It feels like a very long time since the last Formula 1 race. Yes it’s just been two weeks and the confirmation of Red Bull breaching the budget cap sent the sport into chaos.
But things went quiet for a while since then and the United States Grand Prix is set to see F1 politics at it’s best, or worst, depending on what you think about it.
Zak Brown‘s letter to the FIA that breaching the budget cap “constitutes cheating” will only add fuel to the fire, on a weekend where Red Bull could seal the constructors’ championship.
Christian Horner was set to speak to the press on Friday morning in Austin to address the budget cap. However this was postponed. There is a race on too, let’s not forget.
Mercedes’ streak about to come to an end
Since 2014, Mercedes have won the constructors’ title every year but that’s about to change this weekend as long as Ferrari fail to outscore Red Bull by 19 points or more.
For context, Ferrari have only managed to do that once this season, which was at the season-opening Bahrain GP when Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez both retired.
Red Bull have built a brilliant car this year and no matter what you think about their budget cap breach, to get the right philosophy and execute a plan which has been at least three years in the making, that’s impressive.
Throw in the skillset and ability of Verstappen who has continued his staggering performances into 2022, with a pinch of maturity at the right times, it was always going to be a winning combination.
Remarkably, only four drivers from two teams have won Grand Prix this year and it would be a surprise if this isn’t the case come Abu Dhabi in November.
One of those drivers is Perez, who won in Monaco and Singapore, and he’s in a confident mood ahead of the weekend.
“It certainly helps when you have a good run of races, the momentum and confidence is with you,” Perez told the press.
“But that doesn’t mean anything, you have to go out there and show it again and again.
“Hopefully this weekend can be a good one and it would be nice to get a strong result before my home race.
“There’s been a massive effort from everyone. It’s been a tremendous year for Red Bull and I hope we can finish on a high.
“Throughout the season, [we have been] making the right calls and pushing at the right times has paid off.”
Grid penalty for Leclerc?
Charles Leclerc is expected to change his internal combustion engine so he can run his power unit harder for the final four events, as well as testing it for 2023.
Due to reliability concerns, Leclerc and Sainz have had to hold back slightly with the settings on their power unit which explains why they have not been a match for the Red Bulls on the straights recently.
A five-grid penalty wouldn’t be the end of the world for Leclerc as the Circuit of the Americas is one of the easier tracks to overtake at.
But, a whole power unit change would mean the Monegasque driver starts from the back so he would be out of contention for the win, and probably the podium.
Verstappen charged through the field brilliantly in 2018 from 18th to finish second, so if Leclerc can replicate that, it would be a spectacular drive.
Tyre wear has been Ferrari‘s achilles heal this season which has frequently let them down.
The drivers have been unable to push hard, knowing that as soon as the tyres degrade to a certain level and drop out of their working window, they lose all pace.
It’s always a borderline one and two-stop race in Austin, so even if Ferrari are leading in the opening stint, there will be opportunities for Red Bull to get back to the front through strategy or superior tyre wear.
Ferrari need to find a solution for their lack of race pace compared to Red Bull, so a win or two in the remaining four rounds would be big going into 2023.
Aston Martin on the up
Aston Martin were the big movers in the mini Asia leg in Singapore and Japan, going from ninth to seven in the constructors’ championship.
They are only seven points behind Alfa Romeo and are tracking in the right direction with momentum on their side.
Here’s a nice little stat – Aston Martin have outscored Mercedes at the last two races and Sebastian Vettel appears to be ending his F1 career with some excellent performances.
It was a quiet season for the four-time world champion but he’s kicked on and it would be wonderful to see him continue his form and go out on a high, in terms of his driving.
“I made my F1 debut at the United States Grand Prix, at Indianapolis, 15 years ago,” said Vettel.
“It is always a great feeling to return – especially to such an exciting track, with lots of really challenging sectors.
“As ever, it is tough to predict exactly where we will be in the midfield battle, but recent races have shown we can regularly challenge for points positions, so I feel confident.
“We want to carry our positive momentum all the way to the end of the season.”
How will Haas fare?
Haas announced Moneygram will be their new title sponsor from 2023 but they desperately need to score some points before the end of the year, something they haven’t done since the Austrian GP in July.
Mistakes from the drivers and team mean they have thrown away lots of points this season, perhaps gone unnoticed to the casual viewer.
The American outfit should be fighting for sixth, but instead they are hanging onto ninth in the standings.
Financially, that will make a big difference for any team, especially Haas, so they will feel let down that they haven’t capitalised on one of the better cars the team have created since joining F1 in 2016.
“Austin is a track we expect to work pretty well for our car,” said Mick Schumacher. “We know that recently things have been difficult and usually we’ve been struck by an unlucky race, or weekend in general.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to turn it around at our home race and as we have some nice stuff coming up, that will hopefully bring us luck. I’m excited about hopefully scoring points in the States.”
Warm weather, wonderful circuit
The Circuit of the Americas is a brilliant circuit for F1 with a sweeping first sector and some technical turns in the second half of the lap.
You can really throw the car into some of the corners and have a dive down the inside at Turns 1 and 12 as the end of the straights.
Most of the sausage kerbs have been removed so track limits could be an issue this weekend, something to keep an eye on in qualifying with lap times deleted for going wide.
For once, there is no rain expected at all this weekend with track temperatures around the 40 degrees celcius mark, so the tyres will be punished which will play into the hands of Red Bull.
Free practice two has been extended so Pirelli can test the 2023 tyres. The first test was meant to take place in Suzuka, but it rained all day on the Friday in Japan.
Another sell out crowd is expected so there’s plenty to look forward to and one thing for certain is Red Bull will be the talking point.
Whether that’s to celebrate their fifth constructors’ title or about more budget cap controversy, let’s find out. It’s never straightforward in F1 is it.