Before racing begins in Texas I take a look at five of the things you should be watching out for. From the rumours surrounding Kimi Raikkonen not racing the last two grand prix to controversy surrounding F1s unpaid drivers.
1. Raikkonen and Lotus
Kimi Raikkonen looks set to sit out of the final two grand prix of the season according to Finnish reports. They claim Raikkonen’s manager has revealed he will undergo surgery on a back injury this week. It is thought this is to ensure the best start to the 2014 season with Ferrari. The surgery would certainly leave him out of the final two Grand Prix in Austin and Brazil. It is thought the Finn has still not been paid by Lotus and despite the team saying they had sorted the problems between driver and themselves it seems all is still not well. But who will step in for Raikkonen if he cannot race? Third driver Davide Valsecchi, reserve driver Jerome D’Ambrosio or even potential driver for 2014 Nico Hulkenberg. Valsecchi is the most likely to get the nod.
2. Unpaid drivers
With Raikkonen going unpaid all season by Lotus a number of drivers have spoken out in support of the Finn. There are also rumours other drivers have not been paid – with one of them thought to be Sauber driver Nico Hulkenberg. Daniel Ricciardo described F1 as ‘not in the best shape’ amid the controversy. He said the situation had been discussed by the GPDA. He said he felt for the drivers who had not been paid and suggested something needed to be done. Talented drivers expect to be paid. The situation is closely linked to why F1 has pay drivers. It will always have them simply because it will always need them.
3. Alonso’s fitness
Questions are surrounding the fitness of Fernando Alonso following an incident in Abu Dhabi where he hit several high kerbs. The Spaniard underwent medical checks before being allowed to fly following the race. It is thought Ferrari may make a final decision on his fitness on Monday ahead of the race in Austin. If he were not able to race the team could draft in Jules Bianchi, who currently races for Marussia, and who is part of the Ferrari young driver scheme. Alonso is expected to pass the medical exam according to reports in Spain and Italy.
4. Quantum and Lotus
The deal between Lotus and Quantum was supposedly nearing completion at the last race in Abu Dhabi. Yet over a week on nothing has been announced. Quantum plans to buy a 35 per cent stake in the team through new shares issued by majority owner Genii. However the completion of the deal has not been announced and Lotus seem to be keeping coy over the deal. So who is dragging their heals – Quantum or Lotus? While no deal is finalised the 2014 driver market remains in limbo. Lotus is essentially the best seat available. Lotus and Quantum want Nico Hulkenberg – yet to secure him the deal needs to be finished. If not the seat is likely to go to Pastor Maldonado. Elsewhere Force India, Williams and Sauber wait to see the outcome before announcing their driver line-ups for next season.
5. Rossi’s Friday outing for Caterham
Alexander Rossi will get a outing in FP1 for Caterham this weekend. He has previously driven the Caterham twice in Free Practice – once in 2012 at the Spanish Grand Prix and again at in 2013 at the Canadian Grand Prix. The outing will give Rossi a chance to demonstrate his skills as he looks to secure a race seat in F1. It is not known who will drive for the team next year so this will be a good opportunity for the American to put in a good performance in front of a home crowd. While it may be more of a publicity stunt Rossi can certainly use it to his advantage.
The organisers of the United States Grand Prix want the date of the 2013 race to be rescheduled after it coincides with an American football match.
The race is expected to take place on November 17 after the race calendar was released on Wednesday by the FIA. However this date coincides with the University of Texas playing Oklahoma State, with the match expected to attract thousands of spectators.
Organisers had expressed a desire for another date but no alternative plans have been made and the current race date may still stand.
The United States Grand Prix made its debut on the F1 calendar last season.
Sebastian Vettel took his sixth pole of the 2012 season in Austin beating Lewis Hamilton to set the fastest time as he looks to secure his third successive championship this weekend.
Mark Webber set the third fastest time and will line up on the second row. Romain Grosjean set the fourth fastest time but will start tomorrows Grand Prix from ninth after a five place grid penalty for a gear box change.
Grosjean’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen set the fifth fastest time but will start alongside Webber after Grosjean’s penalty. Behind Raikkonen the third row will be made up of Michael Schumacher in fifth and Felipe Massa in sixth after they set the sixth and seventh fastest times respectively.
Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg set the eighth fastest time and will start tomorrow’s race from seventh. Fernando Alonso’s chances of challenging Vettel for the title could be in trouble after he only set the ninth fastest time but he will benefit from Grosjean’s penalty and start eighth.
Pastor Maldonado had looked impressive in FP3 but couldn’t replicate that form and finished the session tenth, his teammate Bruno Senna will start behind him in 11th.
One of the big surprises of the session was Jenson Button failing to make Q3 after losing power in his McLaren, he will start tomorrows race from 12th. Behind him Paul di Resta lines up 13th in the second Force India ahead of Jean Eric Vergne.
The Saubers of Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi will start tomorrows race 15th and 16th after a disappointing qualifying session for them both. Behind them Nico Rosberg had a contrasting session to teammate Schumacher and could only set the 17th fastest time.
Daniel Ricciardo failed to make Q1 after only setting the 18th fastest time in the Toro Rosso. Behind him the Marussia drivers set the 19th and 20th times beating both Caterhams and HRTs.
Vettel will go into tomorrows race knowing that he has the potential to win the 2012 championship. If Vettel wins and Alonso fails to recover to within the top four then Vettel will win his third successive championship. This will no doubt be the only incentive Alonso needs to make up for his disappointing Saturday.
Sebastian Vettel was fastest in both FP1 and FP2 in Austin despite sitting out of much of FP2 with a water leak on his Red Bull.
Vettel had only completed three laps when he was forced to return to the pits and would not return to the track for an hour.
Vettel’s teammate Mark Webber was second fastest in the second session ahead of Vettel’s championship rival Fernando Alonso in third.
Alonso will be hoping that he will be closer to Vettel in qualifying and the race in order to give himself the best chance of beating Vettel to the championship.
McLaren teammates Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button finished the second session in fourth and fifth despite Hamilton having a spin.
Felipe Massa was sixth in the second Ferrari ahead of Nico Rosberg in seventh. Bruno Senna’s weekend began positively with the eighth fastest time in the second session ahead of Kamui Kobayashi in ninth.
Michael Schumacher completed the top ten ahead of Abu Dhabi winner Kimi Raikkonen in 11th.
Pastor Maldonado finished the session 12th in the second Williams whilst Romain Grosjean spun at turn one on his way to setting the 13th fastest time.
Behind them Sergio Perez could only manage 14th ahead of the two Toro Rossos. Force India could not replicate their FP1 form and only set the 17th and 18th fastest times.
At the back of the field finished Heikki Kovalainen, Timo Glock, Vitaly Petrov and Charles Pic ahead of the two HRTs.
Vettel’s impressive form in Austin despite problems with his car suggests that winning his third consecutive title is becoming more and more likely. Red Bull and Vettel are beginning to look as if they could walk away with the title if Alonso and Ferrari cannot produce something short of a miracle this weekend.
Sebastian Vettel has suggested that the controversy surrounding him and Kimi Raikkonen swearing on the podium in Abu Dhabi has been blown out of proportion.
Both drivers swore whilst being interviewed by David Coulthard during the FIAs new live post race interviews.
Coulthard apologised for the drivers use of language immediately afterwards and Vettel later released a statement on his website.
Vettel stated in Austin that it was unnecessary to create such a big fuss over the issue.
The use of DRS is to be restricted next season after FIA technical delegate Charlie Whiting informed the teams that he was no longer happy with drivers using it anywhere on the track.
Driver’s are currently allowed to use DRS anywhere on the track during free practice and qualifying. However from 2013 drivers will only be allowed to use DRS in its activation zone throughout the whole weekend.
The restriction comes as a result of a number of incidents caused by drivers deploying the device early in the exit of corners.
The FIA has decided not to renew the contract of FIA head doctor Gary Hartstein for next season.
Hartstein replaced the late Sid Watkins from the start of the 2005 season and has worked at every race since.
As chair of the FIA Institute’s Medical Training Working Group he helped to develop new safety policies.
No decision has been made on a replacement for the 2013 season.
The Grand Prix in New Jersey could find itself off the calendar for the 2013 season after Bernie Ecclestone suggested that the race no longer had a contract.
The New Jersey Grand Prix is scheduled to follow the Canadian Grand Prix in June 2013 however when the provisional calendar was revealed over the Singapore Grand Prix weekend it was still subject to confirmation.
Questions over the Grand Prix of America were raised as early as April when Ecclestone suggested that the Grand Prix would not go ahead. These concerns were raised again this week after Ecclestone gave an interview saying that the New Jersey race track was approaching its deadline and may be removed from the calendar for 2013.
Building work at the track is understood to be in an advanced state and the situation draws a comparison to the issues surrounding the Austin track last year. Ecclestone had said the United States Grand Prix in Austin would not go ahead due to contractual issues before going on to agree a contract and there is a possibility that the same will happen with the New Jersey race. Ecclestone did hint that should a large backer or sponsor get behind the Grand Prix it would be able to fulfil its contract and remain on the calendar.
Whether or not the race goes ahead it should be asked whether F1 needs two races in America. F1 has not raced in America since 2007 and after it returns this year with the United States Grand Prix in Austin, it will go from having no races to two. Admittedly the two races will be very different but F1 receives relatively low coverage in the US so it is confusing that a country that is more interested in NASCAR and Indycar would want to host two F1 races. Undoubtedly having two races will help to raise the profile of F1 in America, however it will only matter to the drivers and fans if the tracks provide entertainment and on the edge of your seat viewing.
As Ecclestone moves towards more and more races outside Europe it may become commonplace that countries have more than one Grand Prix. The decision on whether the Grand Prix of America stays on the 2013 Calendar will no doubt be decided by money. Its success as a Grand Prix track and in turn its longevity should depend on more than just money but somehow everything in F1 comes back to money. If the organisers have enough money to secure its place on the 2013 calendar then it is probably set to stay for the foreseeable future.