Formula 1 arrives in Texas for the first time this weekend and excitement about the championship duel is running high.
Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel will do battle around the brand new and high-spec Circuit of the Americas, just outside Austin, Texas.
Designed to be a fusion of some of the worlds most fabled sections of racetrack – like a sort of Franken-track; ‘COTA’ as it has been coined contains a copy of the Osterreichring steep and blind turn 1, Silverstone Maggott’s-Beckett’s complex, Hockenheim stadium section and Istanbul’s Turn 8.
As for the grand prix, qualifying will be vital. Red Bull relies on a high downforce/low top speed set-up which optimises the highly effective downforce qualities of the car. This approach means that Vettel must deliver in qualifying and set pole position.
The risk with this strategy is that if Vettel doesn’t deliver in qualifying and ends up in the pack, he will find it very difficult to overtake cars.
On the other hand, Ferrari are much stronger in terms of race pace than qualifying pace and run a lower downforce/higher top speed set-up than the Red Bulls. This means Alonso is likely to have to overtake a couple of cars in order to win the race.
This style of tactics requires quick thinking and precision from the driver and fortunately for Ferrari and Spanish F1 fans this is exactly what Alonso thrives at.
Whether Alonso can get a win or a podium and remain in the championship battle therefore heavily relies on whether the new Circuit of the Americas delivers on its potential and provides overtaking opportunities.
The ingredients are there, the long straight followed by a tight corner should provide plenty of overtakes, however as India and Bahrain show, tracks that look good on paper don’t always deliver the expected thrills.
Despite this, it is still looking like an uphill challenge for Alonso to go to the final race in Brazil closer in points to Vettel than he is now. The speed of the Red Bull since Suzuka has been awesome and Ferrari have struggled all year with the effectiveness of their upgrades and it isn’t realistic for that to change until next season.
Alonso does have one advantage on Vettel however – a compliant team-mate in Felipe Massa. If Massa ends up ahead of Alonso he will let him pass, which may provide a few vital points.
However, Vettel’s team-mate Mark Webber, said before the Indian grand prix: “If I’m in the lead this weekend then I’m not pulling over for anyone. That’s it.” Whether this attitude has changed since Webber can now no longer win the championship remains to be seen but his relationship with Vettel isn’t exactly harmonious.
The other unknown factor of this weekend’s grand prix is how strong McLaren will be. If Lewis Hamilton is on Abu Dhabi form then he must go down as favourite for the victory, but McLaren’s speed has been very inconsistent all season.
Alonso will be hoping for the former to take points off Vettel and make his task a tad easier for the season finale in Brazil.