Following a hiatus of 3 weeks, the 2014 Formula One Championships continues for its final string of races, starting with this weekend's United States Grand Prix, held in Austin, Texas.
The Circuit of the Americas has received universal praise since it made its Formula 1 debut in 2012. Its taxing 5.513km layout is a fascinating test of man and machine, and the atmosphere has been electric at the two Grands Prix staged at the circuit to date.
The track is situated on an 890-acre site, just a few miles south-east of Austin. It’s the first purpose-built F1 track in North America, although it’s the 10th different venue to stage an F1 race in the country and the second in the state of Texas, following a one-off street race in Dallas in 1984.
The most challenging sections of the lap have been inspired by some of the great corners around the world. Sector One contains some fast sweeping bends similar to the Maggotts-Becketts complex at Silverstone; Sector Two has a corner similar to the Senna ‘S’ at Interlagos; and the final sector has a long, multi-apex right-hander reminiscent of Turn Eight at Istanbul Park.
The track is one of only four circuits on this year’s calendar to run in an anti-clockwise direction. It also has an elevation change of 41m, the highest point being the apex of Turn One, and many of the corners have blind entries and exits as a result. To be fast, a driver needs to be very precise.
Pirelli are taking their Soft (Option) and Medium (Prime) tyre compounds to the race, a combination that has already been used six times this year. The rubber needs enough durability to withstand the high lateral forces placed on it in Sector One, while providing sufficient traction and braking stability around the remainder of the lap.
Car set-up is the usual compromise between straight-line speed and cornering grip. The 1.0km back straight encourages engineers to reduce wing levels, but the need for grip in Sectors One and Three pushes set-up back towards maximum downforce, as has been the case at most racetracks this year.
Front wing Turns 16-18 define the front wing levels as understeer is the enemy here. This means more front wing is used than would otherwise be needed for the rest of the circuit layout.
Rear wing Similar level of downforce to that used in Abu Dhabi. Maximum speed reached on the straight is over 300 kph, so it has a long straight, but it’s intermingled with a diverse mix of corners, both high speed and low speed needing downforce.
Brakes The Austin track can be considered to have a medium demand on the braking system with the drivers using the brakes for about 15% of the time on each lap, but it is characterised by two very sudden braking sections. The T12 turn is worth a mention. It is one of the most demanding of the season in terms of dissipated energy and one of the most sudden for the driver with a G force of -5.5 Gs. No particular problems are however expected in terms of wear.
The most frequent allocation of 2014, the medium and the soft compound Pirelli tyres will be used. This is a change from last season where the hardest allocation of hard and medium were employed.
The medium tyre is a low working range compound, capable of achieving optimal performance even at a wide range of low temperatures. The soft tyre by contrast is a high working range compound, suitable for higher temperatures. There was an extremely variable range of track temperatures throughout the US Grand Prix weekend last year, from 18 to 37 degrees centigrade.
Suspension A balance between the high speed stability for the flat out turns 2-4 and the change of direction requirements later in the lap.
Engine set-up Austin contains a real mix of corners that will stress every part of the PU. The pit straight and back straight will tax the ICE while the slower corners in sector three will give the MGU-K something to think about. Likewise the turbo and MGU-H will have a workout through the faster complexes in sector two. The changes in altitude are significant and will affect the turbo most of all, but having had the experience in Spa and Austria we do not expect any particular issue.
Race distance: 56 laps (308.405km/191.643 miles)
Start time: 13:00 (local)/19:00 (GMT)
Circuit length: 5.513km/3.426 miles
Track abrasiveness: Medium. The asphalt has a similar smoothness and texture to the Sochi Autodrom, scene of the last grand prix, but the lateral loads are much higher due to the greater number of fast corners.
Fuel consumption: High. The twisty first and last sectors, through which the drivers are constantly on and off the throttle, combined with a long back straight, make it one of the more demanding venues for fuel consumption.
Brake wear: Medium. There are two big stops around the lap, but there’s plenty of time for the brakes to cool between each.
Turbo effect: Medium, due to the sharp bursts of acceleration in Sectors One and Three
Grid advantage: The right-hand side is the racing line, so it holds an advantage up the very steep hill to Turn One.
Pitlane time: 22s