by Adrian-Liviu Dorofte

USA F1 Grand Prix 2012: Preview (VMM)

Formula 1 returns to the United States next weekend for the first time since 2007. The race takes place on the purpose-built Circuit Of The Americas, just outside Austin, Texas, and simulations of the layout at the McLaren Technology Centre suggest it’s going to pose an interesting technical challenge to teams and drivers.

The circuit, designed by Hermann Tilke, is one of five anti-clockwise tracks on the 2012 calendar. It has 20 turns (12 left-handers, 8 right) and an elevation change of 41 metres. The highest point on the lap is Turn One, which has a steep uphill approach mimicking the famous Turn One approach of the old Österreichring. The remainder of the lap is a mix of undulating sweeps, high-g corners and long straights. Downforce levels are expected to be similar to Silverstone’s, with a top speed of 315km/h.

The final layer of asphalt was laid at the end of September, so the surface is expected to be very green and slippery early in the race weekend. As rubber from Pirelli’s Medium and Hard compound tyres is left on the racing line, grip levels will improve. Our forecasts put an average laptime around the 1m38s bracket.

Lewis won the last grand prix on US soil, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway back in 2007, and both he and Jenson will be looking to return to the podium on Sunday.

Race distance - 56 laps (191.947 miles/308.896km)
Start time - 13:00 (local)/19:00 GMT
Circuit length - 3.427 miles/5.516km
2011 winner - N/A
2011 pole - N/A
Lap record - N/A

McLaren at the United States Grand Prix

- Wins: 11 (1976, 1977, 1982, 1982, 1983, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 2001, 2007)

- Poles: 8 (1976, 1977, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 2003, 2007)

- Fastest Laps: 10 (1975, 1976, 1982, 1983, 1983, 1984, 1988, 1989, 1990, 2000)

Car 3: Jenson Button
- Age: 32 (January 19 1980)
- GPs: 226
- Wins: 14
- Poles: 8
- FLs: 8
- 2012 points: 153 (6th)
- US record: 2007 Q13 R12; 2006 Q7 R-; 2005 Q3 R-; 2004 Q4 R-; 2003 Q11 R-; 2002 Q14 R8; 2001 Q10 R9; 2000 Q6 R-

“Visiting a new circuit is always an interesting challenge. You approach it in a very different way from a track you’ve visited before – Thursday’s trackwalk and those first laps are all about exploration and understanding as you gather information from lots of different sources in a bid to build up a complete picture of the track and what’s required to get the best from it.

“On paper, the circuit looks to have a little bit of everything – the plan-view certainly looks familiar; you can see elements of the Maggotts/Becketts complex from Silverstone; there’s a reverse of Istanbul Park’s Turn Eight, too; and I can even see a bit of the Hockenheim infield, too.

“Whether those elements will blend together to make a satisfying whole remains to be seen, but there are a couple of long straights into tight corners, too, which should at least open up the possibility of overtaking.

“I think we’re in for a fantastic weekend – I really cannot wait to get out to Austin and see the city, the people and the track. I think it’s going to be brilliant.”

Car 4: Lewis Hamilton
- Age: 27 (January 7 1985)
- GPs: 108
- Wins: 20
- Poles: 25
- FLs: 11
- 2012 points: 165 (5th)
- US record: 2007 Q1 R1

“It’s crazy to think that the last United States Grand Prix was five years ago! It’s a race I still remember like yesterday, though – the nervy anticipation as I drove into the Speedway for the very first time, the thousands of supportive fans, and the fantastic car I had beneath me that enable me to take my second grand prix victory in the space of a week. For me, those were incredible, thrilling times.

“I have to admit – I’m absolutely made-up that we’re going back to the States. It’s a fantastic country and a place where our sport truly deserves to be. I think the Circuit Of The Americas looks like it could also be the place that modern Formula 1 finally calls home. I’ve only driven it on the computer and in the sim, but I think it’s going to be a track that drivers enjoy, which produces some great, close racing, and which fans will quickly love.

“This is a new circuit, a new challenge and a new opportunity – I’m definitely looking to be the first grand prix winner at the Circuit Of The Americas.”

Martin Whitmarsh
Team principal, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes

“I’ve always maintained that Formula 1’s presence in the United States is crucial, so I’m personally pleased and satisfied that we’re finally returning to America after spending far too long away from its shores.

“On a wider level, the arrival of a state-of-the-art, purpose-build grand prix track is perfect for Formula 1, and this is a golden opportunity for the sport to finally put down roots and find a long-term home. From a business perspective, too, we are in the right place at the right time. This is an invaluable commercial opportunity for the sport, for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes and our partners.

“With Lewis, we won the last grand prix to be held in the United States back in 2007. After a strong, but ultimately disappointing, performance in Abu Dhabi last week, I know that both Lewis and Jenson head to Austin, determined to pick up the baton and return us to the top step of the podium.

“This should be a great race for Formula 1.”

The Circuit Of The Americas is new to Formula 1 in 2012, but the United States Grand Prix is almost as old as the world championship itself. Here’s how McLaren has defined 12 days in the history of the race:

December 12 1959 (Sebring)
A victory for McLaren, but not for McLaren! Our founder Bruce McLaren takes his first GP win in the 1959 season-finale, driving a Cooper-Climax. The 22-year-old passes world champion Jack Brabham in sight of the finish line to become F1’s youngest winner – a record that would stand for 43 years.

October 10 1976 (Watkins Glen)
James Hunt starts on pole for McLaren, but is beaten away from the line by Jody Scheckter. The pair quickly build up a convincing lead, lapping at record pace, until James wrestles the lead from the South African on lap 46 of 59. He controls the race thereafter and comes home 8s ahead of Scheckter. Jochen Mass is fourth in the second M23.

October 2 1977 (Watkins Glen)
James wins the US GP East for the second consecutive year, starting from pole and winning by 2s from Mario Andretti. James gets too much wheelspin away from the line, resulting in Hans Stuck beating him into Turn One. When the German spins out on lap 15, James is left with an untroubled run to the flag.

April 4 1982 (Long Beach)
Niki Lauda wins the third race of his comeback with McLaren. He starts second and spends the early laps behind pole-sitter Andrea de Cesaris, before passing the Italian for the lead on lap 15. He dominates the remainder of the race, finishing 14s ahead of Keke Rosberg’s Williams.

June 6 1982 (Detroit)
Niki and John Watson qualify 10th and 17th respectively, but the MP4-1 is the car to beat in race trim. Watson is up to 13th on lap seven and he passes Keke Rosberg for the lead on lap 37. Lauda tries to make it a McLaren one-two, but he crashes while trying to pass Rosberg for second.

March 27 1983 (Long Beach)
Tyre warm-up issues hinder both McLarens in qualifying and they qualify 22nd and 23rd. Warmer weather on race day improves grip levels and the pair charge through the field together, Niki ahead of John. On lap 33, John passes his team-mate and the Ulsterman takes the lead on lap 45. They finish one-two, more than 45s ahead of third-placed Rene Arnoux.

June 19 1988 (Detroit)
Ayrton Senna takes his sixth consecutive pole position, ahead of team-mate Alain Prost, and is never headed in the race. Alain has to work hard to make it a fourth one-two for McLaren in six races; he drops behind Thierry Boutsen at the start and has to force his way past the Belgian on lap six. He finishes 40s behind Senna.

June 4 1989 (Phoenix)
Ayrton takes pole for the first GP in Phoenix, ahead of Alain. In roasting hot conditions, the Brazilian takes the lead at the start of the race, before retiring with electronics trouble. That leaves Alain to cruise to victory ahead of Riccardo Patrese and Eddie Cheever.

March 11 1990 (Phoenix)
Gerhard Berger takes pole in his first race for McLaren, while Ayrton starts fifth. Gerhard suffers clutch problems in the race and it’s up to Ayrton to take the fight to race leader Jean Alesi. He’s on the Tyrrell driver’s gearbox by lap 33, but Alesi puts in a spirited defence. On lap 35 of 72, Ayrton takes the lead and comes home 8s ahead of the precocious Frenchman.

March 10 1991 (Phoenix)
Ayrton kicks off his ’91 campaign with an emphatic victory. Using a Honda V12 engine for the first time, he takes a dominant pole position and is never challenged in the race. He comes home 16s ahead of Prost’s Ferrari.

September 30 2001 (Indianapolis)
The last victory of Mika Hakkinen’s illustrious career. He starts fourth and his progress towards the front is helped when both Williams’ retire with mechanical problems. He drives a strong middle stint to come home 11s ahead of Michael Schumacher. David Coulthard finishes third in the other MP4-16.

June 17 2007 (Indianapolis)
Lewis Hamilton’s second victory in as many weekends, after he dominated the Canadian GP the previous weekend to take his first win in F1. The race is a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes benefit: Lewis and Fernando Alonso lock out the front row, Lewis taking pole by 0.1s. The race is nip and tuck between them and they’re separated by just 1.5s at the flag.

~ Official photo and details courtesy of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes ~

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