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]

IndyCar COTA Report: Herta becomes youngest ever IndyCar race winner

Rookie Colton Herta now holds the title of youngest IndyCar race winner of all time, at the age of 18, after winning the inaugural IndyCar race at the Circuit of the Americas. Herta held off 2017 champion Josef Newgarden to take the win, while pole-sitter Will Power’s race unravelled after Felix Rosenqvist and James Hinchcliffe came together.

Herta qualified in a remarkable fourth place, making him top rookie and giving him a chance at challenging for his first podium, in what was only his third race. The Harding Steinbrenner driver passed Ryan Hunter-Reay on the first lap to take third place, a position which he held for the majority of the race. He briefly passed Alexander Rossi for second but was then shuffled back to third during the stops and stayed there until the race was turned on its head at the final stops.

Herta pitted earlier than leaders Power and Rossi, taking the lead when Rosenqvist and Hinchcliffe caused the race’s only caution before Power and Rossi had stopped. Herta has proved all the doubters wrong in a race where he thought the podium was as good as it was going to get.

Credit: Joe Skibinski/IndyCar

Power had not put a foot wrong all weekend and had led all the laps up until the fateful final stops. Both him and Rossi were taking a risk by staying out in what is known as the ‘danger zone’, where a caution can ruin your race, and the gamble backfired. They both pitted during the caution and dropped back through the field – but Power never re-joined the race.

The Penske driver couldn’t pull away from his pit box and, despite the best efforts of the #12 crew, he was unable to get the car going, with what was presumed to be a driveshaft issue. As for Rossi, well he did get back into the race and, after some signature Rossi overtakes and saves, he came home in ninth, which was a good recovery but not what he was hoping for.

Unlike Power and Rossi, Newgarden and Hunter-Reay both benefitted massively from the timing of the caution and were shuffled up the order, despite being off the pace of the leaders all day. After fairly quiet and distant races, the pair filled out the final two spots on the podium, though they were unable to challenge Herta for the win.

Graham Rahal, Sebastien Bourdais and Marco Andretti also all lucked in with the caution and finished fourth, fifth and sixth respectively. None of them had a good time in qualifying and it was looking to be an unremarkable race for the trio, but their luck finally turned, and they scored some of the best results any of them have seen in a long while.

Credit: Joe Skibinski/IndyCar

Andretti’s race very nearly unravelled when Takuma Sato got a bit too close for comfort, but both drivers got away with it and finished the race. Sato came home in seventh after just getting past rookie Patricio O’Ward on the final lap. O’Ward’s race looked like it would end in something higher than eighth at certain points in the race, but a slow stop at the second round of stops hampered his progress, before he then struggled at the end of his last stint, losing two spots in the last ten laps.

Track limits, and the complete lack of enforcement of them, proved to be quite the talking point of the weekend and played a significant role in causing the race’s only caution. Rosenqvist and Hinchcliffe had been fighting in a group for a few laps after their third stops and both went very wide in the small straight between Turns 19 and 20. Rosenqvist went to turn back onto the track sooner than Hinchcliffe and they collided, sending the Swede into the wall just before pit entry and leaving the Canadian with a broken front wing and puncture. No action was taken by race direction, but the collision had huge consequences for the whole field due to the timing of it.

Reigning champion Scott Dixon was one of the drivers who fell foul of this, though he had struggled with pace all race – as had Chip Ganassi teammate Rosenqvist. Dixon was up to as high as third at one point, but ultimately came home in a rather disappointing thirteenth, a result that will do nothing to help his title defence.

That concludes what was a very eventful and surprising first race at COTA for IndyCar with the series next in action at Barber Motorsports Park on April 7.

Full Race Results:

  1. Colton Herta (R)
  2. Josef Newgarden
  3. Ryan Hunter-Reay
  4. Graham Rahal
  5. Sebastien Bourdais
  6. Marco Andretti
  7. Takuma Sato
  8. Patricio O’Ward (R)
  9. Alexander Rossi
  10. Jack Harvey
  11. Spencer Pigot
  12. Tony Kanaan
  13. Scott Dixon
  14. Ed Jones
  15. Marcus Ericsson (R)
  16. James Hinchcliffe
  17. Matheus Leist
  18. Kyle Kaiser (R)
  19. Simon Pagenaud
  20. Santino Ferrucci (R)
  21. Max Chilton
  22. Zach Veach
  23. Felix Rosenqvist

DNF – Will Power (driveshaft)

Championship Top 5:

  1. Josef Newgarden
  2. Colton Herta (R)
  3. Scott Dixon
  4. Alexander Rossi
  5. Graham Rahal

Featured Image Credit: Chris Jones/IndyCar

IndyCar COTA Preview

For round two of the IndyCar season, the series is heading to Austin, Texas for their only completely new track of the year. This new addition is F1 and MotoGP venue the Circuit of the Americas (COTA), a track on which only a handful drivers on the current IndyCar grid have raced at.

Josef Newgarden leads the championship going into the second round of the season by virtue of winning the first race at St Petersburg. The 2017 champion’s win was a relatively straight-forward one, with Newgarden dominating the race after the second round of pit stops. Reigning champion Scott Dixon could only manage second place, as he embarks on a challenge to defend his title for the first time in his IndyCar career.

Credit: Chris Owens/IndyCar

Ed Jones has been cleared to race at COTA despite breaking his finger in a crash with Matheus Leist at St Pete, with the latter uninjured and also racing in Austin.

Since St Pete, Dixon, Alexander Rossi, Simon Pagenaud, Sebastien Bourdais and Colton Herta have all been out to Sebring, racing in the IMSA 12-hour race at the famous venue, though only Bourdais managed to bring home a trophy.

The first IndyCar race at COTA is an exciting event for all involved, and it has been highly anticipated for a number of years, even before it was officially confirmed to be on the 2019 calendar. Road course rules apply to COTA so qualifying will be the same as it was in St Pete with the grid split into two groups of twelve, based on practice times, and the fastest six from each then fighting for places in the Fast Six.

The driver with the most experience around COTA is by far and away Marcus Ericsson who, despite being one of the newest drivers to IndyCar, has competed at the track for the last five years in F1. Rossi also raced at COTA back in 2015 during his very brief spell in F1 and a selection of the other drivers have competed in an IMSA race or two at the track. Generally speaking, it is not a track that a lot of drivers have much experience on, meaning it should be a fairly level playing field throughout.

Credit: Chris Ownes/IndyCar

The grid is broadly the same as it was at St Pete with only three notable differences. Reigning Indy Lights champion Patricio O’Ward takes over from Charlie Kimball in the #23 Carlin for his first race of the season, after his Harding deal fell through earlier in the year. Kyle Kaiser and Juncos are making their first appearance for 2019 in what is their only confirmed race for this season, so far at least. The only other change is the omission of Ben Hanley and DragonSpeed, who will return to the grid next round at Barber Motorsports Park.

There is no form book for this track, so any predictions on who will go well here are merely educated guesses. At St Pete, Honda clearly had some reliability issues and they’ve been very quiet about them since, with no notion as to whether they’ve actually found what the problems were. Based on the form of one race, Chevrolet seems to have the upper hand, but that could all change at COTA. All drivers will be hoping for a good race in Austin, but only time will tell who will shine and who will struggle.

NBC is broadcasting the race in the US while in the UK it will be on Sky Sports F1 again, though this time hopefully with fewer coverage breakups and adverts! Indy Lights are the only of the three Road to Indy series racing at COTA with their two races held on Saturday and Sunday. The times you’ll need to watch the action this weekend are as follows…

March 22

Practice 1 – 11:15am (EDT) / 3:15pm (GMT)
Practice 2 – 3:05pm / 7:05pm
Practice Warmup – 4:10pm / 8:10pm

March 23

Practice 3 – 11:00am / 3:00pm
Qualifying – 3:00pm / 7:00pm

March 24

Race – 1:30pm / 5:30pm

Entry List:

# Driver Team
2 Josef Newgarden Team Penske
4 Matheus Leist AJ Foyt Racing
5 James Hinchcliffe Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
7 Marcus Ericsson (R) Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
9 Scott Dixon Chip Ganassi Racing
10 Felix Rosenqvist (R) Chip Ganassi Racing
12 Will Power Team Penske
14 Tony Kanaan AJ Foyt Racing
15 Graham Rahal Rahal Letterman Lanigan
18 Sebastien Bourdais Dale Coyne Racing
19 Santino Ferrucci (R) Dale Coyne Racing
20 Ed Jones Ed Carpenter Racing
21 Spencer Pigot Ed Carpenter Racing
22 Simon Pagenaud Team Penske
23 Patricio O’Ward (R) Carlin
26 Zach Veach Andretti Autosport
27 Alexander Rossi Andretti Autosport
28 Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti Autosport
30 Takuma Sato Rahal Letterman Lanigan
32 Kyle Kaiser Juncos Racing
59 Max Chilton Carlin
60 Jack Harvey Meyer Shank Racing/Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
88 Colton Herta (R) Harding Steinbrenner
98 Marco Andretti Andretti Autosport

Featured Image Credit: Stephen King/IndyCar

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

CoTA Added To 2018 WRX Calendar

The FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy will have its first US event in 2018. Championship rights holder IMG has agreed a five-year deal with Circuit of the Americas (COTA) at Austin, Texas.  World RX will make its debut in the United States of America on the weekend of 29-30 September 2018 as part of a festival weekend.

The USA is a key territory for World RX teams, manufacturers and sponsors and this latest news is in line with the World Championship’s continued growth.  The 2018 calendar will feature nine European rounds, Canada, the USA and South Africa.

World RX Managing Director for IMG, Paul Bellamy, commented:

“The United States of America has been on our radar since the World Championship began in 2014 but we were determined to wait for the right opportunity. We have been in discussion with a number of venues across the USA but COTA shared our vision for the World Championship and can deliver a key objective of building a first-class rallycross facility. With IMG’s strong presence throughout the US we are confident that the COTA World RX event will be a huge success.”

Bellamy added:

“Other elements of the weekend that we are working on include music, food festivals and action sports – allowing fans from a variety of backgrounds to attend and enjoy an action-packed weekend in the “live music capital of the world”.  The track that we are constructing will be in the stadium area on part of the F1 circuit between turns 12 and 15 – a natural amphitheatre that will enable fans to see the whole track from their seat.”

COTA Chair Bobby Epstein concluded:

“We are delighted to announce that another FIA World Championship will be coming to COTA. There is no doubt that rallycross is a rapidly growing discipline – the fans can watch races in quick succession and the 600bhp cars are mightily impressive.  The addition of a world-class rallycross circuit will be a welcome addition to our growing venue, and we look forward to working closely with IMG in making the first ever World RX event in the USA a resounding success.”

COTA already hosts the USA rounds of Formula One and MotoGP.

Construction of the new rallycross circuit is expected to get underway in the coming months.

The provisional 2018 calendar looks like this:

2018 World RX Calendar*

Spain – Barcelona – 14/15 April

Portugal – Montalegre – 28/29 April

Belgium – Mettet – 12/13 May

Great Britain – Silverstone – 26/27 May

Norway – Hell – 9/10 June

Sweden – Holjes –  30 June/1 July

Canada – Trois-Rivieres – 4/5 August

France – Loheac – 1/2 September

Latvia – Riga – 15/16 September

USA – COTA – 29/30 September

Germany – Estering – 13/14 October

South Africa – Cape Town – 24/25 November

*Subject to confirmation by the FIA World Motor Sport Council in December

Neil Simmons

Twitter: @world_racing