Formula One returns to the United States for the first time since 2019, and given the epic ongoing season, there couldn’t have been a better time to return to Circuit of the Americas.
The championship battle has been nothing less than an epic bout, with both title rivals exchanging blows round after round. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen retook the championship lead at the Turkish Grand Prix even though Mercedes‘ Valtteri Bottas took his first win of the season. Given how strong Mercedes and especially Hamilton have been at COTA, Red Bull will have their task cut out as we enter the business end of the 2021 Formula One season.
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The drivers blast off the start line at almost 300 km/h to get the lap underway before going into one of the steepest inclines on the calendar at Turn 1. After navigating sharp left handers and tight corners, drivers generally go flat-out through Turns 2 to 6 in a high-speed complex. It is essential for drivers to find the flow and throttle precision to maximise these sections.
Turns 7 and 8 are similar to the Senna Esses before heading into the sharp right-left transition at Turn 9. Turn 10 sees an elevation change, which has the drivers navigating through a hard hairpin before going flat-out into the longest straight of the circuit. Turns 13 to 15 are similar to that of the Stadium Section at Hockenheim, while Turns 16 to 18 are designed on the famous Turn 8 at Istanbul. After heading out of the sweeping multi-apex corner of Turn 18, drivers run wide into Turn 19, where track limits tend to be the key, especially during qualification, before heading into the final corner that sees the drivers go flat-out into the start/finish line.
THINGS TO LOOK FORWARD TO
Out of the Shadows
Both their teammates are engaged in one of the tightest championship battles in recent history, but the ‘wingmen’ Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Pérez have shown just how important they are to the title fight.
Bottas just showcased why Mercedes signed him back in 2017 as he managed to hold off both Red Bull drivers at the Turkish Grand Prix, and not only did he score his first victory of the season last time round, more importantly for his team and teammate Hamilton, Bottas ensured Verstappen didn’t build a huge lead over the Brit, with the latter taking an engine penalty in Istanbul and playing catch-up the entire weekend.
Sergio Pérez, meanwhile, put in a stellar drive himself, especially to hold off a charging Hamilton to make sure Verstappen maintained a healthy lead over him.
Both drivers have played a crucial role in the championship battle so far, and going ahead into the final phase, both will be vital to their team’s chances of taking the title home.
Two giants of the sport and two of the most successful teams in the history of said sport, both Ferrari and McLaren have had their fair share of tough time recently. While McLaren were utterly disappointing from 2015-2018, Ferrari dropped the ball twice in the championship fight in 2017 and 2018 and endured their worst season in more than two decades in 2020.
Both teams, though, have come back strongly in 2021, McLaren took their first victory since 2012 through Daniel Ricciardo‘s win at Monza, while Ferrari have notched up four podiums and two pole positions, sitting just seven-and-a-half points behind McLaren in the championship battle for the third place in the Constructors’ standings. Their strong form this season not only means that the third-place battle will go down to the wire, but it also augurs well for the sport itself, especially given a new regulations era will get underway soon.
Having two of the giants of the sport perform well and start a new era strongly is beneficial and crucial for the longevity of the sport.
Point to Prove
The Frenchman, who spent half a season with Red Bull in 2019 and was demoted to their sister team Toro Rosso mid-season, is obviously still hurting from his demotion. Gasly has been easily the ‘best of the rest’ driver for the past two seasons and is probably right to be ruing a missed chance.
Since his return to AlphaTauri, Gasly has taken three podiums and a stunning victory at the 2020 Italian Grand Prix, while the second driver at Red Bull in the same period has taken five podiums and one victory.
Gasly has been retained by AlphaTauri for another season and it looks like a return to Red Bull might be unlikely, which means the Frenchman will have to look outside the Red Bull program to follow his dreams of fighting for a championship. Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo have done it before, and if Gasly truly wants a shot at the title, he will have to look at other options. Red Bull have a tendency to back their junior drivers, and given that Verstappen will be a mainstay, Gasly, now in his mid-twenties, will not be preferred over younger drivers coming through the ranks.
With a sense of regret with him, Gasly, who has already driven the wheels off his AlphaTauri for the past two seasons, will continue to show Red Bull what they could have had and also audition for some of the other big teams, for he clearly is one of the most promising and talented drivers on the grid.
- Max Verstappen predicts that he can carry his strong from over the last few races into COTA, but Verstappen himself will be the first to acknowledge that this is a track where barring Kimi Räikkönen’s win in 2018, Mercedes have dominated since 2014, and Hamilton has an astonishing six victories at the track. Even though Red Bull might be confident of a strong show, it will be hard to look past Mercedes for the win.
- Aston Martin and Sebastian Vettel have been going through a rough patch of late; Vettel has been in the points for most of the races, only to drop out right at the end due to mostly unavoidable circumstances. Although he might not be a favourite for the win or podium, one can count on the four-time World Champion to score some points for the British team as they look to keep themselves in that tight fifth-place Constructors’ battle.
- McLaren are a team who should embrace COTA with open arms; the track is perfectly suited to them and it is crucial for them to make the most of the opportunities, as Ferrari are right on their heels in the third-place battle in the Constructors’ title. Don’t right off Lando Norris or Ricciardo for another strong show in Texas.
Number of Laps – 56
Circuit Length – 5.513 km
Race Distance – 308.4 km
Lap Record – 1:36.169s (Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, 2019)