Max Verstappen leads the championship by just six points, but he’ll have to work hard to maintain it at Lewis Hamilton’s fortress in Austin, Texas.
Distance: 5.513 kilometres
After decades of American drift, Formula 1 finally found a permanent home in the States in 2012 with the debut of the state-of-the-art Circuit of the Americas.
And the track feels very homely indeed. Squint hard and you’ll see the Red Bull Ring’s turn three in the steep run up the hill off the grid, Silverstone’s Maggotts-Becketts at turns three to six, Interlagos’s Senna S at turns seven and eight, the Hockenheimring’s stadium section at turns 12 to 14, and even Istanbul’s multi-apex turn 8 through turns 17 and 18.
Combined with some long straights and circuit widths as wide as the Texas sky to promote overtaking, this veritable Frankenstein’s monster of iconic racing circuits is a fan and driver favourite - and a regular highlights generator.
2019’s winner: Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
Valtteri Bottas had to win to keep his dim title chances alive against Lewis Hamilton. The Finn drove an exemplary race on two stops and passed the one-stopping Briton with four laps remaining, but it wasn’t enough to deny second-placed Hamilton his sixth world championship.
The title lead has changed hands twice in two rounds through Russia and Turkey. Victory to Hamilton in Sochi was expected, but Verstappen’s recovery from the back of the grid with an engine penalty to place second in the rain meant the Briton’s advantage was minimised.
In Istanbul, it was Hamilton’s turn to serve an engine penalty for reliability concerns, but in slick conditions he recovered to only fifth, conceding his points lead. However, Bottas’s unquestionably dominant win — one of the best of his career in a car unexpectedly quick — means Mercedes arrives in Austin with the ascendancy.
This is F1’s first race in Austin since the pandemic, and it couldn’t come at a better time for Hamilton. Winning five of the eight races ever held here, it’s one of his favourite circuits and among his six most successful tracks.
Averaged out, this challenge is similar to that posed by Istanbul, albeit a little aggressive on tyre wear and a little more biased towards power thanks to its 1.2-kilometre back straight.
On the face of it that’s bad news for Red Bull Racing. The team was uncompetitive in Turkey, although the cold conditions and unexpectedly aggressive year-old surface made set-up difficult. It also pointed somewhat accusatorily to what it believes are engine performance gains that underpinned Mercedes’s control of that race.
However, considered more granularly, COTA offers a little bit for everyone, with a combination of slow, medium and fast corners that will force drivers to pick an aerodynamic compromise they’re comfortable with. That means there’s scope for the driver to make a greater difference in car performance.
It’s a door left ajar for Red Bull Racing and Verstappen to play to their strengths — but equally it gives Lewis Hamilton room to exercise his triumphant history in Austin, lean on Mercedes’s momentum, and channel his championship-winning 2019 drive to retake the title lead.