F1 2021 Round 18 – USA

Welcome to America!

The Circuit of the Americas has been a popular venue since it first arrived on the F1 calendar in 2012. Located near Austin, Texas, the track is a mix of high-speed straights and twisty bends, including a sequence from turn 3 through to 9 that evokes memories of Maggots/Becketts of Silverstone, and Suzuka’s formidable Ss complex. Turns 17 and 28 combine into a fast right-hander and turn 1 and turn 11 are intense left-hairpins. This track gave me cause to adjust my downforce for a couple of reasons, not least of all to keep the car on the road through that fast and snake-like first sector. I soon learned that this would be the toughest section, and devoted a lot of laps to practice, in order to feel comfortable (if not confident) around this circuit.

In some respects my ability to master the track would carry more importance. I would take a grid penalty for using more engine parts than permitted, so I had to start further back than I’d hoped, in 17th (it should have been lower down the order but penalties for others bumped me up a few places). The race would start in damp conditions that required inters, a slight problem for practice and qualifying had taken place in sunny conditions. This was part of the reason why I opted for more downforce, I would need the grip on the slippery surface, and it proved to be a good move. After the first lap I’d gone from 17th, briefly to 18th, to 12th, and bold moves under braking into turn 12 got me by Sainz and Norris into 10th within a few laps. I found myself rather enjoying racing in the rain, but it soon stopped, and I made the mistake of staying out one lap too many as the circuit dried. By the time I came in for slicks I had fallen back down the order, and from there had to play catch-up, Ahead of me was Sergio Perez, with whom I’d made contact with earlier in the race (which I think led to him having a front-wing change), and ahead of him was a gaggle of cars, caught in a DRS train and stuck behind the Aston Martin of Lance Stroll.

It took me a while to get into DRS range but once I did I began to make a few more lunges down the inside of turn 12. It became a good hunting ground for me, and I slowly picked off the cars ahead of me. We all stopped again, and once again for softs, however something happened and I seemed to lose more downforce than I should have with a wing adjustment, so after a few difficult laps I ditched the soft tyres, accepted a front-wing change, and set out to complete the race on mediums. I began to pump in some good laps and had to hope than when the others stopped, I’d gain places.

Sure enough, I did gain positions. In fact I wound up in 10th! I had a world championship point, but now I had to keep it, and I had only just emerged ahead of a chasing pack, all of whom were on fast, fresh, soft tyres.

Kimi Raikkonen would remain hot on my tail for several laps, repeatedly using DRS to slid past on the long straight into turn 12. I would repeatedly brake later and retain position, and so the pattern went. It was fortunate on my part that I was able to do enough through the final sector to stay out of trouble into turn 1, but lap after lap brought Raikkonen back into range for turn 12. I kept forcing him to the outside, though on one occasion he wound up with the inside line and I thought my point was gone. However, I managed to bully him through turn 13 by holding the inside line and refusing to yield. I grimly held on, and managed to take the place and the point come the end.

The title battle continued to prove to be exciting. Bottas qualified on pole but Hamilton slipped down the inside at the first corner. Somehow circumstances changed through the race, and Bottas ended up in front. The battling pair ended up lapping Raikkonen and myself right at the very end, and we both jumped right out of the way. Bottas not only took his 8th win of the season but took fastest lap as well, to go two points in front of Hamilton, with five races left. It was all to play for as the season drew towards its conclusion.

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