By Neil Leverett
- Round 17 of the Formula 1 season rolls into the Circuit of the Americas for the United States Grand Prix
- Max Verstappen arrives in Austin with six-point World Drivers’ Championship lead over Lewis Hamilton
- First of three races in Americas, with races in Mexico and Brazil to follow
AUSTIN, TEXAS – As Formula 1 makes its first return to the Americas since the pandemic began, will Max Verstappen be the Lone Star in Austin this weekend?
F1 returns to the Americas
With just six races of the Formula 1 season to run, F1 makes its long-awaited return to American shores this weekend and to the Circuit of the Americas, for the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas.
Stepping onto relatively unfamiliar shores for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the paddock drops in for three races across the Americas continent, with trips to Mexico City and Sao Paulo to come in the next month.
As the Lone Star state hosts a ninth US GP since it moved home from Indianapolis in 2007, the next pivotal chapter in the 2021 campaign waits to play out, with another three-weekend racing stint beginning in a fortnight in Mexico City.
The Circuit of The Americas, designed by Hermann Tilke was finally opened on October 21 2012, after a nervy few months when testing on the track came close to being outside of the confines of F1 rules.
Over 100,000 spectators packed out the Austin venue on its debut, with a layout not too dissimilar to Silverstone.
Turns 3 through 6 come off a lot like the high-speed run through Maggotts/Becketts, while Turns 12 through 15 mimic Hockenheim’s stadium section.
The uphill run into Turn 1’s wide environs has provided some fine overtaking action in the track’s short life, and only weeks ago played host to MotoGP at the beginning of the month.
Verstappen looks to ‘competitive’ US form
Despite now going without a win in three races, Max Verstappen nevertheless once more leapfrogged title rival Lewis Hamilton in Turkey, finishing runner-up last time out, as the Briton could only muster P5 after a change in tyres went awry.
Still clinging to only a six-point advantage however, the margin remains paper-thin as Abu Dhabi begins to hover on the horizon in December.
And that gap could again go up in Mercedes’ smoke this weekend, as the Silver Arrows arrive on territory that in recent years has very much been their own.
Winner of five of the last six races in Texas, Hamilton himself his taken the chequered flag on no less than five occasions, with a sixth US GP win coming at Indianapolis during his debut season 14 years ago – his last race win for McLaren before switching to Mercedes.
Verstappen then has his work cut out, but the Dutchman has shown enough in Austin to suggest he could be about to claim his own podium top spot for the first in time in five attempts, given his finishes of P4, P3 and runners-up spot in the past.
Red Bull expect to enjoy strong weekends in Mexico and Brazil to come, but before that, this could be one of the bigger tests during the season run-in.
But as Verstappen told F1.com, he believes he can look to his growing levels of performance in Austin, to finally break his duck in the US.
“We have always been competitive in the US and have got close to some good results, so it’s about converting that into a win now. We go to every track now knowing that we can fight at least for a podium now, but also a win and that is different to past years.
“We are focussed on doing the best we can and always trying to win the race, and that will be no different in Austin. It will be another close battle this weekend and I am looking forward to that.”
Can Ferrari maintain advantage over McLaren?
Whilst the battle for the title remains a pitched one, further down the order, the fight for third place behind Mercedes and Red Bull continues to hold an equally gripping narrative.
Unveiling a new hybrid power system in Turkey a fortnight ago, Ferrari were the face of competition in Istanbul, finishing with a top-eight double to close the gap on McLaren in the Constructors’ to less than eight points.
That, having seen the Woking manufacturer enjoy a stunning 1-2 at Monza last month, led home by Daniel Ricciardo, coupled with seeing Lando Norris come agonisingly close to completing back-to-back victories for McLaren in Sochi.
Had Sainz not suffered a slow pit stop in Istanbul, the Spaniard could have contributed to even greater rewards for the Prancing Horse, but the pluses will have greatly outweighed the negatives two weeks back.
Mattia Binotto has admitted he may face extended absences from the paddock for the remainder of the campaign, as Ferrari make crucial modifications ahead of next season’s game-changing reg changes, but the Ferrari boss has emphasised the importance of finishing ahead of McLaren this term.
Can Scuderia keep the pursuing Norris and Ricciardo at bay in the long run? We might get a better indication this weekend.
The 2021 Aramco United States Grand Prix takes place this weekend, at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
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