Remember 2012? It seems predictions that Formula One racing would lead to tourist overload and trafficpocalypse in Austin were greatly exaggerated. Instead, in 2015 the U.S. Grand Prix enters its fourth race of a guaranteed 10-year run as another landmark on the local calendar.
This year sees drama on the track, just not at the top of the podium. With nine wins under his belt this season, reigning champion Lewis Hamilton is a clear 66 points ahead of his nearest rival, Sebastian Vettel. He may as well walk away with the season laurels right away: With only four races left in the 2015 season, German Vettel must come first or second every time, and British Hamilton stay in bed every race day, for this to become competitive.
Yet that doesn't mean there's no fight to be had. Vettel is only seven points ahead of Hamilton's Mercedes teammate, Nico Rosberg, and Austin becomes a pivotal struggle for the end-of-season standings.
And Vettel will be racing against himself. For its first two years, COTA was his track, coming second in 2012, then first in his championship winning run in 2013. But 2014, his final year with Infiniti Red Bull Racing, Central Texas became a capper on his weakest F1 season to date. His energy renewed since he joined Scuderia Ferrari, he'll be more determined than ever to put the dancing stallion logo in the winner's position.
An added wrinkle: In a week's time, the Mexican Grand Prix rejoins the F1 calendar for the first time since 1992. A lot of questions surround its addition – not least whether Mexico and Central America's motorsports fans will head to Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez rather than the Circuit of the Americas. There's also the uncomfortable fact that the Mexico City revival is spearheaded by none other than Tavo Hellmund – the original visionary behind the Austin track, and the return of the sport to American asphalt. Will the Mexican race be a blow to Austin's excursion, or will it and the planned New Jersey event (potentially starting in 2017) boost crowds continent-wide?
Those discussions will continue well after the victors' Champagne dregs dry in the bottle, the ticket sales are tallied, and the last notes of Elton John's post-race concert die away.
Fri.-Sun., Oct. 23-25. Practice sessions Friday, 10am-3:30pm; Qualifying session and support races Saturday, 1-4:35pm; Masters Historic Racing, Grand Prix, and closing concert Sunday, 10:35am-8pm. Circuit of the Americas, 9201 Circuit of the Americas Blvd., 512-301-6600. $99 and up. www.circuitoftheamericas.com/f1.