Formula One moves from Japan to North America this weekend where the Circuit of the Americas hosts the United States Grand Prix, Round 19 of the 2019 FIA Formula One World Championship. F1Technical’s Balázs Szabó picks out the vital facts ahead of the race in Texas.
The long and demanding circuit located in Texas joined the Grand Prix calendar in 2012, but it has already made a reputation as a challenging, but enjoyable racing track among fans and drivers.
The United States Grand Prix has had an interesting, colourful connection to Formula One that cannot be labelled as linear. Lack of interest sometimes broke the continuity of the event, but the sport always found its way back to the financially important market.
The first ever U.S. Grand Prix was held in 1908 when it was known as the American Grand Prize. The race held at Savannah was won by Fiat driver Louis Wagner. The event did not take place in the following year, but it continued to be held between 1910 and 1916 with the exception of 1913. In this period of time, Fiat, Peugeot, Mercedes and Benz dominated the proceedings.
The Grand Prize was discontinued after the 1916 event. Between a lack of European participation due to World War I and the growing American interest in oval racing, road racing fell by the wayside.
1958 saw Formula One visit the Riverside circuit. The race attracted over 50 cars and drivers from sports car series in the U.S. and Europe, as well as USAC and NASCAR. Chuck Daigh won in a Scarab, beating Dan Gurney’s Ferrari in second place. The U.S. Grand Prix moved to Sebring in 1959 with Bruce McLaren taking the victory with his Cooper-Climax. When the event moved back to Riverside in 1960, Sitrling Moss emerged victorious driving for Lotus-Climax.
The history of the U.S. Grand Prix was re-written in 1961 when the event moved to Watkins Glen where it stayed until 1980. Over this time, the event became a tradition among the fans as loyal crowds gathered each autumn on the spread out hills of Upstate New York. Watkins Glen has established itself as one of fixtures on the Grand Prix calendar by achieving the longest hosting record of any American Formula One race in history. On the track which became the Mecca of American road racing, Lotus became the most successful outfit, but Ferrari also achieved great success with Niki Lauda, Carlos Reutemann and Gilles Villeneuve at the end of this era.
Phoenix also hosted three United Stated Grands Prix between 1989 and 1991. This short era was dominated by the McLaren-Honda outfit. Alain Prost emerged victorious in 1989 while Ayrton Senna clinched the victory in the next two years.
It was not until 2000 that another United States Grand Prix took place, this time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indiana. Of eight races held at the iconic and fabled Indianapolis race track, McLaren-Mercedes took victory twice and Ferrari secured triumphs on all other six occasions.
After a hiatus of four years, F1 returned to the United States of America in 2012, but this time a new location Austin hosted the event on a modern purpose-built track. Enjoying a relatively big success, the event has stayed in Texas since.
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Hamilton reigns in America
Lewis Hamilton holds the record for most wins in the history of the United States Grand Prix. The Briton has won six times in total of which he recorded his second career victory at Indianapolis driving for McLaren. Shockingly, he has won in the first four years of the hybrid era between 2014 and 2017. Last year, he was on course to secure his fifth victory in Texas, but Ferrari’s resurgent Kimi Räikkönen snatched the glory away from the Briton.
Michael Schumacher is the second most successful race driver in the United States with five victories. After securing his first triumph in 2000, the German commenced a commanding run of success in 2003 and remained unbeaten until 2006.
When it comes to the number of wins in the United States, Graham Hill and Jim Clark claim the third spot with three victories apiece. Interestingly, the Scottish and British driver dominated the era between 1962 and 1968 with winning all six races in this period of time. While Clark took all his three wins for Lotus, Hill was victorious for BRM.
The list of two-time US Grand Prix winners comprises the likes of Ayrton Senna, Carlos Reutemann, James Hunt and Jackie Stewart.
Regarding the constructors, Ferrari is the most successful one in the Unites States Grand Prix. The Italian outfit has taken victory on ten times. Despite this record, the Maranello-based team had to wait long for their first success in America. After the first editions of the event were dominated by Lotus, BRM and Tyrell, Niki Lauda took Ferrari’s first victory in the United Stated in 1975.
Lotus and McLaren are the second most successful teams with eight victories followed by Mercedes with four wins. BRM is fourth on this list with three wins while Tyrell is the only other repeat winning constructor with two triumphs.
Fast and flowing
The 5.513km track only joined Formula One in 2012, but it has already made its reputation since. The sport left the United States in 2007 due to the lack of interest and enthusiasm. However, there was always a growing wish for Formula One to return to the important market and the idea of the reorganized United States Grand Prix was proposed in the middle of 2010. The circuit was the first in the United States to be purpose-built for Formula One. The layout was conceived by 1993 Motorcycle World Champion Kevin Schwantz with the assistance of German architect and circuit designer Hermann Tilke, who has also designed the Sepang, Shanghai, Yas Marina, Istanbul, Bahrain, Yeongam, and Buddh circuits, as well as the reprofiling of the Hockenheimring and Fuji Speedway.
The circuit with a fast and flowing nature features twenty corners in total. The COTA track is one of only a handful on the calendar to be run counter-clockwise, the others being Marina Bay, Yas Marina and Interlagos. Because of this, the circuit contains more left-hand turns than right-hand ones, placing greater physical demands on the drivers whose bodies, particularly their necks, are more adapted to the lateral g-forces of clockwise circuits.
From the start-finish line, drivers climb a gradient of eleven per cent to the first corner. This is the highest point of the track where drivers start descending towards a rather demanding and flowing section of bends. Reminiscent of Silverstone’s Maggotts-Becketts-Chapel complex, cars have to produce high levels of loads through these incredibly fast corners. Drivers can’t even have a rest when they arrive to the second sector at Turn 7.
Cars have to climb up to Turn 9 which always demands a lot from the front end of the machines. The layout then descends once again and goes through Turn 10 which drivers take almost blind. The next corner presents the only second real braking opportunity. Drivers, unsurprisingly, try to brake as late as they can, but they have to concentrate on a perfect acceleration as they encounter the longest full-throttle section of the entire circuit. The end of the back straight also presents the best opportunity for overtaking in the race. Just after exiting Turn 12, drivers finish the second sector to start then the rather complicated third sector featuring different types of corners.
Turn 13 and 14 are sections where front end grip is always at premium. Turn 16 is taken at low speed, but concentration is always on the corner exit as another high-speed section follows. Forming a fast curvature, the next two bends are reminiscent of the epic Turn 8 of the Istanbul race track. Next on the road is Turn 19 where cars tend to produce understeer and as a result drivers sometimes take it wide, prompting the stewards to monitor the track limits at the second-to-last bend carefully over the race weekend. Rounding out the colourful layout of the track, the medium-speed Turn 20 awaits the drivers as the last challenge of the circuit.