Formula 1 returns to Austin, Texas this weekend for the US Grand Prix, and with battles for drivers’ and constructors’ finishing positions up and down the grid yet to be decided, RealSport looks at five drivers who need a good race stateside.
1 Fernando Alonso
In the previous version of this article we mentioned that Fernando Alonso had not yet confirmed his plans for 2018. We are now two weeks later into October and are still none the wiser. As the seats at Renault have now been filled, it would seem Alonso's only options are to move to another motorsport category or give McLaren one final chance at glory.
Some say Fernando's time in F1 is coming to a close due to his continued efforts to claim the "triple crown" of motorsport (win at Monaco, Le Mans and the Indy 500). Others believe that he may stay on even longer given the effort required to drive modern cars is less than when Alonso started his F1 career back in the early 2000s. Until he actually makes a decision though we will be left waiting and wondering.
As we said last week, Alonso trails his teammate Stoffel Vandoorne by three points in the championship, and this is still the case. This is undoubtedly something the Spaniard will want to correct before the end of the year.
The hard fact remains though that even coming into this race with the McLaren showing signs of life near the top ten in the past few races, the Circuit of The Americas (COTA) is unlikely to favour the chassis-driven Mclaren. The nature of the track insists on top speed driven straights, and this may stop Alonso from fighting with the likes of the Renaults and Toro Rossos.
Having said that, the Mclarens finished fifth and ninth last year, so we shall see how the weekend unfolds for the "orange is the new black" team.
2 Brendon Hartley
RealSport examined why Brendon Hartley has the potential to succeed earlier in the week. It's a big race for the Kiwi this weekend, no question about it.
There’s a certain irony to Hartley being given his F1 shot by Toro Rosso, given that only seven years earlier he’d been left at a career crossroads when he was dropped from Red Bull’s vaunted young driver programme.
Faced with a similar situation, many a driver might crumble or disappear from the racing stratosphere. But Hartley, perhaps infused with the same dogged determination that countrymen Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme had shown when they made the same trip from New Zealand to Europe in the late 1950s, refused to give up on his racing dreams.
His opportunity this weekend represents the first non-academy driver to be promoted to the Toro Rosso team, and that shows a fresh approach from Toro Rosso as they face a difficult decision regarding their 2018 driver line-up. In Kvyat they have a proven racer, but not a talent anymore, and in the eyes of some, a liability.
Gasly is unproven over the course of a season which means they are looking for experience to partner him. Enter Harley. I don't think people are genuinely giving him enough credit because, should he perform this weekend, there is a strong shout for him getting a 2018 seat.
It's still a long shot as Toro Rosso usually hire younger drivers, but such is the unique position they find themselves in.
3 Felipe Massa
Should this season actually end up being Felipe Massa's last in F1, it would be nice as a fan of the sport to see one of its icons finishing with a flurry of points to beat his rookie teammate.
The rumour mill has churned out plenty of talk regarding a Williams 2018 driver switch up, but none of this seemed to have the veteran Massa staying put.
It has been reported that young gun Paul di Resta and former Renault driver Robert Kubica are battling it out for a spot alongside Lance Stroll, all while leaving out the 36-year-old Massa in next year's plans. Previously, this didn't seem to be an issue within the organisation as the Brazilian driver had taken a relaxed stance on his position, but now it appears as if he may want to stick around a while longer.
Massa, who had previously retired in 2016 before coming back to replace the Mercedes-bound Valtteri Bottas, believes his experience can be a major benefit to the British outfit. He's quoted in a recent interview with Autoweek as saying, "I think it’s frustrating that the team is trying to go for a direction that can really be much worse for the team than keeping the same (drivers)."
It would seem there is still some fight in the ageing Brazilian, who really needs a strong finish in all remaining GPs if he wants a chance at that seat.
4 Romain Grosjean
This weekend marks Haas's second home race since their conception, and it comes at the perfect time for the team. Struggles in recent weeks regarding development and morale appearing to get the better of Grosjean.
We know that at his best he is one of the top drivers on the grid, but he seems to have a case of Seb Vettelitis, that is to say emotion drives the car more often than not. Both Grosjean and the team know how important it is to get this under control, but for now a composed points finish is needed.
This may be a challenge for the team, as Renault have strengthened their driver lineup and are said to be bringing more updates to Austin this weekend. Haas will still be hopeful though, as their final upgrade package of the year will arrive in America, hopefully giving them a fighting chance to impress their home fans.
Last year was a mixed bag for Haas, claiming a solitary point with Grosjean. If he was to replicate that result in this year's race I can't help but feel that the larger context of the result will be more important for the team going forward.
5 Carlos Sainz
First Race for Renault, first points for Renault? This has to be Carlos's target coming into a big weekend for the younger Spaniard.
In interviews with Sky Sports both Sainz and his teammate Hulkenberg seem optimistic and supportive of one another... Lets see how long that one lasts, eh?
"I’m looking forward to working with Carlos," said Hulkenberg. "We need to finish the season well together to help the team in the constructors’ standings."
Sainz will make his debut in the RS17 in Austin after his move to the French team was brought forward, and there is still work to be done in 2017 with the battle for sixth in the constructors' standings hotting up.
The Renault will be the first car Sainz has driven in F1 other than a Toro Rosso.
"It’s a big challenge, but it motivates me," the Spaniard admitted. "I’m looking forward to working with Nico. I think he is a great driver and one of the most talented on the grid."
"He has lots of experience in Formula 1 so I will learn from him as soon as I can. Hopefully, we can both help the team move further up in the championship before the end of the season."
Who do you think needs a good weekend in Austin? Let us know in the comments below!
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