With just four races of the 2022 season to run, Formula 1 makes its third trip to the Americas this term after stops in Miami and Montreal for its more traditional late-season swing, beginning in Austin this weekend for the United States Grand Prix.
As the Circuit of the Americas hosts its ninth GP, Max Verstappen rolls into Texas having successfully defended his World Drivers’ Championship after taking a 12th victory of the season in the Japanese GP last time out.
As a disbelieving Dutchman had the result confirmed as the drivers assembled in parc ferme at Suzuka, Red Bull revelled in their achievement of stamping their place as top dogs in F1 once more.
However, as Verstappen and his team make their victory lap over the Pacific to the US this week, their very integrity is under question.
Red Bull in firing line
Verstappen may indeed have sewn up a second F1 crown and successfully defended his title, but Red Bull arrive in the Lone Star State this weekend with some very awkward questions to answer.
Only 24 hours after securing individual and team honours for 2022 at Suzuka, the much-awaited ruling from the FIA for Financial Regulations found Red Bull to be in minor breach of overspending from last season.
Deemed to have been in contravention of monetary rules, whilst the Cost Cap Administration continues to mull over their final punishment a heavy fine is expected but many have called for a points deduction, and even for Verstappen to be stripped of his inaugural world title.
With their 14th win of the season last time out – their seventh on the spin since France in July – Red Bull are now close to emphatically wrapping up their first constructors World Championship, holding a lead of 154 points. Indeed, they will do so should Red Bull leave COTA with a 147-point advantage over Ferrari this weekend.
The battle, however, for second between The Prancing Horse and Mercedes is by no means a forgone conclusion.
Parted by 64 points, Carlos Sainz‘s retirement in Japan saw Ferrari unable to tighten their grip in the standings, with a Silver Arrow P5 and P8 seeing a marked improvement from a disastrous turn in Singapore the weekend before.
Though with just one podium in their last five races, Mercedes are now ready to unleash their final round of aerodynamic upgrades in Austin.
And as Track Engineering Direction, Andrew Shovlin explained in Mercedes’ Japanese GP debrief video – via F1.com – the Brackley manufacturer, despite uncertainties over speed, are well-set to smooth out lingering issues this weekend.
“It’s our final step of aero development and that will hopefully give us a bit more performance, but importantly, with every step we are learning more and more, and that learning we can carry into next year – so that’s part of it.
“Also, there [are] a few bits where we have taken some weight out of components that will hopefully get the car closer to the weight limit [the minimum permitted being 798kg].”
Sargeant to pique home interest?
For seven years now, America has been without a driver on a GP weekend. In Austin this weekend, that is set to change.
Not since Alex Rossi was driving for Marussia in 2015 have US fans had a name to pin the Stars and Stripes to and though only set to compete as mandatory rookie in FP1 on Friday for Williams, Logan Sargeant‘s debut in F1 could be the next step in a burgeoning career
Making waves in his first season in Formula 2 with Surrey team Carlin, the 21-year-old from Florida sits third in the F2 standings behind newly-crowned Felipe Drugovich and Theo Pourchaire.
With Nicholas Latifi‘s spot now vacated for next season, Sargeant is in some quarters being tipped to make the switch for 2023, with one-time driver Nyck de Vries already having been snapped up by Aston Martin.
For Austin fans who throng COTA this weekend, American interest thrown into the paddock with a third US stop now added to the calendar in Las Vegas next term is sure to keep the wave of momentum turning.
As if to placate the same fanbase F1 is desperate to reel in, IndyCar racer Alex Palou will add to the US quota in Austin for McLaren. If Sargeant can then impress in Texas this weekend, the bridge toward F1 having a full-time US driver will have been made that much shorter.
Formula 1 Aramco United States Grand Prix 2022 takes place at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, this weekend
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