Look, if you’re only going to watch one Formula One race a year, you might as well do it this weekend, when the lone American race on the calendar (for now) comes to Austin, Texas. Here’s what to expect ahead of the U.S. Grand Prix on Sunday.
F1’s raced in the U.S. off and on for decades, with some of those events not going so well. F1 most recently returned to America after a five-year absence in 2012, with a grand prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin. The series has come to COTA every year since then, but not without plenty of drama and fears that the race wouldn’t make the F1 calendar. Luckily, that wasn’t the case this time.
Circuit of The Americas, a 3.4-mile, 20-turn track with a sharp first corner, S-turns and plenty of other tight curves, is F1 points leader Lewis Hamilton’s own personal playground.
Hamilton is, to put it simply, good here. He’s won five of the six F1 races that have been held there, according to the Racing Reference archive, and the only other driver to win at COTA is his closest rival in this year’s standings, Sebastian Vettel, in 2013.
There could soon be more than one F1 race in the U.S., since F1’s new American owners want U.S. races all over the calendar. A Miami Grand Prix on a mess of a street circuit was supposed to be on the 2019 schedule, but that got pushed back to at least 2020 already, and F1 has also trademarked names for potential Las Vegas Grand Prix and New York Grand Prix races for safekeeping.
But for now, COTA has dibs as the only U.S. F1 date for at least a couple of years.
The U.S. Grand Prix is the 18th of 21 races this year. We have a more complete guide to the 2018 F1 season in general here, but the lowdown is this: the top three teams in recent race seasons are Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull Racing, all of whom have a consistent advantage over the rest of the field, and who have semi-predictable finishing positions amongst each other—they’re all interchangeable, but if you’re placing bets, count on Mercedes first, then Ferrari, then Red Bull.
Hamilton remains the Mercedes star and his teammate, Valtteri Bottas, occasionally gets roped in to following team orders to help Hamilton’s championship lead. Ferrari has Vettel, who’s second in the championship but so far back now that it doesn’t make much of a difference, and 38-year-old Kimi Raikkonen, who will go to Alfa Romeo Sauber after this year and get replaced by younger driver Charles Leclerc.
Red Bull has Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, the first of whom got some extra kerbs placed at COTA after a big passing penalty in last year’s race. Ricciardo will leave Red Bull after this year for Renault.
That’s a great question, given all of this talk about Hamilton being so far ahead of his closest contender in the standings. The short answer here is: maybe.
The championship looked like it would be really close and competitive between Hamilton and Vettel for the first part of the race season, because Ferrari actually seemed to have a bit of an edge. A few mistakes later, that nearly all went down the drain, and we’re now at clinch scenarios heading into the U.S. race.
Basically, if Hamilton finishes well enough and Vettel finishes low enough in the race, Hamilton can clinch the championship several races early in Austin. This wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened.
Here are the clinch scenarios for Hamilton this weekend, all compiled in a nice little graphic on COTA’s Twitter account. If he doesn’t clinch it this weekend, he likely will sooner than later.
Since Hamilton is so good at the track, a major threat to him finishing near the front (read: in first) is a wreck in the first turn. Those happen sometimes.
An additional complication: the weather sucks in Austin this weekend, with temperatures in the unusually low (for Texas) mid-60s and a strong possibility of rain—possibly even flooding. We’re expecting this race to be a wet one.
We’ve reached the point where you’re chanting “U-S-A!” and thinking about how fun it would be to see one of the world’s biggest international racing titles decided on the soils of the red, white and blue. Here’s how and when to chant that all the way through Sunday afternoon’s U.S. Grand Prix.
When: Sunday, Oct. 21 at 2 p.m. ET
Where: Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas
Television channel in the U.S.: ABC, coverage starting at 1:30 p.m. ET
Streaming via F1: F1 TV Pro, $11.99 per month or $99.99 per year
Live updates without video coverage: F1 TV Access, $2.99 per month or $26.99 per year, or just make a Twitter list of F1 accounts and follow along for free.
There are also practice and qualifying sessions, with qualifying consisting of three elimination rounds that decide the starting lineup. Qualifying is at 5 p.m. ET on Saturday, with coverage via streams or on ESPN News in America.
Get your stars and stripes pajama pants on, whether you’re attending the race or watching it at home, and get ready for a fun one—because that’s hopefully what this will be.