2017 United States GP Preview -By Bob Constanduros
Austin, Texas; this is going to be Formula One’s big show, something to really look forward to. I think all of us in the media centre are going to be fascinated as to how this weekend turns out, both on the track but particularly off it.
Formula One’s new owners want to make this the big one, the showcase, the one on which all future Grands Prix will be based. They want to show that this is the way to do it, this is the way that Grand Prix should be run, a real show with lots of razzmatazz, show biz content, making the drivers the heroes of the weekend, the gladiators in this battle for the ultimate title.
Actually Circuit of the Americas has usually led the world in this respect with their marching bands on the grid, superb spectating including areas for motorhomes, great American cars taking the drivers on their track parade, circuit concerts (Taylor Swift’s only concert of the year in 2016) and even the great podium headgear for the winners.
And this was in spite of some pretty poor weather over the years which pretty much scuppered a rather downmarket driver appearance downtown in front of a few hundred people in a rather muddy auditorium. Other driver appearances on circuit have been marred by heavy handed treatment of fans, something which I found rather distasteful a few years ago.
This year’s offering promises concerts by Stevie Wonder and Justin Timberlake and lots of emphasis is being placed on one Michael Buffer, a legendary announcer whose principal sport is usually boxing and who seems to have made a living out of saying ‘let’s get ready to rumble.’ He will announce the drivers as they prepare for the Grand Prix; I hope his pronounciation of the drivers’ names will be correct.
Of course, the European media can be pretty cynical about attempts by Americans to take over their sports and to up the hype but this is what the Americans are good at and the fans react positively. They like to be told that they are at a world class event, watching the best in the world in their own back yard. It makes them feel good. And young, vulnerable sportsmen tend to like that kind of thing, to have their egos pumped up, so why not? As Fernando Alonso told us just now, the best part of the Indy 500 weeks was the drivers’ parade, minutes before the race, in front of 250-300,00 spectators. Can you imagine a Grand Prix driver saying that?
So not only are we heading into a weekend when the World Championship could be settled, but we’re heading into a weekend which could become a template for all future events. Formula One is pulling out all the stops and there’s no doubt that we’re going to be fascinated to see how it pans out.
On the track, Lewis Hamilton could settle the championship this weekend, just as Mercedes could as well. As I mentioned recently, Lewis could finish a lowly fourth to winner Sebastian Vettel in the next four races and still win the championship, so he has an amazing advantage. Sure, Ferrari are going to be doing all they can at one of their biggest markets to pull back that points deficit but it’s almost too late. The Asian trilogy really scuppered their chances and there’s not much they can do about it against a Mercedes steamroller, even if it’s not as powerful and dominating as it was in the past.
Lewis’s record is amazing at CoTA. He has finished all his six races in the US, winning the last Indy race from pole, winning last year’s race here from pole plus a further three wins from second on the grid. Sebastian Vettel has also finished all his six US GPs, including his first ever race in F1 when he scored his first point at Indianapolis. He’s had a couple of poles and won from there in 2013 – still a good record but not quite as good as Lewis’s. Valtteri Bottas scored his first World Championship point here in 2013, but Kimi Raikkonen’s 38th birthday recently might not do him any favours.
Red Bull are a pretty good threat here after recent performances. Daniel Ricciardo has finished all his five US GPs and has qualified third for the last couple of years, while Max Verstappen has also been knocking on the podium door.
Otherwise, there’s plenty of opportunity for other drivers to star, but will they and can they? Fernando Alonso was talking about American racing in today’s press conference and talking about its unpredictability. That cannot be said about Formula One, he said. You could write out the grid now and the order and you wouldn’t be far wrong. That’s a problem for Formula One worldwide, of course, and one to be solved by Ross Brawn. But it’s particularly a problem here in the US where the fans are pretty discerning. The only mystery is how many stops drivers might make during the race. This was a two-stopper last year and Pirelli’s range is a step softer this year.
The mystery continues regarding Scuderia Toro Rosso’s ambitions. I’m delighted that they’ve hired that real racer, Brendon Hartley, a driver who will return to his native Palmerston North to race anything but this weekend finally makes his Formula One debut at 27-years old. At one time, he seemed to be a kind of supersub – even racing historics – and then he was picked up by Porsche and hasn’t looked back – although quite what happens to his career after the end of this year remains to be seen.
Daniil Kvyat makes a return to that team as Carlos Sainz heads off to replace Jolyon Palmer at Renault – so Scud TR have two drivers who didn’t race at Suzuka, including one who is making his debut. Clearly, they don’t care about their World Championship aspirations where they might challenge for fifth in the championship but possibly lose their sixth place.
But this is just a sideshow to the two main shows – on and off the track. Remember also that it’s a doubleheader with Mexico City a week later, so things could change very quickly – or championships could be resolved. There’s lots of reasons to check out round 17 of the World Championship. Enjoy it.