View from the paddock: Red Bull are on the up, but history’s on Hamilton’s side as F1 returns to Texas
Last time Lewis Hamilton raced at Austin, he emphatically secured his sixth world title. Repeating the feat this year isn’t possible, owing to the closest championship fight in years, but victory here would swing the momentum back in the Mercedes driver’s favour…
History is on his side. A Mercedes has started on pole position at every Grand Prix at the Circuit of The Americas during the hybrid turbo era, with Hamilton having stood on the top step at the venue five times, including four times in succession from 2014. Hamilton, though, isn’t heaping any pressure on himself.
“It’s important to win every race, somehow or at least maximising our points,” he said. “That’s our goal over these next six races. It’s going to be incredibly difficult and there will be moments where we perhaps can edge them out and then there may be places… I don’t like to assume Mexico isn’t going to be strong but they’re usually very strong in Mexico.
"A lot can happen in these six races so we will take it one race at a time and give it everything we got.”
The Mercedes power unit has plenty of grunt, which will do them well on the 1,100m straight in Austin, but downforce is key, too, particularly due to the final slow sequence of corners and the high-speed Maggotts-Becketts-esque section at the front of the lap. And that should, in theory, play to Red Bull’s strengths.
That’s perhaps why championship leader Verstappen is not “concerned” about Mercedes’ impressive recent pace. “We just have to focus on our side,” he said. “I think there’s a few things we can do better, and we learned again a lot in Turkey and we’ll try to do better with our package, what we have, try to find a bit more performance.”
Their respective team mates Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez could well play key roles, too, – both in the drivers’ title fight but also the constructors’ – where Mercedes lead Red Bull by 36 points – and the duo have arrived in Austin in good form. Bottas secured his first win in over a year in Turkey, while Perez was on the podium – his first since France nine races previously.
“Of course that’s obviously the goal, to maintain the good run,” said Bottas. “At the moment I feel confident in the car. And I think the last few races have shown it. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to continue with the good form.
"Also, last time around here it was a good race, a strong performance. I’ve been really looking forward to this, it was a big shame to miss this race last year, so it’s good to be back.”
Perez added: “We are really pumped up, we are pushing, we are giving our best. I hope it will be enough at the end of this championship. We are trying to maximise every single weekend. Last weekend, we didn’t quite have the pace of the Mercedes, but this one is a different one, so hopefully we can be a bit stronger.”
And it’s not just each other that Mercedes and Red Bull have to worry about these days, with McLaren and Ferrari showing that on their day, they can contend at the sharp end. The pair are fighting hard for P3 in the constructors’ championship, with McLaren seeing their lead over the Italians cut to just 7.5 points.
Ferrari seem to be in the ascendancy right now, having had two successful upgrades – the latest of which was a new hybrid system – and while Lando Norris concedes that the Scuderia have the quicker package, he hasn’t given up hope of holding on to P3.
“At some races we have still been better and at some they have been better,” said Norris. “As a trend they have been on the stronger end, especially now with the new power unit it has definitely shifted their pace into a stronger one.
“If you look at Turkey there are not one or two tenths ahead, they are fairly large chunk ahead of us. They definitely have a very competitive car, and a more competitive power unit now.
"It is going to make our life tougher but the aim is still to beat them, and will put everything into staying ahead of them in the championship. It is going to be difficult and we will fight hard to the end.”
All this means that while we head into the weekend knowing Mercedes have been traditionally strong here, unlike in previous years it is by no means a forgone conclusion that they will come out on top.
And that’s a fine prospect for the 380,000 fans who are expected to attend over the weekend – which will be packed with celebrities from legendary musician Billy Joel, who is performing on Saturday night, to basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal (aka DJ Diesel who is performing, too) and NBA players Sean Elliot and Chris Bosh and golfer Rory Mcllroy.
Bring. It. On.