The usual end of season driver shuffle is well under way as the season returns for the final three races and this year there are some big names in the seat shake up. It’s like musical chairs but with F1 Champions, Vettel replacing Alonso at Ferrari and rumours of a possible return to McLaren for the Spaniard. 2007 Championship winner Button might find himself without a seat if the team decide they prefer younger, bolder, Magnussen as a teammate to Alonso. The 2014 season is coming to a swift close and all eyes are on the dominant Mercedes drivers and their tussle for the top spot. The US Grand Prix is usually a bit of a spectacle, so expect excitement from the fans and some ruthless driving from the teams as the available points dwindle.
Lewis Hamilton extended his domination to four consecutive wins with a Pole and a checkered flag on the Sochi Russian Grand Prix debut. Bottas prevented Mercedes from having a clean sweep in Sochi by getting the fastest lap of the race, a feat which proves that after years of mediocrity, Williams could follow Mercedes in the line of unlikely teams to challenge the longtime monopolies of points by F1 giants like Ferrari and McLaren. Russia was relatively dull, the usual Mercedes one-two, with Rosberg’s masterful tyre management deserving a mention. Bottas was the best of the rest, and would have taken second had the race been a few laps longer. McLaren have shown an improvement in pace, unfortunately getting ahold of the new 2014 set-up a bit too late in the game. Button had some serious motivation with his future at McLaren in question and surprisingly finished ahead of Magnussen. Alonso managed a satisfactory sixth for the Ferraris, with Raikkonen finishing in his familiar bottom of the points position in ninth, behind his future teammate Vettel. Ricciardo finished seventh which is lower than he’s used to but he yet again brought home more points than his teammate, proving that Ricciardo is the better fit for the Red Bull team in 2015. Force India added to their growing collection of points and are not far behind McLaren in the Constructors’ standings, close enough that if McLaren’s improvement is short-lived they could lose out to Vijay Mallya’s much smaller team.
Austin’s contribution to the Formula One calendar is one of the few anti-clockwise circuits of the season and reads like a Greatest Hits of F1 tracks. Well-received by the American racing fans, celebrities and Formula One teams, the track combines elements of other tracks in a quick and challenging format. There’s a steep climb at the start of the race which brings to mind Eau Rouge, but is distinctive in the fact that it occurs right off the line at turn one. Hermann Tilke was involved with the design so it’s unsurprising that there are certain familiar aspects, considering he’s the go-to designer when it comes to Formula One tracks. Istanbul Park, Silverstone and Hockenheim also get a shout out from the 5.513km circuit in Texas, which has managed to create a decent track by taking the best bits from others. How very American. Austin is pretty warm, despite it being winter, and with the possibility of rain unlikely, Pirelli’s medium and soft compounds will be put to the test against the tight curves of the track.
To Win Outright
Lewis Hamilton 6/10
Nico Rosberg 9/4
Valterri Bottas 11/1
Daniel Ricciardo 14/1
Felipe Massa 22/1
Fernando Alonso 40/1
Jenson Button 66/1
Sebastian Vettel 66/1
Sebastian Vettel (11/20 a Top 6, 7/1 a podium)
Vettel’s excessive use of power units has left the German in a predicament for Austin, with the high possibility of the former Champion missing qualifying and starting from the pit lane for Sunday’s race. Vettel won here last year, so he’s no stranger to victory at this track, but a decent result from a pit start is a tall order even for someone of Vettel’s reputation. However, he is a master of ballsy overtakes and he’s had a few impressive finishes from quite far down the pack. There’s always a chance that Vettel might appear on the podium, he’s had a few flashes of brilliance this season despite his inability to match the pace of the Mercedes. A Top 6 at 11/20 is still within his grasp if a clever strategy pays off, a high risk option for a podium at 7/1 offers a nice return if Vettel can manage a magical performance.
Valtteri Bottas (8/10 a podium, 11/1 a win)
Surprisingly Bottas is yet to win a race, his visits to the podium have been frequent and the pace of the Williams has been impressive from as early as testing this season. He only finished eighth in Austin last year, but the Williams of the past lacked the speed of the 2014 car. Bottas has been the undeniable star of the historic team, with his grand haul of points leaving the team ahead of Ferrari in the Constructors’ fight and Bottas in an impressive fourth ahead of Vettel in the Drivers’ Championship. A win seems to be out of the question for anyone not behind the wheel of a Silver Arrow, but a podium is good bet for the impressive young driver.
Daniel Ricciardo (5/4 a podium, 14/1 a win)
Ricciardo has had an epic season with Red Bull, so much so that he’ll be filling the position of the number one driver at the team next year. Three wins and numerous podiums have left him third in the Drivers’ Championship. Sadly for Red Bull, they won’t be getting their usual trophy haul this year as he’s out of contention for the actual title, but a third place finish is a sensational achievement for a driver in his first season with a big name team. Ricciardo’s chance of a win in Texas is slight, with the Mercedes’ pace seemingly unattainable for the other cars, but he’s a big fan of the Circuit of the Americas so it will be interesting to see what the cheerful youngster can manage with a decent car beneath him. A podium is a strong possibility for the Aussie in Austin.
POLE POSITION: Lewis Hamilton 16/10
Hamilton will be looking for his fifth consecutive win of the season, a feat yet to be achieved by the Championship leader. He currently equals his earlier season record of four wins, that was snuffed out by Rosberg when he took the checkered flag at his home race in Monaco. Hamilton’s performances in Qualifying are also worthy of applause, more often than not he finds himself starting from Pole, usually going on to win unless his race is dampened by reliability issues. Hamilton’s car has been well-behaved of late, but with the championship still in fierce contention any issues could have disastrous consequences for his title hopes. He’s nearly unstoppable in qualifying so bet on the Brit to take Pole on Saturday at 16/10.
WIN: Nico Rosberg 9/4
Only two races remain after the US Grand Prix, so any hope Rosberg has of finally achieving a Driver’s Championship win will soon be dashed unless he manages to avoid spending another race with a view of Hamilton’s backside. Rosberg is nothing if not consistent, but unfortunately for him, a win is worth more than his usual second place, a fact which could see him bitterly gazing upon his teammate as Hamilton raises the trophy for a second time. However the championship is not yet won and Rosberg still has a chance to snatch it from under the nose of his British counterpart, which would have an interesting impact on the already fragile team dynamics. Rosberg has put an end to Hamilton’s winning streak in the past, expect the German to aggressively attempt to do it again this Sunday. At 9/4 for a win, Rosberg could make some decent money for the daring punter.