Penalty-free shoot-out in Texas? Five United States GP talking points

2021 United States Grand Prix

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Power unit penalties have kept the title contenders apart for the last two races. Will Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen go wheel-to-wheel again this weekend?

Here are the talking points as F1 heads to the Circuit of the Americas for the United States Grand Prix.

No more penalty interference?

The championship contenders have each taken fresh engine parts, and the associated penalties, over the past two rounds. That kept them largely separated on the track, but made little overall difference to the points situation: Verstappen is just one point further ahead than before those two races.

Now the penalties have been taken at the title contenders have a stock of spare power unit parts ready to go, will it be all-thriller-no-filler from here on? That’s certainly what Liberty Media will be hoping for as F1 performs before its vital home market for the first time since 2019, following the pandemic-forced cancellation of last year’s race.

However F1’s penalty system may make the title contenders more willing to take further penalties between now and the end of the year. The first time a driver exceeds the maximum allocation of power unit elements they take a 10-place grid penalty, but subsequent sanctions are more lenient.

“A second engine penalty is only five places on the grid now so it’s not anywhere as significant as the first one,” acknowledged Red Bull team principal Christian Horner. Mercedes in particular seem to suffer more from performance degradation as their engines age, increasing their incentive to make another change.

This is not thought to be the reason for Valtteri Bottas’ consecutive engine changes and penalties at Monza and Sochi, however, which were seemingly reliability related. “Reliability is going to play a key role,” Horner added. “It’s question of making the right calls at the right time and keeping your head, keeping your nerve and doing the basics well.”

More bumps than a rodeo

Red Bull mechanics fix Max Verstappen's rear wing, Circuit of the Americas, 2019
Report: Red Bull suspect bumps caused crack in Verstappen’s wing
Since the Circuit of the Americas flooded badly in 2015, damaging some of its drainage structures, the track operators have fought an annual battle against bumps. Moto GP riders, who suffer more from undulations, were especially critical of the surface when they visited the track a few weeks ago.

There’s little the track owners can do at this short notice besides attempt to grind down the worst of the bumps. The surface is believed to have contributed to problems in recent F1 rounds at the track, notably for Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel in 2019, and the Williams drivers in 2015. The prospect of a reliability-induced failure will be any especially troubling thought for the title contenders.

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F1’s coming home?

USA flag, Circuit of the Americas, 2019
Report: USA ‘now a second home race’ for Williams after Dorilton takeover
American influence has continued to grow in Formula 1 since its takeover by Liberty Media. In addition to existing team Haas (whose Russian colour scheme belies its US ownership), American companies Dorilton Capital and MSP Sport Capital have entered, the former buying Williams and the latter investing in McLaren.

Zak Brown, the American CEO of McLaren Racing, will lend his ex-Dale Earnhardt 1984 Chevrolet Monte Carlo NASCAR to driver Daniel Ricciardo to demonstrate at the circuit. “He’s a big hero of mine” said Ricciardo, “so to be able to drive one of his cars is going to be a surreal moment and a bit of a dream come true.”

New US entries

Michael Andretti, IndyCar, 2021
Will Andretti return to F1?
As RaceFans reported previously, a company run by CART Indycar champion and ex-F1 racer Michael Andretti is believed to be looking at taking over Sauber, which runs Alfa Romeo’s team. Further discussions on the move are expected this weekend, though an announcement at this stage is unlikely.

If it does go ahead Andretti may want to place its highly rated junior driver Colton Herta in the championship, though he lacks the necessary FIA superlicence points at present. Could F1 have two US teams in addition to two US races next year?

Everything’s bigger in 2023

F1 will return to America again before next year’s race at COTA. The series’ US reach will grow further with the addition of a second round at a new temporary circuit in Miami Gardens.

The new Miami Grand Prix is not thought to jeopardise the future of the current United States Grand Prix. But it will contribute to a record 23-race 2022 F1 calendar which has been a cause for concern among some teams due to the demands it will place upon their staff. Expect to hear more about that this weekend.

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2021 United States Grand Prix

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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28 comments on “Penalty-free shoot-out in Texas? Five United States GP talking points”

  1. I think one key talking point is how the number 2s will influence the race.

    Bottas has hit a purple patch since Monza (bar 90% of the Russia race). Checo was also doing good in all the 3 races but lost out due to a deserved penalty at Monza and a bad pit stop timing choice in Russia.

    Both Max and Lewis can’t afford to have any minor slip-ups such that they end up behind #2 of the other team

    1. @sumedh

      I think that Max has an easier time getting past Bottas than Lewis has of getting past Checo, though.

      1. True however that matters little considering that Lewis hardly ever has to overtake Perez.
        Major weakness in Max changes for F1 title this year is Perez qualifying.

        Ideally Lewis and Max each will win 3 races however I expect Bottas will be ahead of Max more often than Perez will be ahead of Lewis.

        More interestingly is what Norris or Leclerc can have of an impact on either a brilliant day from them and/or an slight off day/issue with Lewis or Max.

    2. It might be all too little too late (after Silverstone and Hungary) to break the Mercedes 8 year streak. On to 2022

      1. We’ll see in the end if those points prove crucial.

  2. Any news on when Ricciardo is going to drive Nascar?

    1. Any news on when Ricciardo is coming to back to F1 after his functional sabbatical this year ?

      1. You didn’t watch Monza?

        1. Good try Dane but, no. Monza is an outlier because it is essentially engine and track position. After that Russia and Turkey have shown that his form is as poor as in the first part of the year.

  3. I doubt Mercedes and RBR would voluntarily take additional penalties unless a definite necessity or justified by QLF position already being towards the back for any reason.

    The track surface situation: Worst-case scenario, this forces a force majeure cancellation on safety grounds.
    COTA needs full resurfacing & some other repairs as tarmac resurfacing alone is insufficient.
    I don’t want cancellation, but safety comes before everything else, so no other option if the track surface proves unnecessarily risky, especially for tyres.

    1. I don’t think cancellation would happen. The bumps affect bikes more. In F1 cars, teams may have to raise ride height & wings, which are doable. It may slow down cars a bit but would keep them safe.

    2. No chance. The bikes dealt with it. F1 can grow a pair and deal with it. I’m anticipating getting bored of all bumb related whining this weekend

      1. Depends on if the bumbs are very close to each other that can shock wings so hard they break. If the bumbs are far from each other then it’s no problem.

  4. Don’t count your chickens just yet. Hamilton only replaced his ICE at the last race. There’s still a slim chance one of the other components could go wrong. There’s also the ever present chance of one them just having a terrible free practice leading to damage or a Qualifying issue. It’s a bit soon to be assuming a 1-2 grid start for Ham & Ver

  5. Surely @keithcollantine has missed a US GP Talking point here – the pre-race hype ceremony!

    The likes of Ricciardo seem to love it, but I personally love to see the bemused expressions of Bottas and Raikkonen as they begrudgingly walk out to star-spangled banners and fanfare.

    1. But young people love it.. @geekzilla9000 ;)

      1. Those youngsters with their constant need for track-side celebrities, cheerleaders, and attention spans only able to deal with Sprint races!

  6. Honestly, what I really want to see is a Ferrari win. Its been 2 full years!!
    This season, they have led 4 races (Baku, Silverstone, Russia, Turkey) and 1 they probably would have led and won (Monaco). Of these 5, victory looked like a potential possibility in at least 3 of them – Silverstone, Russia, Turkey, Monaco.
    Mclaren and Renault have led just 2 and 1 race so far.

    1. Russia seemed a likely win? Not to me, sainz had no pace compared to norris. Turkey was always a stretch, a risky move, silvestone and monaco indeed looked likely, silverstone they were lacking 15 sec compared to hamilton and likely verstappen across whole the race duration and monaco they seemed fast enough to jump bottas in the pit, so should’ve been able to keep verstappen behind.

    2. I also think they deserve a win though, especially leclerc.

      1. Ferrari are one of those teams who seem to do well when they don’t qualify up front, LeClerc and Sainz seem to be very racey. With the PU upgrade, hopefully that bit of extra horsepower will put them in the mix. If they can be near the front, they can be there to mop up the spoils if/when Lewis and Max spin each other off!

  7. Unfortunate that Cota couldn’t care less about motogp. Great crowds and the race was somewhat special with marquez being marquez again. However the track surface was horrendous, on lean you could see why some bikes didn’t cope with the bumps, the forks were frantically trying to not bottom out, lap times were poor, I have never watched a decent motogp race at this track, fair to say that for once f1 has better racing on this track than motogp.

  8. The bumps were a big problem in 2019 so why were they not already fixed??

  9. Hope W Series races will be cancelled due to racists in USA federal government denying visas for drivers of race and nations they hate.

    1. I had not heard anything about this, but there are reports that W-Series driver Irina Sidorkova, who is runnng 7th in the points, was denied a visa into the USA because she is Russian. Surely the W-Series could not hold an event under such circumstances.
      Does anyone have any further information or reaction from the FIA?

      1. Reaction to discrimination is reserved for popular groups only @regs @juan-fanger If there are no likes to be had, there’s no need to bother.

  10. Nice headline pic of Hamilton giving Verstappen enough space. /s

    1. Indeed …

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