Formula 1

Austin Grand Prix: Circuit of the Americas preview

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This weekend Formula 1 giddies up for its trip to the West as Austin's Circuit of the Americas hosts the United States Grand Prix.

Now heading into its third race, since joining the calendar back in 2012, America's first purpose-built F1 venue is quickly establishing itself as a favourite among fans and drivers alike.

From the iconic red tower to the challenging layout, COTA is also becoming one of only a few modern tracks designed by Hermann Tilke that most believe could be called a modern classic, but is this true?

Blast from the past

Certainly the circuit has very much of an old-school feel, whereas most modern facilities are remembered for the incredible grandstands and mile after mile of tarmac run-off COTA is all about the racetrack and the spectators who, from some areas, can see nearly all of the 5.5km layout.

Much of the old-school theme comes from the fact much of the circuit was inspired by some of the most famous sections of tarmac from around the world.

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The steep climb to the first corner was inspired by that on the approach to turn one at Austria's Red Bull Ring, the sweeping esses a mix of Silverstone's Maggotts and Beckett's complex and the Snake at Suzuka. Then there is the long right-hander of turn's 16-18 which circle the tower and heralds to back to Istanbul's turn eight, one of Hermann Tilke's better creations.

Copycat track?

The issue I have with that is while, yes the whole circuit works and challenges cars in every way possible, does the amount of 'copycat' corners make it hard for COTA to create its own identity.

We like and most love the circuit but we can never remember it totally for being the Circuit of the Americas because so much of it is reminiscent of other circuits.

It does have some uniqueness to it, however, oddly enough for all the challenging sequences it is a medium-speed left hander at turn 19 that is often the most difficult for drivers to get right as most drivers end up running wide carrying too much speed.

It has also proven a good track for overtaking with the hairpin left at turn one and another slow left-hander at turn 12 both having DRS to assist rather than create.

On-board lap

Before I go into the nuances of the track enjoy Sebastian Vettel's qualifying lap from 2012 and even the melodic tones of Sky F1's Martin Brundle to give you a detailed look at the Circuit of the Americas.

An engineer's nightmare

Because of all the different sections testing different parts of the car it is a very tricky circuit to set cars up for.

Good top speed is needed for the long back straight where this year's V6 hybrids should surpass 200mph, good traction for the slow technical area that soon follows and good downforce to cope with the sweeping first sector.

Mercedes vs Red Bull?

As a result we may see a split in which teams are fastest though which sector.

Red Bull and Ferrari may not have the power of the Mercedes but can come close to matching them for downforce therefore could be quite a bit closer through the lefts and rights at the start of the lap.

With the 2014 cars having less aerodynamic grip than last year corners like turn two and the final sequence to the esses could also become much trickier but again favour Red Bull maybe more than the Mercedes.

The second sector, however, is where the Silver Arrows will shine, the long back straight will see them claim back any tenths lost in the sweepers and also make overtaking into turn 12 a little easier as well.

Williams too with its slipperier body will benefit in this section, however, their problem with traction may hurt them heading onto that long back straight.

As we saw in Singapore, Mercedes can easily match Red Bull for traction, therefore the final sector could be quite even through the twisty back and forth sequence before the long triple-apex right.

Tyres a factor?

Despite the high-speed changes of direction and traction zones out of slow turns, Pirelli will bring the soft and medium compounds to Austin for the first time after using the medium and hard combination for the first two years.

With warm temperatures expected then tyres could very well play a key role this weekend and could also play into the hands of Red Bull and Force India who can make their tyres last longer than those around them.

Great track, great city

There is a growing sense that finally, after years of trying, Formula 1 has found a home in the USA, the people of Austin have taken to the sport like ducks to water with capacity crowds filling the grandstands and the smell of Texas BBQ wafting on the banks that surround it.

With another crucial title battle ongoing as well as plenty of battles up and down the grid this weekend's United States Grand Prix promises to be an absolute ripper and the Circuit of the Americas is certainly a venue capable of putting on quite a show.

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