After countless legal battles, halted construction, and threats by F1 chief Bernie “The Bowl Cut” Ecclestone to shut the whole effort down over financial fights, Formula 1 has returned to America, nestled into the track built just for its arrival, the Circuit of the Americas just outside Austin, Texas. It’s really happening, and it’s happening right now.
If you’ve never watched F1, it’s unlike any other type of racing you’ve experienced. It’s the most expensive sport in the world, and other than in NHRA drag racing, the cars accelerate faster than any other race cars out there, hitting 62 mph in about 1.7 seconds. The United States GP will consist of 56 laps and should last just over 2 hours, depending on time in caution. Each car is only allowed one tank of fuel per race, which means each pit stop, in which only tires are changed, range around 2 seconds or so.
Practice has already begun, and down the back straight cars have reached 197 mph. Pushing each one there, though the rear wheels only, is a 2.4 liter V8, redlining at 18,000 rpm. Though naturally aspirated, they produce around 750 hp. The engines, like everything else on F1 cars, are heavily regulated. Cars weigh under 1,500 lbs, and transmissions are no more than 7 speeds and semi-automatic.
Piloting these carbon fiber rockets are an exciting set of men, most of them very young. This season is almost over, with 18 of the 20 events completed, but 9 different drivers have won for 6 different teams (drivers and constructors have two separate championships, and this can be a bit confusing). Drivers get 25 points for first place, 18 for second, and 15 for third, with points dropping off from there.
German Sebastian Vettel, who absolutely dominated last season, faces tough competition this year from Spaniard Fernando Alonso, who is only trailing by ten points. Behind them is Finn Kimi Räikkönen, who, despite his win last weekend at Abu Dhabi, can’t get enough points to take the championship this year, but could certainly make trouble for everyone else. After one round of practice, Vettel leads with a lap time of 1:38.125, with British driver Lewis Hamilton trailing him by almost 1.5 seconds. Alonso is currently in third, and Räikkönen is way down in 14th, but anything can happen in qualifying, and even more can happen during the actual race. Other drivers to watch are Hamilton’s teammate, rival, and countryman Jenson button, Australian Mark Webber, and Kamui Kobayashi of Japan.
In the constructors’ championship, the Red Bull-Renault team of Vettel and Webber is leading, with Ferrari’s team of Alonso and Brazilian Felipe Massa in second, and the British McLaren Mercedes team of Hamilton and Button in third.
The Circuit of the Americas features 20 turns, two of them hairpins and three of them making up a multi-apex right-hander, and 133 feet of elevation change. It seats 120,000 people in everything from private grandstand suites to stretches of grassy knoll. Pit lane is considerably wider than traditional circuits, which should improve worker and driver safety. Currently drivers are complaining about leftover construction dust on the tarmac, and just about all of them have overshot the sharp left-hander at turn 19.
Since this is the first motor race at COTA (unfortunately there was a foot race last week), it’s terra nova to every driver out there, so the checkered flag is up for grabs for any of the 24 drivers out there.
Hopefully the USGP will help promote Formula One, open-wheel racing, and more diversified racing in general in America.
NBC has purchased the rights to cover the entire 2013 season, but SPEED is still airing the rest of this year’s, and will show the race at 1pm eastern on Sunday. Will you be watching?