Unbelievably, Formula One is here in America and cars are already screaming around the circuit the Austin F1 circuit. Who are all these little foreign dudes in the weird cars, and which one should you, as an American, be rooting for?
The problem with Formula One is that the stakes are so high, there's so much sponsorship money funding every driver and team, and the competition is so close that drivers spend all of their waking hours in the gym and then in the simulator and have little time to have an interesting life. They can't say anything that might offend their sponsors or damage their reputation, so drivers rarely say anything controversial. Modern safety requirements mean that they're tucked away inside of their cars and you can't see much beyond a tiny helmet.
To those unfamiliar with the sport, this may make the drivers seem like dull-eyed robots who are completely indistinguishable from each other. While some drivers are like robots, they're more of the R2-D2 or C-3PO variety. This means they've got some personality hidden behind their chiseled mechanical features. Let's go over each of the drivers, from the leader of the championship, all the way to the right lane hogs at the back.
Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull, German) He's a double-world champion and he's only 25. This championship is his to lose. He's an unflappable machine behind the wheel, but off-track he's got a sense of humor. He also really likes to say fuck on TV.
Fernando Alonso (Ferrari, Spanish) In spite of having a car that's much worse than the top-of-the-class Red Bull, Alonso is keeping up with the championship lead. That's because he's the best driver out of everyone here. He's also freakishly strong.
Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus, Finnish) Kimi lives for three things: sleeping, eating ice cream, and racing. When he's not doing one of those things, he's getting drunk. Unsurprisingly, he's our favorite driver.
Mark Webber (Red Bull, Australian) Unlike all the other drivers on the grid, Webber speaks his mind. He regularly calls other drivers on their bullshit, and we like him for it. Cool dude, and very fast.
Lewis Hamilton (McLaren, English) He started racing roughly five days after coming out of the womb, and is amazingly fast. He's constantly trying to cultivate a rock star image that isn't really working, though.
Jenson Button (McLaren, English) One of the respected, older drivers on the grid. He's certainly the most mature of the front runners. His is also the kind of guy who enters a marathon for fun and comes in 3rd. Yeah, that guy.
Felipe Massa (Ferrari, Brazilian) Massa is a championship-caliber racer, having nearly won the title in 2008. Now he's perpetually playing second fiddle to Alonso, and everyone feels a little sorry for the guy.
Nico Rosberg (Mercedes, German) They call him "Britney" because he's the pretty boy of the field. He's a race winner and the son of a world champion, but he is less interesting than his hair.
Romain Grosjean (Lotus, French) The crashiest driver on the field. He's fast and he smiles a lot, but there's definitely money riding on him crashing into everyone on the first corner.
Sergio "Checo" Perez (Sauber, Mexican) One of the cooler drivers out there. He's young and is the king of managing his tires. He'll be at a top team next year, so watch him for his future.
Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber, Japanese) He's perhaps the most aggressive driver in the field, making crazy passes and otherwise making the other drivers other people look boring. Again, the fans love this guy.
Nico Hulkenberg (Force India, German) Hulkenberg is like a sorbet to cleanse the palate. He's a middle-of-the-pack driver on a middle-of-the-pack team. Forget about him.
Paul Di Resta (Force India, Scottish) The British press loves this young driver and calls him "Best of the Resta." He's a promising driver, but there's not much to see from him in his current car.
Pastor Maldonado (Williams, Venezuelan) He doesn't crash quite as often as Grosjean, but he regularly smashes into other drivers trying to pass him. Bet on him to take someone else out of the race on Sunday.
Michael Schumacher (Mercedes, German) He's a bit of a grandpa today, but he's the winningest driver in F1 history with seven world titles. Watching him race is a bit like watching Michael Jordan trying to make a comeback. Thankfully, Schumie is retiring (for the second time) at the end of this season.
Bruno Senna (Williams, Brazilian) He's Ayrton Senna's nephew, so that's supposed to make him a god among men, but he's just a kinda silly young driver. His performance has been up and down through the season, depending on how his car is set up.
Heikki Kovalainen (Caterham, Finnish) He's a fairly good young driver, but he's stuck in one of the worst teams on the grid. If he were in a Red Bull, he'd maybe be leading the championship.
Jean-Eric Vergne, Daniel Ricciardo, Timo Glock, Vitaly Petrov, Jerome D'Ambrosio, Charles Pic, Narain Karthikeyan, Pedro de la Rosa: If we put you in a F1 car, you'd be faster than these guys. Ignore them and hope they don't crash into your favorite driver.
So who out of these drivers do we think you should follow? We're rooting for Kimi because he's a no-nonsense driver who likes to race in a gorilla suit and fall off boats (see above gif). If you like rooting for the underdog, cheer for Fernando Alonso. If you like cheering for young drivers, go with Vettel. If you want to root for a driver who has no realistic chance of winning, but is likely to do crazy shit during the race, keep an eye on Grosjean, Maldonado, and Perez.
Whatever you do, don't forget to tune in to SPEED at 1:30 on Sunday and check out the rest of our F1 coverage. A good place to start is with our guide for clueless Americans.