a country to host a Grand Prix on 13 different circuits, and it’s not a coincidence that this happened with the US.

The popularity of IndyCar and NASCAR meant F1 struggled to gain the American support it wanted. Constantly changing the venues was a way for F1 to become relevant, and earn the respect of the crowd. Some prestigious tracks have welcomed F1: Sebring, Watkins Glen, Long Beach, Indianapolis. Nothing was enough, though, to convince the fans.

But when it was announced in 2010 that F1 would have its own track in the States, the Circuit of the Americas, it marked the first step in the long journey to establishing itself on the other side of the Atlantic.

Since 2012, F1 has proved that everything is bigger in Texas. It’s not just Americans who have embraced the US Grand Prix in Austin—huge numbers of Mexican fans make the small trip into Texas to watch their heroes. Even when Formula 1 returned to Mexico City, their support at COTA didn’t deteriorate.

Nevertheless, Liberty Media wants to expand its activities in the US by adding another Grand Prix to its calendar. The proposed Miami street circuit was the chosen one, but negotiations broke down and the plan for a 2019 race was abandoned.

And that’s because while a street circuit may seem the easiest solution, it’s much more complex than it looks to get right. Building a track from scratch is a financial and commercial challenge, and that leaves the street circuit looking a more viable choice.

But designing a street layout has its own complications, given the many concerns that need to be settled with the city council and local population.

It can be done, but the biggest mistake with the Miami case was the hurry in which every party acted—besides the fact that the layout itself is a mess, if we want to be honest.

But this does not mean that F1 should abandon its expansion plan to the United States. Street circuits seem to be the perfect choice, and big cities have offered to host a second GP there, but the selection of this city is really important. Miami is one of the best candidates, plus New York, Los Angeles, even Boston or Seattle. Big cities that can draw a big crowd make headlines and have people interested in F1 genuinely, not artificially.

Apart from races, events like this weekend’s F1 Festival in Miami can act like bait to F1 fans who want to see some action. In that way, F1 can engage with its fans on another level—a level that Europeans take for granted.

The sport’s leadership should understand that the USA has nothing in common with Europe, or even Asia, in terms of marketing and promoting. Having a proper second Grand Prix, plus special festival events, are good solutions, but it will take some time for those to make a difference.

By Dimitris Bizas