Formula 1 and the USA have a long and complicated history. No less than six different venues have hosted the US Grand Prix, and there have been several periods without a US Grand Prix on the F1 calendar. F1 is up against a host of domestic motorsport categories that have rich histories (such as Indycar and NASCAR), and for various reasons Formula 1 has struggled to embed itself into the public consciousness State-side. The latest circuit, known as the Circuit of the Americas, is located near Austin, Texas, and it has been on the calendar since 2012. Like a number of modern F1 tracks, COTA was designed by Hermann Tilke, and the track has a number of characteristics that are borrowed from other circuits.
For example, the swift sequence of corners from turn 3 through to turn 9 evokes the Ss complex of Suzuka and the Maggots/Becketts section of Silverstone. The run down to turn 12 is a great overtaking spot, and the twisty portion from turn 13 to turn 19 has seen a fair bit of drama as cars attempt to swing around the outside of competitors. From there you’re through turn 20 and you start to race down towards turn 1, which is a monstrous uphill left-hander. The Ss section is super-fast, but you’ll want good downforce for the final sector, which is full of low and mid-speed curves.
Have there been classic races at COTA? One or two…
Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg arrived at COTA to resume their battle for the title. Rosberg was actually in third in the standings, with Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel separating the two Silver Arrows, but the expectation was for the Mercs to be too strong at a track where power is often key. Qualifying was disrupted by bad weather and took place on the morning of the race, but even then did not proceed smoothly, owing to accidents and further rain. Rosberg qualified on pole but in damp conditions Hamilton bullied Rosberg into running wide at turn 1, and Rosberg slipped down to fifth as a result. In slippery-but-drying conditions there were a number of collisions and accidents that disrupted the race, and the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat were mighty, especially Ricciardo, who at one point took the lead from Hamilton. By lap 18 Rosberg had gotten in front of Hamilton too, and then the leaders pitted for slick tyres. Under dry conditions the Mercedes’ were quicker, and as the race evolved Rosberg would find himself back in the lead, but slid wide on lap 48 to gift Hamilton the lead.
Hamilton would go on to keep hold of the lead, win the race, and in doing so win his third World Championship. In the cool down room Rosberg expressed his anger and frustration, throwing a cap at Hamilton, and criticism followed of Hamilton’s opening-lap move. Elsewhere, Kimi Raikkonen expressed his own dissatisfaction with a young Max Verstappen’s aggressive driving, a portent of things to come.
Once again Hamilton arrived State-side with the opportunity to win the title, however this time things would not evolve as he had hoped. Mercedes struggled for grip and Ferrari and Red Bull looked the stronger of the teams. In fact Raikkonen would claim his 21st and final F1 victory, fending off Verstappen’s Red Bull in the closing stages of the race.
In the duel between Hamilton and Verstappen, the young Dutchman would absorb a lot of pressure from Hamilton throughout the race, including demonstrating some brave defending as Hamilton closed in. Verstappen did enough to stay ahead and would cross the line just 1.3 seconds ahead of his title rival.
In 2019 the IndyCar series raced at COTA, marking the first time since 2006 that F1 and IndyCar had raced at the same track in the same year. This allowed for direct comparisons of the two sets of cars. In F1, Valtteri Bottas set pole in his Mercedes with a time of 1.32.029. Will Power took pole in the IndyCar series, racing for Team Penske, with a time of 1.46.0177. A 14-second difference in lap times is pretty big, though that’s not a dig at IndyCar – the format is quite different, as are the cars. The IndyCar race was won by Colton Herta, racing for Harding Steinbrenner Racing, and he became the youngest winner of an IndyCar race in the process, aged just 18.
It seems COTA is establishing itself as a good race track, and with luck, it will remain on the calendar for many years to come.