RACE DEBRIEF

    Formula 1 returns to the Lone Star State for the 2022 United States Grand Prix at the spectacular Circuit of The Americas. We look at the favourites for pole, victory, the podium and points – and look at how players have been voting on F1 Play, the official F1 predictor game.

    Vying for pole

    Max Verstappen took pole position in the 2021 US Grand Prix to end a run of Mercedes qualifying wins that stretched from 2014-19. The Dutchman also took pole position in a very close-cut contest last time out at Suzuka, where he eventually won to seal the championship – and it looks like Red Bull could enjoy the run of COTA once again.

    Although the track was re-surfaced in 2020, COTA is still a bumpy circuit that may also prove challenging in terms of front tyre wear. Red Bull will expect to enjoy a slight pace advantage over Ferrari but, when it comes qualifying, it really is close between the two teams; in Japan Verstappen took pole over Charles Leclerc by just 0.010s.

    READ MORE: A title still to be won, and an American driver on track – 5 storylines we’re excited about ahead of the US GP

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    Verstappen took pole by the slimmest of margins at Suzuka

    Engine penalties might shake things up, with teams mulling changes at COTA, but that’s yet to be confirmed. Sergio Perez is on the verge of receiving further component-related penalties, while McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo, the Aston Martins and Williams' drivers are yet to take their fourth engines of the season.

    Ferrari still have the speed to take pole position, as Charles Leclerc set the pace on Saturday in Italy and Singapore, but it’s unclear whether the Scuderia or Red Bull will prefer the searing hot conditions that are set to welcome drivers at Austin.

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    Pole positions in the last five races:

    • 2021 – Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
    • 2019 – Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
    • 2018 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
    • 2017 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
    • 2016 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

    FAN VIEW: Max Verstappen was utterly dominant in Japan a couple of weeks ago as he claimed his second consecutive world drivers’ title. Not surprising then that he heads the F1 Play voting to be fastest over a single lap in Austin, with around 60% of the early poll. Charles Leclerc is next, with just shy of 20% of the votes.

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    Ferrari will be hoping to extend the constructors' championship fight this weekend...

    In the mix for victory

    Red Bull are on the verge of taking the 2022 constructors’ championship here at COTA; by the chequered flag they need to be at least 147 points ahead of Ferrari to snooker the Scuderia and secure their first constructors’ title since 2013. If Ferrari outscore Red Bull by at least 19 points, the championship fight will continue to Mexico.

    Verstappen might be considered the favourite in Texas as he aims to score his second consecutive victory, with his team looking for their eighth-straight win – a feat last achieved by Mercedes from 2018-19.

    Ferrari are no strangers to success at this track, however, with Kimi Raikkonen taking his final Grand Prix win at COTA back in 2018. They could repeat that feat, but keeping on top of front tyre wear and skating over the various bumps will be key to keeping pace around Texas.

    WATCH: Relive the thrilling Verstappen vs Hamilton scrap at last year’s United States GP

    When it comes to winning at Austin, pole position is not essential; five out of nine US Grand Prix wins have come from P1 on the grid. Though the other four have come from second on the grid.

    Strategy under green flag conditions will also be crucial at COTA, given there are an average of three DNFs per Grand Prix, and there have been just three Safety Cars and four Virtual Safety Cars in nine Grands Prix at Austin – the F1 Safety Car last deployed here in 2015.

    Wins in the last five races:

    • 2021 – Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
    • 2019 – Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
    • 2018 – Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)
    • 2017 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
    • 2016 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

    FAN VIEW: Never mind qualifying, Red Bull have been even more unstoppable on race day and Verstappen is an even hotter favourite to claim his 13th victory of an all-conquering season at Circuit of The Americas on Sunday. He has around 80% of F1 Play votes so far, with Leclerc (just over 10%) a very, very distant second.

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    Shaquille O'Neal delivered the trophy in some style last year

    Podium outsiders

    With Red Bull and Ferrari expected to be the front-runners this weekend, Mercedes have an outside chance of landing a podium at COTA. The bumpy surface, though smoother than in previous years, might prove costly to their hopes.

    The Silver Arrows enjoyed a run of podiums from Azerbaijan to Hungary as they seemed to claw back performance to the pace-setters, with George Russell scoring P2 then P3 in the Netherlands and Italy – but they had less successful trips to Singapore and Japan with a best of P5 for Lewis Hamilton at Suzuka. Numerous factors contributed to tough races for the Silver Arrows in Asia, but if they can conjure up the pace they enjoyed around the summer break, a podium isn’t out of the question.

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    As for the midfielders, with Alpine and McLaren still battling for fourth in the standings, they might find it tough to land a podium in Texas, where the only non-Red Bull/Mercedes/Ferrari drivers to finish in the top three are Romain Grosjean, who finished second for Lotus here in 2013, and Lewis Hamilton, who won for McLaren in 2012.

    Only twice have three teams taken to the podium at COTA: in 2012 and in 2018, when Raikkonen led Verstappen and Hamilton.

    Podiums in the last five races:

    • Mercedes – 7
    • Red Bull – 5
    • Ferrari – 3

    FAN VIEW: The big story here is the fall in support for Mercedes in recent weeks. Lewis Hamilton and George Russell are both seen as very unlikely to crash the Red Bull/Ferrari party. There is very little action outside of the ‘big six’ on the grid, with the rest struggling to muster more than a single percentage point.

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    Alpine edged ahead of McLaren with a result in Japan; can the cars in orange fight back?

    Points potential

    Mercedes may be podium outsiders but they’re still the only team to have scored in every Grand Prix weekend of 2022. They’ll be expected to land in the top 10, if not the top five, this weekend.

    All eyes will be on Alpine and McLaren this weekend, the former team just 13 points ahead of the latter in the hunt for fourth in the championship.

    Alpine bounced back from two non-scoring weekends with 18 points from Suzuka, where McLaren took just one. When it comes to Austin, McLaren scored points with both drivers in 2019 and 2021, while Alpine endured a double retirement here last time out – but both teams are starting fresh at COTA in this new era of F1.

    READ MORE: The constructors’ title, win records, team battles and much more – what's still to be decided in 2022?

    Aston Martin are building momentum, having scored 20 points (more than Mercedes and Alpine) in their last two races, while AlphaTauri and Williams have scored three times in the last five Grands Prix. As for Alfa Romeo, they’ve scored just one point in that span, while Haas haven’t scored at all since Austria.

    Points scored in the last five races:

    • Mercedes – 173
    • Ferrari – 113
    • Red Bull – 110
    • McLaren – 36
    • Alpine/Renault – 36
    • Aston Martin/Racing Point/Force India – 22
    • AlphaTauri/Toro Rosso – 13
    • Williams – 8
    • Alfa Romeo/Sauber – 1
    • Haas – 1

    FAN VIEW: The Alpine pair of Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso were terrific in Japan and are expected to go really well again in Texas. Alonso is fancied to beat his team mate this time round, while Sebastian Vettel is expected to enjoy a productive weekend on his final F1 race experience at COTA.