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Rain Reigns Over USGP At Circuit Of The Americas

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 25 2015
Torrential rain is taking a toll on the Formula One race at the Circuit of the Americas in formerly drought-plagued Texas.

Torrential rain is taking a toll on the Formula One race at the Circuit of the Americas in formerly drought-plagued Texas.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

AUSTIN, Texas – Formula One prides itself with racing in the rain but not necessarily in torrential rain  – a possibility that promises to plague Sunday’s scheduled fourth annual U.S. Grand Prix/Regatta at Circuit of The Americas.

formula1logoRelentless rain and pockets of standing water around COTA’s 3.427-mile/20-turn circuit forced officials from the sanctioning Federation Internationale de l’Automobile to postpone qualifying until 9 a.m. Sunday…weather permitting. Last time qualifying was run on a Sunday was at the 2013 Australian Grand Prix.

The 56-lap/191.912-mile race remains scheduled for 2 p.m. (CDT), with defending event winner Lewis Hamilton poised to clinch his second consecutive World Driving Championship and third overall. Hamilton, of Mercedes AMG Petronas, holds a 66-point lead over Scuderia Ferrari archrival Sebastian Vettel, winner of this race in 2013. Hamilton also is 73 points ahead of Nico Rosberg, his works Mercedes teammate.

Hamilton can clinch Sunday and celebrate for the next month if he can exit Texas with a 75-point advantage. While a number of permutations can make that happen, the most basic is a Hamilton win coupled with a finish of third-or-worse by Vettel, the four-time World Champion from Germany.

“I always enjoy myself out here in the States,” said Hamilton, who won at COTA in 2012 driving for McLaren and last year for the Silver Arrows. “Just excited for another weekend. I missed driving the car for the last two weeks.”

The teams squeezed-in a third practice Saturday morning under steadily deteriorating conditions. Hamilton emerged as reinmeister, covering the layout in 1 minute, 59.517-seconds during nine white-knuckle laps. Vettel trailed by 0.863-seconds (2:00.380) after the same number of laps, with Niko Hulkenberg of Sahara Force India third at 2:00.496 after 12 laps.

Knockout qualifying was scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday. But that tease was followed by five 30-minute delays capped at 4 p.m., shortly after the Mercedes safety car rooster-tailed around the circuit. That was followed by a parade of yellow school buses, sent out to retrieve water-logged track marshals.

In between, fans who braved the rain and wind were treated to Rosberg showing off his skills with a soccer ball; Infiniti Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat waltzing in the rain; an impromptu bobsled-style run down the paddock by four Force India crewmen; a bowling demonstration by rookies Carlos Sainz Jr. and Max Verstappen of Scuderia Toro Rosso and Hamilton saluting a group of British fans defiantly displaying a “Hammer Time Hamilton” version of the Union Jack.

“I’m definitely excited to race here,” Ricciardo said, “if we’re not floating down the river.”

COTA will serve as lone “home game” for American industrialist Gene Haas and his first-year F1 organization in approximately one year.

Headquartered in Kannapolis, N.C., Haas F1 Team is scheduled to make its debut in the FIA Formula 1 World Championship in 2016 as the sport’s first American-led organization in 30 years. To that end, the continued success of COTA as permanent host of the U.S. Grand Prix is crucial to Haas and Haas Automation, the largest CNC machine tool company in North America and one which Haas is taking to the global market via F1.

“As an American team, having an F1 race on American soil is incredibly important,” said Haas, founder and chairman of his team. “In four months, we’ll be testing our car in Barcelona (Spain). In five months, we’ll be on the grid in Australia. A year from now, we’ll be racing in our home country, hopefully having scored some points and proving that we can hold our own with the established teams of Formula One.”

Haas already has enjoyed success in the motorsports industry as co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing with three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart. Haas’ F1 complex is located adjacent to SHR, the home to Cup regulars Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick. Haas F1 Team will become home to lead driver Romain Grosjean, who will wrap-up his career at Lotus over the next four events.

“When you’re sitting there dicing-it-up with the 10 or 15 cars that are right next to you, he holds his ground, doesn’t give up anything and usually he’s able to pull ahead of whoever he’s with,” Haas said of Grosjean. The Frenchman will make his 80th F1 start here Sunday looking to add to his 10 podium finishes, the most recent being a third-place result at the Belgian Grand Prix on Aug. 23. Grosjean finished a career-best second to Sebastian Vettel at COTA in 2013.

“Those are the kind of attributes that for a driver are very, very important,” Haas said of Grosjean.”Plus, he scores points.”

Haas and Guenther Steiner, team principal, scored a major coup last year when they signed a technical partnership with Scuderia Ferrari. The most successful team in the F1 history with 16 Constructors’ titles and 15 Drivers’ championships, Ferrari will provide Haas F1 Team its power unit, gearbox and overall technical support.

“There is no team in Formula One more accomplished than Scuderia Ferrari, and no team with more history,” Haas said.”They’ve been a part of Formula One from the beginning and now they’ll be a part of Haas F1 Team’s beginning. Aligning Haas F1 Team with such a tenured and successful company in Scuderia Ferrari provides our team with the greatest opportunity for success in 2016 and beyond.”

Infiniti Red Bull Racing’s fractured relationship with engine supplier Renault has placed the future of the organization fronted by outspoken team principal Christian Horner in jeopardy once the season ends. Horner reiterated during Friday’s press conference for team representatives that he is seeking a “competitive” powerplant for 2016 and the “forseeable future.”

Does that include Renault? “Does that include Renault…” Horner repeated. “Obviously, discussions have been going on with Renault to understand what their plans are for next year but I think until they commit to whether they’re going to be in Formula One or not, it’s difficult at this stage to take that any further.

“We have an agreement with Renault that runs to the end of next year, which there’s obviously been a lot of speculation about and I’m sure there will be confirmation about that agreement in the coming days.” Pressed further, Horner admitted it might be better for RBR to actually consider a 2015 Ferrari spec engine. “It may well be the case,” Horner said. “At the moment everything is open.”

Red Bull/Renault , home to Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat, is among the teams to have been swept under the tarmac by Mercedes AMG Petronas since implementation of the 1.6-liter turbocharged V6/hybrid “power unit” over the last two seasons. The German-based juggernaut has clinched the 2015 World Constructors’ Championship with 12 wins in 15 races, 14 poles, nine fastest laps of the race and 531 points. The current pecking order is followed by Scuderia Ferrari with the other three wins, one pole, three fastest laps and 399 points. Williams Martini Racing is third with 220 points followed by Red Bull with three fastest laps and 149 points.

When asked about the possibility that Honda might become an option, Horner danced around the question by noting, “Nothing is fixed. There is a lot of discussion going on in the background and hopefully there will be a resolution fairly soon.”

Honda, of course, currently is aligned solely with McLaren _ a position Eric Boullier indicated the team is not so keen to relinquish. “It’s difficult to comment,” Boullier said, “other than we are happy with our partnership with Honda and this is what we wanted to achieve _ to be a works team with an OEM.”

Despite the talents of former World Champions Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, McLaren/Honda stands ninth among the 10 Constructors with a miserable 19 points _ ahead of only the point-less Manor Marussia. Alonso, a two-time World Champion, is competing at COTA with an updated engine which Boullier termed “clearly an improvement” over the version run at Sochi Autodrom in Russia.

Horner noted this weekend’s race is Red Bull’s 200th grand prix start, a history that includes four Drivers’ and four Constructors’ championships with Sebastian Vettel at the wheel. Horner said he feels a responsibility to the organization’s more than 800 employees to insure Red Bull is on the grid in 2016.

Ever-upbeat Daniel Ricciardo is receiving a late-season challenge from first-year Infiniti Red Bull Racing teammate Daniil Kvyat. A native of Australia, Ricciardo has fallen three points (76-73) behind his Russian counterpart after failing to score a point in three of the last five races. Kvyat sits seventh in the Drivers’ standings, one slot ahead of Ricciardo.

Asked if it was important to outscore his teammate, Ricciardo said, “Obviously, you want to finish in front, I’m not going to lie, but when you’re seventh or eighth in the championship it’s sort of irrelevant. Yeah, the little Russian’s jumped in front of me, but we’ll see. I’m confident I’ll end up with more points. But as I said, I’m not too fussed about it.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 25 2015
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