Why COTA remains a favourite for drivers and fans as it prepares for its 10th US Grand Prix
Over the course of this weekend, 440,000 race fans are expected to pass through the Circuit of The Americas' (COTA) gates. That’ll be a record for a venue that is celebrating its 10th season on the F1 calendar, and which has become a firm favourite among drivers and paddock personnel.
It's clear that interest in F1 in the United States has ramped up in recent years, with COTA and the City of Austin playing their respective parts.
The 5.513km track is a driver’s dream, kicking off with a 11% gradient climb to Turn 1 – a left-hand hairpin with an apex that is hard to see and to judge from the cockpit.
Soon you’ll be sweeping into the Turns 3-6 complex that echo the challenge of Silverstone’s Maggots-Becketts sequence or Suzuka’s epic Esses.
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Further on, Turns 12 through to 15 looks similar to Hockenheim’s Motodrom. The track can get very wide in places, creating the opportunity for drivers to take several lines and there’s two DRS zones to boot.
It's a layout that has led to some spectacular racing over the years, providing a spectacle that sits amid a bumper schedule that features some A-list musical artists as well. The likes of Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars and Stevie Wonder have graced the stage in recent years. This year, Green Day and Ed Sheeran are in town.
It's one hell of an event, based in a city that earns its title as the Live Music Capital of the World. You’d be hard pressed to find a bad live performance in one of the many bars or restaurants scattered across the city.
The locals embrace F1 and the thousands of visitors that swell its population temporarily – and that makes for a cracking atmosphere. F1 quickly becomes the topic of choice when you’re talking to a bartender or servers in a diner. They’re buzzing for Formula 1.
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Just walking down South Congress (just over the river from downtown Austin) I bumped into a mix of fans keen to talk about the race weekend. One couple have come every year since the event started in 2012 – and at the other end of the spectrum, they’ve brought two friends who will experience F1 for the first time.
While Max Verstappen already has his hands on the drivers’ championship, following victory last time out at Suzuka, there was still a buzz about the place when the F1 fraternity walked into the paddock on Thursday afternoon.
I say walked – but not everybody chose that option. Daniel Ricciardo opted to arrive on horseback, as you do.
Red Bull are in great shape to end their near decade-long wait for a constructors’ championship this weekend. Their rivals Ferrari must outscore them by 19 points or more to keep the fight alive beyond Austin.
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How likely is that? Well Ferrari have managed the feat just once this year, way back in the opening race of the season in Bahrain.
Elsewhere, American Logan Sargeant will get his first taste of 2022-spec F1 machinery when he drives for Williams in FP1.
I caught up with him earlier today ahead of a briefing with the engineers and he was excited and incredibly relaxed about the opportunity. Perform well this weekend – and deliver in the season-ending F2 race in Abu Dhabi – and I understand he’s in great shape to get the nod for a race seat alongside Alex Albon next season.
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He's one of five stand-ins in FP1, with 2021 Indycar champion Alex Palou getting his first F1 weekend track experience when he borrows Ricciardo’s McLaren, while Theo Pourchaire – who is taking up a reserve role with Alfa Romeo next season – is in for Valtteri Bottas.
Robert Shwartzman steps in for Charles Leclerc at Ferrari, while Antonio Giovinazzi – whose hopes of returning to a F1 race seat next year appear to be diminishing – gets the second of two FP1 appearances this year at Haas.
Speaking of Haas, the American team announced a new title sponsorship deal in Austin, tying up with MoneyGram for next season in a partnership that will see them receive a significant cash injection and push towards the budget cap.
Haas have turned a corner in terms of performance this year, and while their form has tailed off as the season has progressed, they continue to strengthen the organisation in a bid to make bigger steps in the future.
Boss Guenther Steiner reckons this deal takes them “to the next level” and that podiums should be the target. Spend that cash wisely and such lofty targets may not be a pipe dream.
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