Questions, questions: U.S. GP preview
The Sky Sports F1 Online team ask the big questions
By Pete Gill, William Esler and Mike Wise. Last Updated: 14/11/12 5:00pm
The pressing issues ahead of this weekend's U.S. GP...
Will qualified Alonso do enough to prevent Vettel winning the title?
Given Fernando Alonso's relentless consistency this season and, barring a collision with a Lotus, his unerring ability to guide his F2012 into the points, the chances of Sebastian Vettel securing his third successive title this weekend are probably no higher than around 30%. But the prospect is certainly feasible: were Alonso to fail to finish in the points then any place on the podium would be sufficient to see Vettel become the youngest three-times World Champion in the sport's history and the first driver to win his first three titles in consecutive years. The ominous rumbling sound you can hear is the fat lady clearing her rotund throat.
The good news for Alonso is that, at ten points, Vettel's lead is far from insurmountable; there are, after all, still fifty to play for. Lewis Hamilton's return to pace and form in Abu Dhabi may also work to Alonso's advantage given that the vast bulk of Vettel's victories in F1 have occurred from pole position.
Yet the feeling persists that, through no fault of his own, Alonso missed a rare opportunity to a put substantial dent into the Vettel/Red Bull juggernaut in Abu Dhabi when Sebastian played his 'get out of jail free' to go from pitlane to podium without, truth be told, doing a great deal. Looked at from Vettel's perspective, that ten-points lead is a very handy advantage to hold with just two races remaining against a competitor handicapped by a serious qualifying deficiency.
With Ferrari seemingly unable to extract competitive one-lap pace from the F2012 despite the raft of upgrades delivered for Abu Dhabi, the likelihood is that Alonso will start Sunday's race behind Vettel - perhaps far behind. As such, he'd surely settle for taking the title to the wire and hope for rain in Brazil. Vettel, conversely, will be fully intent on ending the title race at the first time of asking. Bring it on. PG
Will F1 finally find a home in the States?
F1 has tried many times to break into the American market - a lucrative arena for sponsors and car manufacturers alike. Riverside International Raceway, Sebring, Watkins Glen and Indianapolis have all come and gone, as have street circuits in Long Beach, Las Vegas, Detroit, Phoenix and Dallas since F1 made its debut Stateside in 1959. But the Circuit of the Americas is the first purpose-built venue for grand prix racing in the country and already receiving rave previews.
There tends to be a tendency in Europe to think of American fans just liking oval racing - but 200,000 fans turned out for the inaugural Indianapolis race in 2000 and, despite the tyre debacle in 2005, the crowds came back for the final two years of the race - underlining the depth of the fanbase in the country.
Yes, the sport is not as big as IndyCar or NASCAR - perhaps due to unsocial viewing hours - but there seems to be a genuine excitement about this race that has not surrounded any of the other recent additions to the F1 calendar. With state of the art facilities, an undulating track and what on paper seem to be some fantastic corners, everything is set for a successful future in Texas. But the proof is always in the pudding. WE
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And what will the fans think?
The broadest brushstrokes depicting the American attitude towards Formula 1 were daubed in the film Talladega Nights. The principal villain, Jean Girard, was French and also gay. Boo...hiss. Yet far, far worse in the eyes of the average good ol' beer-chugging NASCAR boy was the category of racing from whence he came.
Last weekend's Sprint Cup race in Phoenix ended with a deliberate crash which later developed into a full-scale fist fight. It's seen as all part of the fun; more important than strategic minutiae and aerodynamic esoterics? Probably, but you could say as much of the majority F1 fans worldwide. Why should the United States be any different? But it's a country large enough to sustain a grand prix even when the majority of motorsport fans look elsewhere. A minority look towards F1 but with a population topping 315 million, let's hope that enough will make their way to Austin and take up at least a healthy majority of the 120,000 tickets on offer.
Yes, Indianapolis always looked only half full when it played host but it should be pointed out that the IMS has enough capacity to house over twice that figure. It was always one of the best - if not the best - attended of races. Leaving aside the 1991 Phoenix Grand Prix (when more people reputedly paid to watch an ostrich race happening elsewhere in the city on the same day) the disastrous 2005 U.S. GP at Indianapolis represents F1's American nadir. There's no doubt that F1 needs America more than America needs F1 but it's also true that there are plenty of knowledgeable, appreciative fans Stateside. What the sport needs to do is not take them for granted whilst also putting on a show that can turn new heads. MW
Will any team risk a driver announcement this weekend?
In football, nothing seems to improve a player's reputation as much as a long-term injury. In F1 this season, meanwhile, it seems as if there is nothing like a transfer or contract extension for 2013 to put a driver's form into sharp reverse. The pattern has been a persistent theme this season, right from the July time when Mark Webber signed a new deal at Red Bull a couple of days after winning at Silverstone and then scored a total of twenty points in the next six races. In a similar vein, Sergio Perez hasn't scored a solitary point since being confirmed at McLaren for 2013, Felipe Massa has gone quiet since earning another year at Ferrari with his first podium in two years, while Nico Hulkenberg greeted his transfer to Sauber with an atypically reckless and race-wrecking move into the first corner at Abu Dhabi.
Never one to conform with convention, Kimi Raikkonen bucked the trend by following up the long-expected announcement he'll be at Lotus next year by winning at Yas Marina, but, in the overall circumstances, would you blame any team boss for opting to stay mute this weekend on their plans for next season? PG
What will we see of next year?
With winter testing set to be limited to a mere twelve days - the dates are yet to be confirmed, but the winter season is expected to commence in the first week of February - and at least a couple of teams already turning their backs on the remains of this season to focus on next year, it would be a surprise if Friday's practice sessions don't see a fair few 2013 components being run. But the fact that Red Bull, the team with the most closely-scrutinised car on the grid, managed to introduce a Double DRS without detection in Singapore just goes to show how difficult these things are to spot, however. Eyes and magnifying glasses to the ready, folks. PG
Will Sauber's 2013 thinking become any clearer?
Judging by the timesheets from last week's Young Driver Test, Esteban Gutierrez out-performed Robin Frijns to take pole position in their perceived head-to-head clash to replace Kamui Kobayashi. But test times are also notoriously unreliable and too dependent on external factors to simply be taken at face value. A tell-tale clue to Sauber's thinking, however, might be their line-up for practice in America. If Gutierrez given is another opportunity to impress and familiarise himself with the workings of a F1 car then it would be reasonable to deduce that the well-backed Mexican is in line to replace the unfortunate Kamui Kobayashi (were he to be dropped) and a decent performance on Friday - which he wasn't able to deliver in India - would seal the deal. Maybe. PG