Welcome back to Texas, Formula One. Admittedly, we’ve complained that this season is too predictable, but does it matter? Not really. It’s a party regardless, and this race in particular seems to invite chaos and decide championships. Here’s why you should care about F1's lone stop in the United States.
Time flies when you’re having fun, and this year marks the fifth running of the United States Grand Prix at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas. Last year’s race was a slippery wet mess, but this year, the weather looks perfect and the circuit hopes the addition of some big-name evening concerts will boost attendance to make up for last year.
Maybe you’re just here for Taylor Swift, you’re new to the sport, or you just plain haven’t paid attention lately, and that’s okay! Once again, we’ve provided a handy guide as to what exactly is going on with Usher’s V6-powered opening act.
So, um...Formula what?
Formula One is the highest-level worldwide championship for open-wheel racing, and it competes on squiggly road courses—not ovals, as they do for most of the NASCAR season. You know, race tracks that look more like regular roads.
The “formula” is a certain set of parameters teams have to build a car (such as the 1.6-liter V6 hybrid engines they use), and everything around that is fair game for some of the most talented engineers in the world. The end result is a purpose-built race car that isn’t just neat to look at, but is ridiculously fast and corners insanely quickly.
Merely following the ludicrous technology in the series is worth tuning in on its own, but if that sounds like a bunch of nerd stuff (fair point, it is), then pay attention to the drivers. Behind the wheel of an F1 car are some of the most talented drivers in the world.
Our guide to the series from a couple years ago is still a good primer on the basics of F1 fandom, even if a couple details have changed, such as the field dropping down to 11 teams with 22 cars. Pick a few favorite drivers and teams, follow their cars and enjoy.
So, I’m guessing they’re not going to do much trading paint.
The fact that the yellow Renault really makes looks like a banana with crazy-wings means that no, you won’t see a lot of banging around and contact. All of those super-complex, high-tech aerodynamic bits just break off.
F1 is more about ownage via precision driving than leaving a stripe of your own livery down the side of an opponent’s car.
That doesn’t mean they don’t still get aggressive, rub up against each other and get up in each others’ space, though. This is why it’s always impressive when they make a ballsy move for a pass. The entire front of the car is just one wrong move away from littering the track with debris.
What makes this race so special?
First of all, it’s F1's lone outing in the United States. While it’s just one of 21 regular-season races on the series schedule, its placement towards the end of the season means that championships sometimes get decided here. Even when they don’t, tensions between drivers heat up towards the end of the season, especially among those who have a shot at the title.
Who should I watch this year?
Pay close attention to Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Mercedes has had the dominant car for the past couple years, and while they’ve run into some reliability issues recently, it’s still the quick car to have. Rosberg comes into this race with a 33-point lead in the world drivers’ championship and is the clear favorite to win.
Thing is, Hamilton has won all but one F1 race at Circuit of the Americas—ever. While Rosberg would have to fail spectacularly in the last four races of the year to not win the championship, Hamilton’s still technically (as a long shot) in the running, and extremely good at this track. That Mercedes intra-team battle is a hotly contested rivalry if there ever was one—just look at last year’s post-United States Grand Prix spat between the two.
No one’s truly caught up to the Mercs yet, however, Red Bull has come close. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo is a lovable Australian goofball who tends to drink champagne from his shoe when he wins, and his teammate Max Verstappen is the youngest driver and youngest winner ever to compete in F1.
Ferrari is the other team most likely to ruin Mercedes’ day, and they have their own lovable goofball in Sebastian Vettel. Vettel likes to go full angry German over his team radio if he’s annoyed during a session, which is always amusing. Then, of course, there’s Vettel’s teammate Kimi Räikkönen, who we love because he only seems to care about going fast and the occasional ice cream.
Further down the field, we’ve actually got an American team back in F1! The Haas F1 team is based right here in the U.S. of A., and yes, it’s the same Gene Haas who owns a NASCAR team.
What’s so special about this track, then?
Circuit of the Americas is a 3.4-mile track just outside Austin, Texas, and it’s has a little bit of everything: an insanely long straight, a crazy steep hill, and a good mix of fast and tight corners. It’s built for Formula One cars, who make short work of that long straight between turns 11 and 12.
Best of all, it’s like one big park, and it’s beautiful outside this weekend. If you’re here in person, check out different turns during the race. Talk to other fans, too—they come in from all over, and tend to be gearheads.
One other attraction if you’re here is—because Austin—live music. COTA went all out on weekend entertainment, booking Taylor Swift, Usher and The Roots, in addition to a long list of local bands.
Is there anything else going on this weekend, like other races?
Lucky for you, there’s a schedule right here—and best of all, it’s one of the few F1 races that isn’t obscenely early in the morning for the U.S.
In addition to F1 and the off-track entertainment, there are a couple support races. Masters Historic Racing brings some of the incredible cars of the past. If you’re still annoyed by this year’s too-quiet V6 F1 cars, here’s your chance to experience some of the brutally loud cars of the past.
Then there’s my favorite: Porsche Supercup. Porsche Supercup will bring you all of the the door-banging, fender-rubbing action you crave. It’s the highest level of Porsche 911 GT3 Cup racing in the world, and we’ve even got two Texans racing in it.
What else can I do while I’m in town?
Luckily for you, we put a pretty comprehensive guide together on that very subject, covereing everything from how to get to the track and what to do back in Austin.
Do drop in to Jalopnik’s meetup tonight at 8:00 p.m. at Lustre Pearl East, though. Eat some cheese curds, meet a few writers, and tell us about that one time Daniel Ricciardo drank out of your shoe.
What if I’m stuck at home?
That’s okay! You can still watch the F1 race. Here’s the broadcast schedule for the rest of the weekend. (All times Eastern.)
- 11:00 a.m. - Free Practice 1 on NBCSN
- 3:00 p.m. - Free Practice 2 on NBCSN
- 11:00 a.m. - Free Practice 3 on NBC Sports App (sans commentary)
- 12:30 p.m. - Free Practice 3 on NBCSN (broadcast delay)
- 1:30 p.m. - Qualifying on NBCSN
- 2:30 p.m. - Pre-race on NBC
- 3:00 p.m. - Race on NBC
Man, y’all covered everything.
It’s what we do. I mean, we even covered where to go to the bathroom. But just in case we didn’t cover something, please, ask in the comments.
[An earlier version of the schedule mislabelled FP1 as a broadcast delay; we regret the error. Information on how to watch FP3 has also been added. Unfortunately, it is only available on the NBC Sports app in the United States.]