Formula 1

Mercedes fireworks can light up depleted US Grand Prix

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The Mercedes battle is set to reach a new level as the gloves finally come off at the United States Grand Prix.

After securing the team's primary aim of winning the Constructors' championship at the last race in Sochi, there is nothing to stop Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg from going at each other hammer and tongs from now until the season finale in Abu Dhabi.

While that is the chief storyline heading into the weekend's action in Austin, Texas there are many more subplots and things to watch out for at the Circuit of the Americas.

A depleted grid

For the first time since the 2005 Monaco Grand Prix less than 20 cars will be parked in the garages when the action begins on Friday.

As the situation at Caterham continues to spiral, now Marussia look set to miss at least the next two races.

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It has been a difficult year for the two surviving teams who joined the grid along with the already defunct HRT team back in 2010.

The costs of development and the new power units has seen the two teams simply unable to keep their heads above water and it now seems likely Marussia will join Caterham in administration.

Bernie Ecclestone has revealed the teams are allowed to miss two races per season and not lose their constructors' money which for Marussia means they would have to race in Abu Dhabi to maintain the ninth place Jules Bianchi earned them when he scored two points in Monaco earlier this year.

Sebastian Vettel to start 18th

Its strange looking forward to a Grand Prix likely knowing where someone will start the race, however, we are already fairly certain that Sebastian Vettel will start at the back of the grid.

We know this because he is set to take his sixth engine of the season which triggers a ten-place grid penalty.

What is also expected is that Vettel will not run in qualifying therefore saving his sixth engine for the race.

With five cars then not running it will be interesting to see what format qualifying will take. Usually the worst six from the first two parts of qualifying leave a top ten to fight it out for pole.

But with only 18 cars in Austin, will the FIA alter it so perhaps four cars will be knocked out of both Q1 and Q2, we will likely get an answer later in the week.

Opportunity for Sauber

With a depleted grid, does the US Grand Prix give Sauber their best chance to score points this season?

The Swiss team, itself mired by financial issues, has failed to score all year and on current form needs a race with high attrition to do so.

The big problem for them is reliability as usually when there is a good list of retirements they are a part of it.

Their nearest rivals all year Lotus will trial a new front nose solution in practice replacing the twin tusk design they have used all year.

Currently eighth in the championship, they too could do with some points although would be unlikely to catch Toro Rosso who are currently 21 points ahead in seventh.

Force India vs McLaren all sewn up

Another interesting battle is between McLaren and Force India to see who will be named the worst team with the dominant Mercedes engine.

In Russia, McLaren grabbed the initiative finishing fourth and fifth in their best weekend since Brazil last year.

Their 22 points from Sochi lifted them 20 clear of Force India but the Circuit of the Americas may not be quite so suited to the MP4-29 as the streets of the Olympic Park and certainly we can expect more tyre wear in Austin which will play back into Force India's hands.

With two more circuits that will suit McLaren's better traction in the final two races it falls on Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg to have a big weekend and for Perez he will many Mexican fans coming across the border to cheer him on.

Best of the rest

After a horrific weekend in Sochi, Red Bull will have to rely on Daniel Ricciardo to lead their charge once again in the battle to be 'best of the rest'.

The RB10 hasn't been quite as competitive as most thought after the high-speed tracks of Spa and Monza with only the wet race on Sunday saving their bacon at Suzuka, whether all focus has turned to the 2015 car is unknown though given the gap between themselves and Mercedes wouldn't be surprising.

Ferrari remain a team desperate to achieve a good result before the end of the season.

While some speculation suggests the announcement of Sebastian Vettel may come next week for Fernando Alonso he will likely continue to do what he always has during his time at Maranello and lead the Prancing Horse's charge.

There is little to suggest the team will feature too strongly around the more aero-dependent Circuit of the Americas but Ferrari always manage to hang around somewhere and could have a good battle with Red Bull

The favourites, however, to be second behind the Silver Arrows remain Williams. The team has made a lot of progress in the past few races and Valtteri Bottas produced another excellent performance to at least keep Hamilton honest for much of the race in Sochi.

With only a handful of slow corners their lack of traction out of the turns shouldn't be too critical particularly if the Pirelli tyres have a decent amount of durability to them, therefore I would expect them to be quite comfortable in third and fourth barring any issues.

Hamilton vs. Rosberg

The main event, however, will be the continuation of the season long battle between cars numbered 44 and 6.

Hamilton won the inaugural race in Texas with an excellent pass on Sebastian Vettel in 2012 but you just feel that now a slight sense of desperation may see Rosberg up his game again.

If Lewis comes out on top and extends his lead to 24 points, providing both cars finish one-two, I really don't see a route back without trouble in Abu Dhabi.

Team boss Toto Wolff has suggested nothing will change between Hamilton and Rosberg despite the team claiming the important Constructors' crown, but I for one think we could be in for quite a few fireworks around one of the best circuits of the modern era.

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