US Grand Prix preview

Looking ahead to the 3rd US Grand Prix in Austin, events off the track once again dominate. Despite a title battle heading down to the wire, the fate of F1’s smallest teams has centre stage.

Missing minnows

The grace given to both Caterham and Marussia to miss this weekend’s grand prix seems like an early precursor to three-car teams. The F1 establishment appears disconnected to an issue that has been simmering away for years. With their perpetual liquidity problems – and depending on what you read, Sauber and Force India not far behind – these teams are likely now being viewed as a risk to the sport.

Potentially considered as nothing more than a proving ground for young talent – and budget pressures are diminishing even that role – the sport seems more attracted to three-car teams. More stability would be one outcome, future stars could still have opportunities (arguably with less pressure to bring finance) and the main teams would also get a bigger share of F1’s money pot. It will be a sad state of affairs, particularly for the employees sweating blood at the back of the grid. But F1 is not going to get in to the habit of letting teams pick and choose races to attend.

Last chance saloon

Even with double-points in Abu Dhabi, Nico Rosberg simply must get back on top in Texas. At risk of stoking the conspiracy theories amongst Lewis Hamilton fans, no matter how it comes about the German has to finish in front of his team-mate.

There is a wicked irony in that the incidents of Spa have shaped the Championship but not in the way we expected. Irrespective of whether Nico now feels shut out by Mercedes’ post-Spa punishment or believes there is favouritism being shown, Lewis is firmly in the ascendancy. At the close of the 2014 season we could be looking back at Spa being the race where Lewis actually got on top in what had been a nip-and-tuck battle.

German struggles with penalties

Being on the wrong end of a ‘penalties’ nightmare is not something often associated with German sportsmen but Sebastien Vettel is becoming the exception. F1’s penalties designed to reduce costs by forcing teams to run fewer power units per season is not having the desired effect.

Unable to tackle fundamental issues with the Renault unit, Vettel has burned through his five with three races to go. Whilst he is not in Championship contention, it is farcical that the reigning World Champion will sit out qualifying. With Formula 1 fans already paying eye-watering prices for tickets, a big name sitting out Saturday sends out all the wrong messages.

Merc’s race to lose

Austin has all the makings of another Mercedes 1-2: a circuit that requires a well-balanced car and an engine with guts for the trademark Tilke long straights. Red Bull have shown very well in the previous two events but trying to avoid being mugged on the straights will dull the sharpness of their handling. Consequently we should expect Williams and potentially McLaren to run strongly although Ron Dennis’ team still seem unable to get any consistency in performance between circuits. They will be keen to nail that ahead of the off-season as a minimum.

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