USGP 2019 – A bumpy cold ride that crowned a Champ!

Overall Themes 
The weekend started off with 2 main themes. 1. Hot Damn it’s cold! And 2. Boy is this circuit getting bumpy! A bit of a freak October snowstorm made travel plans dicey for those coming south looking for some warmer weather, but it was not to be had on Thursday and Friday, as temperatures near freezing meant we got to see crews in heavy jackets and little significant running for FP1. As the weekend went on, the weather got progressively warmer, and by Sunday, it actually sort of felt like I could dress for an F1 race as opposed to a football game! The other on track observation was “Hang on! Cause it’s gonna get bumpy!” COTA is a state of the art purpose built F1 circuit, but it’s built on some of the worst and most useless soil imaginable, so much so that truckloads of dirt from Arkansas were brought in to try to provide a base for the track. Apparently it has not been enough as the extreme heat of a Texas summer for the past 7 years has taken a toll on the track itself, and several large bumps (and a lot of little ones) now line the circuit in several spots. Bumps would be the main complaint of drivers all throughout the weekend, but in the end, most got through it. 

A very Newsy weekend 
We got our first look at a complete set of 2021 regulations and the first renderings of what F1 will look at in 2 years time. The car looks great, but I can almost hear the voice from South Park saying “but can it race?” That remains to be seen, but it’s clear to me that those running F1 now at least have a working television, and can see the same issues with the sport that the rest of us do, and that is encouraging. These regs are a great start, but will we see the likes of a Haas on a podium in the future? Not sure yet, but as a fan of the sport I am heartened by the fact that Liberty is taking on the large issues. We will have to see how this works and for one thing, we will at least be tuning in to see how it all plays out! 

Race Day 
A full house (2nd sell out ever) at the Circuit of the Americas provided the backdrop for what in the end turned out to be a championship clincher! Starting from P5, Lewis Hamilton knew he had some work to do, and work he did on lap 1, quickly dispatching of both Ferrari cars and getting into podium position. It was apparent that if he was going to win championship no 6, he wanted to do it with a sense of style. He had only one problem, his teammate. Bottas had clearly eaten his go fast porridge earlier on Sunday, and was the class of the field for just about the entirety of the race. The Merc team, gave Lewis an opportunity for the win by allowing him to go long on the hard tyre and do a one stop, but it proved to be a strategy that ran 4 laps short, as Bottas passed Hamilton for the lead and did not look back. He had the quickest car and deserved the win for sure. Hamilton, would benefit from a late K-Mag brake failure and would go on to preserve p2,and thereby securing a 6th drivers championship! Say what you want about Lewis, but you cannot deny the obvious talent. One short of the legendary Schumacher, Lewis will undoubtedly try to equal that the German’s title count next year before the new regs kick in. The ball is squarely in his opponent’s court to see if anyone can deny him next year. 

What happened to the Ferrari’s? 
An interesting question. This was not a race with botched strategy, strange spin,  or contact with other drivers that ended up in disaster.  It turned out to be a race that Ferrari for the first time in the second half, looked outclassed on pure pace. Charles Leclerc had probably the loneliest race of anyone, clearly faster than the midfield teams, but definitely slower than those at the front. P4 was all he could muster. As for teammate Vettel, one of the now infamous bumps led to a suspension failure forcing an early retirement. Ferrari is a team that just baffles me week after week, they clearly have great equipment and great drivers, but every week, they cannot put it all together. Consistency will need to be the goal for the Maranello squad in the year to come! 

Alex Albon passed more cars than I did on the way into the circuit! 
Contact with Carlos Sainz meant an early pitstop for the Red Bull driver, and making 3 stops meant that every time he would fight his way into the points, he would have to drop back down and start again. This guy managed to pass ¾ of the field, and P5 and driver of the day honors went his way. Albon has done nothing to suggest that he does not deserve the Red Bull seat next season, and it feels like just a matter of time before that is announced. The other side of the Red Bull garage saw Verstappen come home p3, just missing out on a last lap pass on Hamilton. If nothing else, he kept the Mercs honest and in range to capitalize on any silver arrow mistakes. If the Honda engine can continue to up the power and keep reliability, Red Bull could be a force next year. 

I love the fight in the midfield
I always love the fact that passing is possible at COTA. The midfield did not disappoint at all in this respect on race day. Renault, McLaren, Toro Rosso and Racing Point provided one heck of a show in the mid-field, with the McLaren’s trying to hunt down Daniel Riccardo following his pass on Lando Norris early on. Danny Ric, for a guy that loves coming to Texas, and embraces Texas culture, and accent, finally had a good race day, making a one stop work and holding off an incredible charge from Lando Norris to secure P6. Lando , put on a overtaking display late on a new set of medium tyres but P7 was where he finished, despite taking 9 plus seconds out of Danny Ric in the last 2 laps. Would have been nice if anyone not following the timing screens would have seen that (but that is a separate rant). Behind Norris, was teammate Sainz, who turned his 100th GP start into a solid P8, getting the car home after contact with Alex Albon on lap 1 and losing some bodywork on a bump in the middle part of the race. McLaren have all but clinched P4 in the constructors and for the first time, the future looks to be pointing up for the Woking squad. It was double points for Renault with Hulkenberg getting P9 and Racing Point closes out the points with Sergio Perez taking a pitlane start and getting the final point after the stewards handed the Russian torpedo with a 5 sec penalty for contact with Perez. Again, have not seen this and would have appreciated at least a replay, but we love seeing cool down laps more I guess! 

Final thoughts
 For a venue that has gone through as many trials and tribulations, both locally and internationally, it was great to see a packed house at COTA! Bobby Epstein has done an incredible job and has made this race not only viable, but sustainable! I used to hear “What about when Mexico gets its race back?” that it would kill attendance at COTA, and then again when the calendar was announced and it was after Mexico that those questions came up again! I think the US fanbase gave a resounding response this weekend, that at least this race is here to stay!! They did announce a major re-surfacing effort today to address the bump issues, so hopefully this time they get it right and we have sustained open wheel and motorcycle racing at this awesome venue for years to come!! On a personal note, this was a weekend that for me was about making new friends in the sport. I had more intelligent, engaging, and honest conversations with more people this year than I ever have before. The US fanbase may not be the biggest, but it’s among the smartest fanbase that I have seen and we are learning and growing! I feel honored to count several folks, including the recipients of this e-mail as new friends! Here’s to keeping Austin weird, and for a great USGP weekend!

Andy P