United States Grand Prix 2017: The RealSport Preview
RealSport looks at the main talking points heading into Austin as Lewis Hamilton faces his first opportunity to take the title.
First match point for Lewis
This weekend presents the first opportunity for Lewis Hamilton to clinch the 2017 drivers’ championship. After Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari’s collapse in the last three races, Hamilton now sits a massive 59 points ahead of Vettel in the standings and will take the title if he wins in Austin and his rival finishes sixth or lower. If Vettel fails to finish (which isn’t out of the question after the previous races), or finishes ninth or lower, then Lewis could afford to finish second and still win the title. Obviously any instance of Vettel finishing ahead of Hamilton would extend the title fight to Mexico the following week.
You wouldn’t bet against Vettel putting on a strong showing this weekend, but it all depends whether his car can survive more than a few laps this time. The last two races have been catastrophic from a reliability point of view, so it’s really up to the team to make sure they have their engine issues ironed out before they even turn a wheel in Texas this weekend.
Otherwise it’s game over!
Mercedes on the verge of fourth straight title
Things look even bleaker for Ferrari from a constructors’ standpoint. Mercedes already hold a 145-point lead over the Scuderia, and must ensure they leave Austin with at least a 129-point advantage, meaning Ferrari must outscore Mercedes by 17 points or more to keep the title race alive.
This essentially means that if one of their cars wins the race, Mercedes win the constructors’ championship.
Ferrari will be going all out to prevent this from happening, and the last few races have showed they definitely have the pace to win outright, but as with the driver’s championship they need a clean weekend or both titles could be gone in the blink of an eye.
Kvyat’s last chance to impress?
With Pierre Gasly returning to Japanese Super Formula this weekend to contest the title, Toro Rosso announced that former reserve driver Brendon Hartley would be drafted in to replace him. The New Zealand driver will be the first Kiwi on the grid since Mike Thackwell in 1984, and brings a wealth of experience with him, including a WEC title and a 24 Hours of Le Mans win.
Hartley is far from the driver he was when Red Bull dropped him in 2010, and with Porsche pulling their LMP1 program at the end of the year the 27-year-old finds himself in search of a drive, and it seems Toro Rosso and Red Bull management are willing to give him a second chance to impress.
But where does this leave Daniil Kvyat? The Russian was dropped in favour of Pierre Gasly for Malaysia and Japan, and now finds himself up against a new teammate in what seems like a shoot-out for the second Toro Rosso seat for 2018. Franz Tost said after Japan that a Gasly/Kvyat partnership for 2018 wasn’t a given, and clearly he meant it. As with the situation of Williams testing Robert Kubica and Paul di Resta, Toro Rosso clearly want to evaluate their options before making a final decision, with Sebastien Buemi said to be waiting in the wings if a deal with Hartley cannot be reached.
Kvyat has been comprehensively beaten by his outgoing teammate Carlos Sainz, so now really seems like his last chance to impress before he finds himself out of a drive.
Pirelli go pink
F1 tyre supplier Pirelli announced yesterday that its ultrasoft compound would run pink markings this weekend as part of F1’s support of breast cancer awareness and the Susan G Koeman charity. This will also mark the first time that the usually purple-walled ultrasofts will be run at the Circuit of The Americas, with the other two compounds in use this weekend being the soft and supersoft.
Other initiatives taking place around the circuit this weekend as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month include the pit lane being painted pink rather than red and Force India running pink ribbons on their cars. You have to say that the sight of the pink Force India with a pink ribbon, driving on pink-walled tyres down a pink pit lane will be something to see!
There will be other events and merchandise available at the circuit throughout the weekend, so make sure to check it out if you’re heading down to Austin for the race.
Midfield Battle: Haas bring final update of 2017 to Austin
Haas will bring their final upgrade package of 2017 to their home race this weekend. Last time out in Suzuka saw an excellent double points finish take the US-based team past Renault and into seventh in the constructors’ championship, and with Toro Rosso now only nine points ahead of them the fight for sixth now seems very much on for F1’s youngest team, especially if these new upgrades prove effective.
This upgrade package will hopefully give them a welcome boost that will really give the home fans something to cheer about this weekend. That being said though, Renault will be far from pushovers. They have an eager new driver in Carlos Sainz, and with more upgrades for the R.S.17 planned for this weekend, they will be confident of ending a run of two point-less races.
It will be really interesting to see what Carlos Sainz can do for Renault before the end of the year. Might Toro Rosso regret their decision to let him go so early if he can hit the ground running and immediately deliver better results than the departed Jolyon Palmer?
Will Hamilton and/or Mercedes win the title this weekend? Vote below and let us know your thoughts in the comments!