It’s fair to say Formula One will have wanted to be surrounded by more positive headlines as it prepares for its annual attempt to make a greater indent into the lucrative United States market. While the sport will have wanted attention to focus on an intriguing and climaxing battle for the drivers’ championship between Mercedes duo Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, it instead heads to Austin for this weekend’s U.S. Grand Prix in Austin with attention again on the financial viability of the sport and the decisions being made by those in power.
In the past week two of the minnows of the Formula One world, Caterham and Marussia were both forced into administration, meaning that the grid for the U.S. Grand Prix will feature just 18 cars -- the lowest number since in Monaco in 2005. Both teams entered the sport in 2010 hoping to succeed based on then plans for a long-mooted cost cap, but have limped along ever since the proposal was scrapped following protests from the major manufacturers, led by Ferrari.
The pressure is now on Formula One chief executive Bernie Ecclestone to help find both a short-term solution for Caterham and Marussia as well as making the sport more viable for similar smaller-scale teams in the future. On the track one of Ecclestone’s most controversial decisions is also coming into sharper focus. Just two races of the season remain after Sunday’s race in Austin -- in Brazil and Abu Dhabi -- and Hamilton leads Rosberg in a tense title race by 17 points. Yet his hopes of getting his second championship wrapped up are hindered by Ecclestone’s brainchild plan to have double points awarded for the final race. Criticism has come in from drivers past and present, with Hamilton clear how he would feel to lose the title as a result of the new rule.
“I think the question is, 'what is fair?” he said. “It's a rule that they have brought in for the first time. Do I agree with it? I don't know if any of us do agree with it or do not agree with it but it is the way it is and you have to deal with it and get on with it, really.
“It would suck if that was the case, big time. But I'm not even going to put that negative energy out there; I'm just going to do the best job I can with the car I have. What will be will be I guess. For the future I wouldn't advise [double points] for the following years.”
Hamilton has won four-straight races since the relationship between he and his teammate reached its tumultuous nadir when Rosberg collided with him in the early stages of the Belgian Grand Prix. Further off the championship lead than at any point all season, Rosberg, despite the 50 points on offer for winning in Abu Dhabi, badly needs to halt Hamilton’s run, just as he did in Monaco when Hamilton arrived with four-straight wins.
Still, at least Rosberg’s situation is significantly healthier than that of current world champion Sebastian Vettel. After four successive titles, the Red Bull driver has come back to earth with a bump this season; failing to win a single race and lying a lowly fifth in the drivers’ standings. Things will get even worse this weekend, with Vettel already knowing that he will have to start the race from the pit lane having exceeded his allocation of five engines for the season. Controversially, Red Bull appear to have decided that Vettel will sit out qualifying in order to save mileage on his new power unit.
“You can talk about obligations [to run in qualifying], but in the end we have to manage the situation with the engine,” Vettel, who won the US Grand Prix last year, said. “The rules are the same for everyone. Obviously it was our fault we had to be very greedy at the beginning of the season having a lot of issues in terms of reliability and not taking the engines to the end of their lives.”
Vettel’s absence would mean almost a quarter of the cars not running in qualifying. Unfortunately for Formula One, rather than the focus being trained on a fierce battle at the front of the grid it will instead likely be drawn to a gaping hole at the back.
Prediction: Hamilton took the checkered flag in the first grand prix in Austin in 2012 and has to be a strong favorite to do so again on Sunday. Rosberg has only managed finishes of 13th and ninth at the Texas track and faces a massive challenge to arrest the momentum shift firmly in Hamilton’s direction. The circuit appears set up for Williams to be best of the rest.
TV Schedule and Live Stream Info
Practice 1: Friday, 12:30 PM ET on NBCSN, NBC Sports Live Extra
Practice 2: Friday 3 PM ET on NBCSN, NBC Sports Live Extra
Practice 3: Saturday, Noon ET on NBCSN, NBC Sports Live Extra
Qualifying: Saturday, 1 PM ET on NBC, NBC Sports Live Extra
Race: Sunday, 1 PM ET on NBC, NBC Sports Live Extra