With four rounds left to go Lewis Hamilton looks poised to take his third world championship this weekend in Austin, emulating his hero Ayrton Senna.
The Mercedes driver has had a Senna-esq season so far; total domination whilst his rivals run around and play catchup, his nearest being in a scarlet red Ferrari. This weekend he needs to finish first and hope Vettel finishes third or lower, in order to clinch the title.
Given Hamilton’s track record around COTA I wouldn’t put a win past him, but as we’ve seen so often this season something always has the potential to go wrong. Rosberg’s failure in Sochi can attest, a 10p part failing on a multi-million pound Grand Prix car was enough to end his race prematurely and his realistic chance at taking the title. If not here though, it will be one of the final races we visit this year.
Vettel’s outside shot looks like a spanner in the works, but given the fact that Ferrari have elected not to introduce their 2016 engine this weekend on Raikkonen’s car, they will probably find it hard to match Mercedes in the areas they have been in the last few races.
Speaking of engines, the teams and the FIA have collectively agreed to allow in-season development next year and not decrease the amount of ‘tokens’ they are able to spend from 32, according to Autosport. Ferrari and Renault have clearly got their way over Mercedes on this, even though it could leave and open goal for the boffins at Brixworth to increase their advantage.
My guess is that they used Honda as a catalyst by allowing them to use the full 32 next year, after using an average this year because they had to adhere to the homologation rules from 2014. Although they want to have every advantage over their rivals, they know the McHonda project is at least another year from showing race-winning form.
McLaren have said the new Honda ICE introduced in Sochi is showing positive signs though, and for those of you watching Friday Practice on TV you will have heard the slightly less harsh soundtrack from Fernando Alonso’s car when he went out on his install runs.
The team have also got to the bottom of its gearbox problems in Singapore according to Motorsport.com, blaming it on rubber and leaves getting wedged in the cooling ducts, which managed to heat the gearbox oil and in turn reflow the soldering and aluminium components in the electrics. That caused the telemetry failure, prompting them to retire both cars to stop any further damage. However after some inspection the team have revived both gearboxes and plan on using them in the final couple of races, citing their oil sponsor ExxonMobil as the reason this was possible.
Moving on to the weekend itself and it seems like we’re in for a washout tomorrow for the third time in a row. A quick look at the weather forecast and at Twitter will show just how sodden the racetrack looks, reminiscent of the conditions during the WEC race held last year. If it’s not rain it will be the fog that probably stops running, which has happened during a Practice session before [notably 2013].
The tyre lineup doesn’t seem too aggressive from Pirelli this weekend, although one wonders if the drivers use dry tyres at all given the thunderstorms forecasted for Saturday and Sunday. If Practice does get rained off and it stays dry for the rest of the weekend, expect a similar affair to Russia where the teams use Practice 3 and Qualifying to gather data for the Race.