Everything’s bigger in Texas, except F1’s meagre field

2014 United States Grand Prix preview

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With three races and a maximum of 100 points remaining to decide this year’s Formula One drivers’ championship, the focus during this weekend’s United States Grand Prix should have been entirely on the racing.

But instead, F1 arrives in Austin as a sport on the brink of crisis with two teams – Caterham and Marussia – having fallen into administration since the last race, leaving a meagre field of 18 entrants for this weekend’s grand prix.

Given F1’s eagerness to conquer the American market in a state which prides itself on having the largest of everything, it’s an unfortunate coincidence this year’s race will have the smallest grid since the infamous 2005 United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis. Three years since F1’s last race at the Circuit of the Americas, the field is now 25% smaller.

Although Marussia and Caterham were only ever going to be contesting the minor positions, the loss of these four cars will have a significant impact on this grand prix weekend. The regulations do not cover the potential for just 18 cars in qualifying, but we will likely see a reduction to the number of cars eliminated from the first two qualifying stages to accommodate the reduced number of cars.

Marussia’ inability to race in the USA means local fans will miss the opportunity to see Alexander Rossi in action, as was widely expected to happen. And the sport’s profile in America would certainly have benefitted from having a local driver.

But while this will be a race weekend dominated by politics, the thousands of fans that will flock to the Circuit of the Americas for its third grand prix will no doubt be more concerned about the duel for the drivers’ championship.

Lewis Hamilton arrives at Austin with a 17-point advantage over Nico Rosberg, and seeking a fifth successive victory to further extend his lead. However Hamilton cannot secure the title this weekend.

He was the first driver to win at the Circuit of the Americas when it opened in 2012. Designed as a purpose-built, permanent home for Formula One in the United States, the venue has proved by far the most popular recent addition to the calendar among drivers, teams and fans. Taking inspiration from a variety of famous European circuits, COTA provides a variety of challenges around its three distinct sectors.

Circuit of the Americas circuit information

Lap length5.513km (3.426 miles)
Distance56 laps (308.7km/191.8 miles)
Lap record*1’39.347 (Sebastian Vettel, 2012)
Fastest lap1’35.657 (Sebastian Vettel, 2012)
TyresMedium and Soft

*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix

Circuit of the Americas track data in full

The wide, uphill braking zone into the first corner invites drivers into daredevil lunges before the high-speed sweepers test both driver precision and aerodynamic efficiency. The long back straight offers a second prime overtaking area, with the final sector proving to be perhaps the most difficult for drivers to master during the sport’s first two visits.

A high average lap speed means Mercedes-powered cars will likely enjoy an advantage this weekend. Following criticism that previous tyre choices for this race were too conservative, Pirelli have responded by nominating the soft and medium compounds for this weekend.

With the sport still reeling from the horrific accident suffered by Jules Bianchi in Suzuka, F1 will also trial a new yellow flag speed limit system during free practice this weekend, designed to increase driver and marshal safety after an accident. If successful, we could well see the system introduced during races next season.

United States Grand Prix team-by-team preview

Red Bull

Daniel Ricciardo may not be giving up on his championship hopes for this season, but it’s likely that the Australian will be duly eliminated from title contention after this weekend’s race – barring any dramatic upset.

There’s little chance of Sebastian Vettel emulating last season’s COTA victory this weekend as the reigning champion is expected to use a new complete power unit, which will force him to start from the pit lane, and therefore leave him with no incentive to participate in qualifying. Expect just 17 cars on the grid in Q1.


For the new constructors’ champions the remaining three races of the season are all about determining which of the two Mercedes drivers will claim the Drivers’ title.

On the back of his second four-race winning streak of the season, Hamilton knows that he has a decisive edge over his rival at this crucial stage of the championship. But he will equally be aware that that alone will not guarantee him the title and that any more mechanical misfortunes could well prove to be disastrous to his campaign.

Having thrown away any chance of victory at the first braking zone in Russia, Rosberg must keep his cool and begin taking significant points away from his team mate if he is the one to take this championship. Crucially, if Rosberg leaves Austin with a points deficit of 24 points or less to Hamilton, then the title can only be decided at the double points finale in Abu Dhabi.


It’s still yet to be officially confirmed but it seems increasingly likely these final three are Fernando Alonso’s last for Ferrari.

Having been beaten by both McLarens in Russia, Ferrari increasingly seem doomed to their first win-less season since 1993. But according to engineering director Pat Fry, they have been working hard to improve performance since Sochi.

“The extra week has given us more time to get ready and also to prepare some specific test items,” he said. “They are all aimed at learning about car performance and trying to improve, but at this stage of the year, it’s more with an eye to 2015.”


We may soon have a better understanding of where Romain Grosjean will be racing in 2015, with the Frenchman having told his fans to expect ‘big news’ about his future this weekend.

Despite failing to score any points since Monaco, the team’s morale will likely have been boosted by securing Mercedes engines for next season. But given the high speed nature of the Austin circuit, it may prove difficult for Lotus to add to their points tally this weekend.


Having been locked in a battle with Force India over fifth place in the constructors’ championship, McLaren achieved their best result since Melbourne in Russia to put them firmly ahead of the Silverstone team.

Racing Director Eric Boullier is confident that McLaren’s late-season surge will continue in Austin. “Our result in Sochi gave us increased confidence, and we come to Austin with the firm intention of building on this recent form with a strong finish for the team and boosting our points buffer over Force India in the constructors’ standings,” he says.

Force India

Sochi proved a big blow to Force India’s hopes of snatching fifth place from McLaren by the end of the season with neither Sergio Perez or Nico Hulkenberg looking particularly quick.

Hulkenberg has announced that he will be committing to the Silverstone team for next season. But Perez has out-qualified and out-raced by his team mate in four of the last five races. While next year Perez will have a true home race, the Texas round has served as a surrogate home event for him, with Mexican fans turning out in force to cheer him on.


It is likely to be between Sauber and Lotus for who has the indignity of bringing up the rear of the 18-car field at the Circuit of the Americas.

But despite the loss of of two backmarking teams, the likelihood of Sauber finally capturing those elusive first points of the season will not increase. With the team admitting that they are no longer bringing upgrades to the C33, Sauber will be relying on good fortune to help them achieve their first top ten finish since last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix.

Toro Rosso

Despite being overlooked for promotion to Red Bull Racing for 2015, Jean-Eric Vergne continues to do all he can to try and secure his Formula One future. He has beaten his Red Bull-bound team mate in three consecutive races, which is the kind of performance he needs if he is to convince Toro Rosso that an all-rookie line-up next year is not the way to go.

Following his successful first outing for the team in practice at Suzuka, Max Verstappen will make his second appearance in an official grand prix session in Austin on Friday.


Yet another impressive performance from Valtteri Bottas in Russia saw him secure his fifth podium of the season and almost snatch pole position from the Mercedes.

With COTA’s long straights and high speed turns, Williams will likely be feeling confident of challenging for yet another podium in Austin – a venue where Bottas scored the best result of his debut season 12 months ago.

After his Russian race was severely compromised by a fuel pressure problem in qualifying, Felipe Massa will be determined to bounce back as Williams inch ever closer to their best finishing position in a season for over ten years.

2014 driver form

DriverG avgR avgR bestR worstClassifiedForm guide
Sebastian Vettel6.564.692813/16Form guide
Daniel Ricciardo5.313.791814/16Form guide
Lewis Hamilton4.631.461313/16Form guide
Nico Rosberg1.811.861414/16Form guide
Fernando Alonso6.385.072914/16Form guide
Kimi Raikkonen9.569.0041215/16Form guide
Romain Grosjean14.6312.6081710/16Form guide
Pastor Maldonado18.3814.27121811/16Form guide
Jenson Button8.637.6031715/16Form guide
Kevin Magnussen9.009.4021415/16Form guide
Nico Hulkenberg10.697.8051215/16Form guide
Sergio Perez11.818.5431113/15Form guide
Adrian Sutil15.2514.40112110/16Form guide
Esteban Gutierrez16.2515.40122010/16Form guide
Jean-Eric Vergne11.5610.1861311/16Form guide
Daniil Kvyat10.8111.3391412/16Form guide
Felipe Massa8.198.3831513/16Form guide
Valtteri Bottas6.755.4721115/16Form guide
Jules Bianchi17.8015.9292012/15Form guide
Max Chilton19.5016.15131913/16Form guide
Kamui Kobayashi18.9315.7813199/15Form guide
Marcus Ericsson20.1917.09112011/16Form guide
Andre Lotterer21.000/1Form guide

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Images © Daimler/Hoch Zwei, Lotus/LAT, Red Bull/Getty

Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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60 comments on “Everything’s bigger in Texas, except F1’s meagre field”

  1. I dont remember the race starting so late last year, have they changed it since?

    1. I’m not sure if this is relevant but the US drops daylight saving this weekend.

  2. When the two Mercs collided in Spa, I thought this season will now proceed towards a very dramatic conclusion with a very heated battle between Mercs and Daniel Ricciardo may get a look-in.

    Unfortunately, we had mistakes from Rosberg on track (Italy, Russia) and misfortune (Singapore) which dampened the on-track action. And immediately, all the discussion went to off-track topics – where will Alonso go, the horrendous crash of Jules, the political angle of the Russia race and finally having 2 missing teams. Sadly, it looks like Hamilton will win the title without any on-track contest and everyone more interested in the off-track things.

    A very tame end to a season that promised so much.

    1. petebaldwin (@)
      29th October 2014, 13:07

      I think it’s simply because it’s been 2 weeks since the terrible Putin GP which didn’t provide anything track worth talking about. Prior to that, we had the Japanese GP where despite various talking point, there was only one that really mattered.

      It’s been quite a while since we’ve had a GP where the racing does the talking.

      1. RB (@frogmankouki)
        29th October 2014, 13:47

        I was thinking the same, Monza was the last GP that offered decent entertainment without being overshadowed. So it’s been more than a month since then, I believe the next 3 races in 4 weeks will shift the attention back to the drivers championship.

      2. Unfortunately as Keith outlined at the top of the page, no matter what happens on the track it will be overshadowed by events off of it – the worry over the health and recovery of Jules Bianchi, and the current financial crisis enveloping many teams.

        I don’t see how the racing will manage to overcome such dark matters. I feel this is a low point in the history of F1. There’s a lot to be concerned about and the Championship battle looks increasingly insignificant in the face of such terrible tragedy and concern over the future of the sport.

        1. My apologies, Will Wood wrote this article! No bad thing if I’m automatically assuming after reading the article that it was written by Keith though, eh?

        2. I just had a thought: It may be that the tragic accident is the cause of another. It may be that Jules accident stopped a money flow that pushed Marussia over the edge. I have nothing to back this up. Just tragic all of it. I enjoyed the tail end fight as much as front. The middle didn’t give me as much.

    2. Hold your horses, partner. I reckon this season has some fight in it yet.

      A run of four wins does not guarantee and easy stroll to the title. Ask Hamilton himself. A Bayesian would say it won’t matter, but adding a fifth to such a run is not the most obvious next result. That kind of thing happened only when Vettel had a clear edge on Webber in all phases of the game and when Schumacher had a footstool in the other car. I think Hamilton has a small but clear edge on Rosberg overall, but it’s small enough that any minor goof on his part of hiccup from the team will put him behind. Then of course, there is the reliability issue. I’m certain that one or both MBs wil fall out of a race or qualifying before the season is done. And finally, there is Abu Double. However sour a taste it might leave, Hamilton could dominate the next two races and lose the title there.

      However, I don’t know if the focus will return to the track. No news is not really good news with Bianchi, and so he remains in the front of our minds; then there is the collapse of back of the grid. And who knows whether Sauber will join them in the dustbin. We do know that Bernie is sure to make some vulgar, stupid comment about the financial situation of the teams for people to talk about in the near term too. But I’m looking forward to some good races. I think Austin and Abu Double may allow Williams a look in, with their very slippery car. Bottas could get a win.

  3. LOL, what a cool title!

    1. I find a lot of articles (and titles) here nowadays seem to be pessimistic and cynical.

      1. @sato113 Between Bianchi’s crash and two teams going into administration I think it’s understandable if optimism is in short supply at the moment.

        1. even before Bianchi’s crash. But I guess the sport itself has never been smiles and cheers

          1. @sato113 I’ve had a look back and I don’t agree. And as you’re not giving me specifics I don’t feel the need to respond with any.

      2. @sato113, You’d need to have had a frontal lobotomy not to be cynical about F1 and its management this year, hard not to be pessimistic at the moment.

      3. It’s entirely possible to be critial of something and yet be a fan, I think Keith (like many of his readers) just want F1 to be better than it is right now.

        And titles like these do draw views, but in a far more interesting manner than ‘F1 hits Texas, what happens next might surprise you’ or ’17 teams you never knew were in F1′.

        1. agree on that. Absolutely hate those titles!!!

  4. I won’t miss Caterham and Marussia. I always wanted them to succeed but in terms of watching the racing they just got in the way. The coverage cut to them when they’d had an off or a collision. We didn’t see enough to gauge the quality of the driving.

    Much more important is that McLaren might, or might not, outscore Force India and Ferrari. There is JB vs KMag, JEV vs Kvyat, Kimi, Williams, and of course LH vs NR.

    It should be a cracking race, full of interest. All the better, if anything, for only having 18 cars on the grid.

    1. @lockup small, slow teams are always necessity, from many points of view, not just filling up the grid.

      Just remember Ricciardo got his first steps in races in a HRT. Now he’s a triple GP winner, and beating the 4 times WDC.

      Historically, the greats started in the back of the field and moved their way up. Few guys got a top car from the beginning. If you have less room at F1, less potential stars will raise to the top. It’s already a very tiny world, and greater grids with a fair share for each team, also means the demise of (at least part) of the pay drivers.

      But if there’s only 18 seats, half of them filled by properly good guys, the other half will be filled by richboys teams are willing to accept because that’s the only way to survive. And it’s not even that clear.

      1. @fer-no65 I don’t really disagree, I just think as a spectacle the 18-car grid isn’t a problem, beyond the visual appeal of the start when it might look ‘less successful’. The race itself should be fine, and in fact less obstructed.

        In general the stars need the cars, and in that respect F1 is better than ever, with 5+ teams good enough for them to shine.

        For driver development, well there are the feeder series, where tbh teams 4-5 seconds off the pace really belong. A new, faster Marussia? Great! But this weekend I won’t be missing them.

        1. there are the feeder series, where tbh teams 4-5 seconds off the pace really belong

          Actually, I can see a point in this, but not the one you are making.

          Currently, feeder series are for drivers only. Teams can’t really use it to work up to F1. To get into F1, you must commit to F1, and you either succeed or die.

          What we need is a real F1 feeder series. A series with similar regulations to F1, with teams building their own cars, same engines, but able to be run on much smaller budgets. This would provide a way for teams to build up to F1, without getting screwed in the process.

          I would suggest it could be an F1B series, racing on the same circuits. They could probably participate in the same race, but scoring points in different championships. As an example implementation:
          * F1B uses F1 rules, but the entire chassis is homologated at the start of the season. No in season development allowed, and limited number of configurations (say high, low and medium downforce). Limited staff, pit crews etc. plus a sew more rules top keep costs way down.
          * Qualifying separated, and F1B grid forms up behind F1 grid.
          * At race end, positions allocated by series. Separate podiums per series, separate points and separate championships (drivers and constructors)
          * At season end, top team of F1B promoted. Bottom team of full F1 either automatically demoted or, if suitable rules for flexible grids worked out, dependant on performance.
          * Prize money pots separate, and team promoted gets large bonus to help them transition into the more relaxed regulations of full F1.

          Only an idea, but it could work.

          1. Relegation/Promotion sounds like a cool idea! Unfortunately, that means finding another 10 teams that could afford F1 should they get promoted.

          2. I was thinking more that the size of the main F1 field would be reduced, some teams going into F1B, and the new, smaller F1 field size matched by F1B. As they would all be in the same race, we would still get the same excitement as for a larger grid.

            They do similar, I believe, in other racing series.

            I don’t know how happy teams would be with this, but it would ensure a sustainable development path and a more affordable way into the sport, with realistic budgets, as well as allowing a less restrained set of regulations with more development in “full” F1.

            I would also say that all teams must, on initial entry, start in F1B.

    2. ColdFly F1 (@)
      29th October 2014, 22:17

      @lockup, hard to disagree that those two teams added to the spectacle lately.
      But the killing-off process of those teams started much earlier, by withholding a fair share of TV income and keeping the sport too expensive. After a few years on the grid these teams should have meddled with the mid field (Lotus, Sauber, TR this year) and we would have had a great championship with 22 cars.
      Therefore, I do think we will miss a lot (of what could/should have been) by seeing these 2 teams leave.

      1. @coldfly Yeah I was just meaning this race really, after someone was lamenting the 18-car grid. I posted sometime earlier that 3 big teams (4 next year) don’t rely on sponsorship and they put so much money in that smaller teams have to charge more for sponsorship than the advertising is worth. So they can’t get sponsors.

        Then Bernie adds fuel to the fire with his devil-take-the-hindmost prize fund. He just loves the drama of teams going bust, being bought, sold, almost sold, lawsuits, column inches…

  5. “Three years since F1’s race race”

    I think you mean last there, @keithcollatine :)

    1. Or rather Will Wood, sorry.

      1. @mashiat Typos are always my responsibility. Fixed it, thanks. :-)

        1. As I said, “first”, not “last”…

    2. First, though.

      1. 1987 Mexico GP
        29th October 2014, 17:06

        Correct, I believe it should read “since F1’s first race”

        Nice preview, as always

  6. i would rather have 12 cars all fighting for the win than 22 cars in which only 2 or 3 have a chance of winning, like this year

    1. Well at the moment we haven’t got either. And there’s never been a season where 12 different drivers have won, let alone 12 different cars, so I don’t think that’s a realistic expectation at the moment. Most teams are struggling to get the money together just to compete and you expect two-thirds of them to be potential race winners?

      The sport has its priorities wrong to be culling teams in the name of quality when it hasn’t got sufficient quantity to start with – it’s almost 20 years since the last race with a full field.

    2. That’s not F1, nor will it ever be (which is not a bad thing). Try IndyCar, which has the racing you describe plus a full grid.

  7. Bit of topic, But is Lotus going to run it’s revised nose in the USA GP? Or is it exclusively a feature for next year?

    1. They’ll run a revised nose in FP1 apparently.

    2. don’t think they’ll run it in an official session this year. is there a post season testing this year?

  8. “The regulations do not cover the potential for just 18 cars in qualifying, but we will likely see a reduction to the number of cars eliminated from the first two qualifying stages to accommodate the reduced number of cars.”
    Do the rules allow someone to change the qualifying format?

    1. @drycrust The stewards will have to come up with something – I’m not 100% on this but I believe they’ll need the unanimous consent of the participating teams, but if that is the case I can’t see an obvious reason why that wouldn’t be forthcoming.

    2. ColdFly F1 (@)
      29th October 2014, 22:36

      Further on this quote “The regulations do not cover the potential for just 18 cars in qualifying”. (thanks @drycrust)
      @willwood, @keithcollantine, I don’t think that is correct (let me know if I’m wrong). I believe that the regulations do not cover just 18 championship entries. As Bernie allowed Cat/Mar to miss COTA I assume that they are still part of the championship. Therefore we still have 22 cars ‘competing’, which calls for 6 cars to be eliminated in Q1.
      The weird part is that we already know 4-5 names (Cat/Mar and Vettel), thus Q1 is likely to see just 1 ‘on track’ car eliminated.

      Clearly that would be a non spectacle and I do hope that they change the quali rules to get a bit more of a fight in Q1.

      1. @coldfly

        I agree with the logic in your interpretation. The cars of missing teams should be considered similar to a car which had a big crash in FP3 and cannot make it to Qually or the Race (team can’t get prepped in time). So, yes, as things stand, we would have 1 car really eliminated in Q1, the 4 not present teams cars DNQ and Vettel starting from the pits.

  9. “There’s little chance of Sebastian Vettel emulating last season’s COTA victory this weekend as the reigning champion is expected to use a new complete power unit, which will force him to start from the pit lane, and therefore leave him with no incentive to participate in qualifying.”

    Does Vettel not have to at least set a time within 107% in Q1 to qualify as a starter??

    1. @3304hl The stewards have never failed to grant a dispensation when a driver has lapped sufficiently quickly in practice, so that’s probably what they’ll do – run up to third practice then change the power unit and miss qualifying.

      1. @keithcollantine
        What’s the penalty for changing PU? I thought it was 10 place grid penalty and that the penalty could be carried to the next race also, but that can’t be the case if Vettel has no incentive to participate in qualifying.

        1. It is 10 places for the first 6th component and 5 places for the second to sixth 6th component. Or starting from the pit lane if you change all six components. Vettel is doing the latter.


      2. While I understand the dispensation for teams with a genuine issue, if they simply refuse to even bother, the 107% rule should kick in.

        1. ColdFly F1 (@)
          29th October 2014, 22:38

          @drmouse, agree!
          How embarrassing would it be for RB if Vettel were not to race due to misinterpreting this rule.

        2. and embarrassing for F1 if only 17 cars are allowed to start.

          1. and embarrassing for F1 if only 17 cars are allowed to start.

            Why is it embarrassing that a car is not allowed to start if they did not qualify?

            I agree that it is embarrassing that the 2 small teams have been left in the position where they can’t make it to the race in a sport which pulls in the amount of money F1 does.

  10. Remove all uncompetitive teams and in reality there are no more than six cars in the field anyway. The rest is dead meat.

    1. You might be right but I don’t think either Ferrari or McLaren would agree that they are “dead meat”.

    2. Just because they can’t challenge for a win doesn’t mean they are dead meat. Fights for the lower places are just as valid as fights for the podium.

      Look at football. There are many teams in the premiership who know they will not win the league. Most know that when playing a to club they have practically no chance. Are they dead meat? Should they just give up, or continue fighting for the breast position they can get?

    3. Races like Spa 1998 or Europe 1999 would have been a blast if only McLaren, Ferrari and Williams competed it.

      Oh, wait.

    4. It seems unfair to say call some teams “dead meat” when it isn’t a fair competitive series. Some teams get paid well for being in the F1 series, and because they are paid well they can afford to spend more on developing a fast car, but even if they produce a mediocre car they’d still be paid well.
      Then there are other teams that have to spend a fortune to be in the same series, even if they did really well they get almost nothing for it, e.g. Brawn GP got nothing even though they won the World Championship.

    5. First of all, that is not really true at all @melthom – how often have we seen some good defensive driving, or obnoxious blocking, or back of the grid cars causing upsets for the top teams? Just look at how the season started for Massa!

      And then, the argument doesn’t cut it. Because if there would only be 3-4 teams, then do you think Honda would want to get in to a team that is finishing last (McLaren currently)? And would Mercedes be even in the sport after finishing last (behind RBR, Ferrari, Lotus, McLaren) for 2 years? The big teams need the smaller ones to keep making it a sport, to be able to point to having beaten most of the field, otherwise they would have to be embarresed by ending up at the back (of a field of 4-5 teams).

  11. I think the smaller teams are very important to F1. They are great feeders for the bigger teams. Alonso/Minardi, Raikkonen/Sauber, and many many more examples…. Caterham, Marussia, HRT etc The bigger teams pay these smaller teams to have their talent drive for them.

  12. I think Hamiltom will be fine on this track.

  13. I will be watching the remaining three races, but only because I believe you stick with your team until the very end, Red Bull in my case.
    However, I don’t expect any real exciting racing. Brazil might present a good race, but we will see.
    At the rate things are going we may not have any F1 at all in a few years.

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