As the season enters the closing stages, Formula One arrives in Austin, Texas and the Circuit of the Americas for the United States Grand Prix. Hamilton’s and Mercedes’ title advantage is such that both the driver and team can win their respective titles this weekend.
With only four races left, Hamilton holds a massive 59-point lead over his nearest rival, Vettel, with only 100 points left in the drivers’ standings. While it is possible for Hamilton to clinch the drivers' title this weekend, to do so, he will have to score 16 points more than Vettel, with the Ferrari driver finishing lower than fifth place. Hamilton must also score three points more than his team-mate, Bottas, for the Championship to be decided at the United States Grand Prix.
As things currently stand, it is looking as though Mercedes will easily take both the drivers and the constructors crowns – a question of when, not if. Even more tantalising a prospect, is that Mercedes could have the perfect season if Bottas can stay just a few positions ahead of Vettel for the remaining four races and finish second in the drivers’ standings, with an incredible Mercedes 1-2 finish to 2017.
In many ways, Ferrari have only themselves to blame. For the last few races, Ferrari have had arguably the faster car, but a catalogue of errors during the Asian fly-away races have ruined their title aspirations. In Singapore, the first-lap incident destroyed both Ferrari drivers' race. In Malaysia, Vettel could not take part in a crucial qualifying segment with a faculty inlet manifold on the engine, in a race Mercedes were struggling for pace, and Raikkonen suffered the same problem before the start of the race. In Japan, a lowly spark plug failure cost Vettel dearly.
Whilst Ferrari’s chances are not mathematically over they are as good as, with the Asian-leg of the season proving to be the defining moments in the 2017 season.
Given how Ferrari’s title hopes collapsed in spectacular fashion during the last three races, Hamilton beating Vettel by 16 points suddenly does not seem quite so unattainable this Sunday. Vettel has failed to finish two races in three weeks, allowing Hamilton to cruise to such a massive points lead. For the remaining races, Ferrari simply cannot afford any further unreliability. However, before Ferrari’s Asian nightmare, Vettel had not finished lower than seventh place since Malaysia in October 2016. He finished fourth in Austin last year, so the chances are that Vettel will still finish in the top five this race (assuming a race with no incident). If Ferrari can sort their act out this weekend, it is more likely that Hamilton will claim the drivers’ title in the next race in Mexico. Vettel will naturally be all guns blazing to prevent Hamilton securing the title. Hamilton, himself, has said he will not be taking ‘silly risks’ in order to win the title at the earliest opportunity.
This weekend may be dominated with all the championship permutations, but the race itself in Austin is a real favourite with the drivers and the growing numbers of American fans. This iteration will be the sixth consecutive year the United States race has been held at the Circuit of the Americas.
The track itself is a 5.5-kilometre anticlockwise track, which features dramatic elevation changes, blind and off-camber corners and high-speed changes of direction. The track is characterised for the steep climb to turn one, producing some exciting camera shots, particularly at the start of the race when all 20 cars are speeding to frantically overtake each other. There are plenty of run-off areas, allowing the drivers to push the track limits as they know there is only a small chance of paying a heavy penalty. Last year’s race produced 79 overtaking moves, 23 of them were completed by using the DRS, so expect plenty of racing action again this weekend.
The circuit is dominated by a long straight where most of the overtakes will happen. This is where all the main action has occurred in previous races, with the DRS zone giving drivers their best chance to line up an attack down into turn 12. The Circuit of the Americas is particularly renowned for featuring several corners that are copies of other famous circuits from around the globe; The legendary Maggots-Becketts-Chapel complex from Silverstone inspires the first sector, and sweeping corners from Hockenheim and Istanbul feature in the final sector as does the Senna S at the Interlagos circuit.
Strategy wise, last year’s race was a two-stopper for all the podium finishers on a mixture of tyre compounds, and it looks to be a similar story for this year but with the leading teams choosing the ultra-softs. However, there is a threat of rain (as of the 19th October), which might favour those teams who have opted for the super-soft tyres, meaning they can go much longer in their stints, whilst the ultrasofts may lose grip and need to be replaced before any rain.
Even though Hamilton has stated he will not take risks to win the title as early as possible, it is highly likely he will keen to do so in case of any unexpected mishaps, incidents or mechanical failures.
The sensible thing is for Hamilton to race for points and not risk the engine or any turn 1 collision, but that is not Hamilton’s style. The Circuit of the Americas has been a happy hunting ground for Mercedes, and therefore the prediction is for Hamilton to win, but expect Ferrari to bounce back, especially if Vettel can get the jump into the climb into turn 1. Hamilton can play the strategy-waiting game and can afford to be cautious during the first lap.
Given the points situation, the prediction is for Hamilton to take the drivers title in Mexico and Mercedes to secure the constructors this weekend in Austin.