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2015 Formula 1 United States Grand Prix Preview

Posted on October 23, 2015

Written by Peter Hubbard

As the 2015 Formula One (F1) season makes its annual stop at Circuit of The Americas for the United States Grand Prix this week – round 16 in a 19-race season, three or four hot topics are the main focus of conversation heading into the 56-lap, 191-miles race, slated for October 25.

The first is the likelihood that popular Mercedes AMG Petronas British driver Lewis Hamilton, winner of two of the previous three races held at COTA, and defending 2014 Driver Champion, will be able clinch the 2015 F1 Driver’s Championship with a win here this Sunday – his third.

Baring catastrophe, that possibility became much more likely today, when it was announced by the Federation Internationale de L’Automobile (FIA), the F1 governing authority, that both Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen will be assessed 10-place grid penalties for using a fifth engine – since only four are allowed during the season.

"Yes, we will have the hit of a 10-place penalty for a new engine at this event, but it has always been the plan," Vettel told reporters at the Circuit of The Americas. "It is no big secret and no surprise for us. This was always the plan in order for us to have the strongest engine available at every single point in the season.”

That means Vettel, who trails Hamilton by 66 points in the standings with four rounds remaining (236 to 302), will have a challenge simply finishing in the points, much less securing a podium spot. In the event Hamilton does win, Vettel would have to finish second just to keep the championship hopes alive – a genuinely challenging task if he can start no higher than 11th on the grid, no matter how well he qualifies.

Should Hamilton take the checkered flag on Sunday, he will become the first driver to clinch the F1 title at the USGP since Nikki Lauda did it in 1977. Ironically, Lauda now serves as the chairman of the very Mercedes racing team for which Hamilton now drives.

Another major spotlight will be on Manor Marussia rookie Alexander Rossi – the only American F1 driver in the field – and the first American to compete in an F1 race on American soil since Scott Speed drove for Scuderia Toro Rosso at the 2007 USGP held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"I can't adequately describe how excited I am about competing in my home Grand Prix for the first time,” stated Rossi. “ Thankfully, I've been so busy with a whole bunch of PR commitments that I've been able to keep that side of it in check, but now we're just a few days out, the reality is starting to hit me and it feels great.

“It's a huge deal for me, not only because it makes me extremely proud to be the first American driver to race on US soil since 2007, but also because it's the realization of a goal that I, and the people around me, have been working towards for effectively 13 years. This weekend is an opportunity to reward their support and commitment as much as my own determination as a race car driver, and I'll be giving it my all.

"I'm pretty happy with how things went in my first two races for the team, in Singapore and Japan. There's a lot to come to grips with at first, before you can really start to build some momentum. But that considered, I was pleased with my relative position at the end of those races. After taking a race off (the Russian Grand Prix two weeks ago) due to my GP2 schedule, I'm looking forward to picking up where I left off at Suzuka and enjoying a good fight with my team mate, Will Stevens.

"Circuit of The Americas is an awesome track. I've driven it before and it's a real mix of some of the best circuits in the world. It's pretty fast and the frequent elevation changes make it spectacular for racing and spectating. There's going to be an amazing vibe from the fans and the fact I’ll have my family and friends in the crowd. So I really can't wait until we start turning wheels on Friday," he concluded.

Another question on many minds is whether Rossi will be recruited to race for the new Haas F-1 team, which will mark the return of an American team to an F1 grid for the first time since the late 1980’s. Last month the Haas F1 team announced that experienced F1 French racer Romain Grojean, currently driving the No. 44 car for Lotus, would be their lead driver.

The 29-year-old Grosjean has competed in 78 Formula One races and scored 10 podium finishes, with the most recent being a third-place result in August at the Belgian Grand Prix. He is currently in his fifth season with Lotus F1 Team.

Grosjean is highly regarded as a team leader and potential world champion. The Frenchman will get his first drive with the Haas F1 Team during pre-season testing Feb. 22-25 at Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain. A second test at Barcelona will takes place in March before the 2016 Australian Grand Prix, March 20 in Melbourne.

“We wanted an experienced driver capable of developing our car and our race team into one that can score points right away … and better itself with each race, and with each season. We found him in Romain Grosjean,” said Gene Haas, founder and chairman of the Haas F1 Team. “I’ve been involved in motorsports for a long time and learned early on the most crucial component is the driver. Grosjean has strong credentials and he will be an important asset to the Haas F1 Team.”

“What everyone at the Haas F1 Team is building is quite impressive, and I’m very proud to be a part of it,” Grosjean said. “Formula One is incredibly competitive and the only way to succeed is by finding new ways of doing things. This is a new opportunity with a new team that is taking a very different approach. I believe in their approach and they believe in me. While I am committed to giving my absolute best to my current team … I am very excited for what the future holds at the Haas F1 Team.”

The final topic of conversation at CoTA has been the unpredictable Texas weather. Forecasters are calling for a 90 to 100 chance of rain in the greater Austin area during practices and qualifying and 60 percent for Sunday’s race, which despite the use of rain times, may impact the outcome. Heavy rain totals and even flooding in some places are in the forecast.