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Deep in the Heart of Racing

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Check out these five need-to-know details about Austin’s 2018 Formula 1 race.

By Chantal Rice, Photos courtesy of the Circuity of the Americas

Sleek, chic and fast, fast, fast: The Formula 1 United States Grand Prix returns to Austin and the Circuit of the Americas racetrack this weekend, marking the seventh consecutive year the world’s most elite racing series has visited the U.S. as part of its 21-race world tour. Along with the occasionally zany fanfare and zealously devout fans F1 brings with it, along with the feverishly enthusiastic and endlessly squealing devotees who shun race entertainment in favor of the post-Grand Prix concerts featuring Bruno Mars and Britney Spears, along with the gazllion or so children stampeding to get to COTA’s Kids Zone and the soaring 251-foot-tall tower looming over all things COTA, there is the main event: the exhilarating spectacle that is Formula 1 racing.

For those uninitiated in the fraternal order of auto racing, here’s the fundamental detail to know: F1 racing is magnificent! Of course, there are a few other thrilling aspects to watch out for at the COTA this weekend, so we’ve fashioned a list of the top five significant details to know as race weekend ensues.

1. Lewis Hamilton will probably win.

Setting aside the fact that Hamilton has easily won nine of this year’s 17 races, including the last four, that he’s a four-time world champion and the most successful British driver in all of F1 history, and that he’s dominated at the COTA, winning five of the previous six Austin races, should he dominate this weekend like he has all season and win the Austin race (and his closest competitor, Sebastian Vettel in the No. 5 ScuderiaFerrari, doesn’t place second), Hamilton will also secure the 2018 driver championship, as well as the constructor championship for his team, Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport, despite that there are still three more races scheduled this season. He’s just that good. And if he scores the pole position (determined Saturday in qualifying rounds), that’s another indicator he’ll break away from the remainder of the field and win the race since all six of the previous U.S. Grands Prix at the COTA have been won by drivers on the front row of the grid. Additionally—and if recent history continues to repeat itself—Mercedes team orders will likely have Hamilton’s teammate, Valtteri Bottas, driving less for a win himself and instead being cast in a supporting role to assist Hamilton however possible so the Brit can bring home the championship win yet again this Sunday.

2. Ferrari will likely crumble under questionable team decisions.

Though it’s painful to admit, Ferrari has lost out to key challenger Mercedes consistently this season, partly because of truly baffling decisions made by Ferrari team chiefs, usually regarding the best time to pit in any given race. While the ever-optimistic Vettel has won five races this season, including the first two, holds the lap record at the COTA and is the only driver who can possibly topple Hamilton’s rise to the championship, his Ferrari teammate, fan favorite Kimi Räikkönen, aka the Iceman, hasn’t won a race all season (though he secured nine podiums this year, meaning he’s placed at least third in nine separate races). And given Ferrari’s recent decision to dump Räikkönen (who’ll move to the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team in 2019) in favor of current Sauber wunderkind Charles Leclerc, there’s no telling whether Räikkönen will drive his best this weekend. But knowing him, he could go all in and shake up the standings in the end. As Räikkönen would say, “Leave me alone. I know what I’m doing.”

3. In all likelihood, Americans will be the minority in the race crowd.

Believe it or not, F1 racing is a phenomenon universally loved worldwide—except in the U.S., where many people, including sports fans and even racing fans, aren’t enlightened about nor have become enthralled by F1’s splendor. For some reason, the grandeur and thrill associated with the nearly 70-year-old institution that is Formula 1 racing seem to elude Americans. (Perhaps that’s why an F1 driver like the fantastic Daniel Ricciardo can attend a University of Texas football home game without even a glimpse of recognition from the surrounding crowd.) While Americans’ understanding of elite racing is changing, thanks, in part, to the efforts of the COTA and F1’s more recent insistence on bringing the Grand Prix back to the U.S. after a five-year lapse, there will certainly be an abundance of international visitors, many of whom travel the world to follow each race, at the track this weekend. And since the COTA contributes nearly $1 billion in economic impact to Central Texas through increased tourism for racing events throughout the year, Austinites should welcome these international visitors with open arms and the sense of sporting camaraderie locals are known for. F1 racing is a really big deal throughout the world, and it’s about time Americans recognize and embrace it. Once they do, they’ll be hooked for life.

4. It might rain—and that would be awesome!  

Considering Austin’s complete seasonal change of weather in the past week from yep, it’s still summer in October to dang, we skipped fall and a drizzly, frosty winter has landed right on top of us with no end in sight, inclement weather is a possibility at the COTA this weekend. While the COTA does have an inclement-weather policy, as long as there are no safety concerns for drivers and race guests, the show will go on. And if it does indeed rain, we are all in for a spectacular treat, as F1 race teams will have to scramble to bolt on racecars’ rain tires, with vehicles likely skidding all over the track, to breathtakingly thrilling results, for race fans anyway.

5. Anything can happen.

The absolutely wonderful thing about F1 racing is that though media and fans and even gambling outfits can predict what will happen, given the inherent chaos brought on by a number of factors that can occur in an F1 race, there’s really no telling what can happen. For instance, maybe the two Mercedes will earn a front-row start then crash each other as they did on lap one in the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix (not likely), giving way for the two Ferraris to get up front and stay up front. Or perhaps the young and often impetuous Max Verstappen of Aston Martin Red Bull Racing will lose his cool and wreck every car within a 50-foot radius (more likely), thereby shaking up the grid and giving lesser teams a chance to upset the whole dang race. Maybe the Haas F1 Team, the American contingent (Yep, F1 has an American team!) will pull out all the stops and throw down a winning racing display at its home track (less likely). Given that cars will be racing in excess of 330 kilometers per hour (That’s more than 200 miles per hour!) at some spots, that the COTA track has a maximum elevation change of 131 feet from its highest point to its lowest point (The official F1 website calls the COTA track a “fantastic roller coaster of a circuit” because of these elevation changes.) and features an array of difficult-to-maneuver elements, including its beloved zigzagging ess turns, its counterclockwise stretches and its signature corner, turn one, one thing is certain: The 2018 Formula 1 United States Grand Prix is going to be unforgettable!

See our photo recap of the race. 

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