Vettel's crowning glory
Sebastian Vettel is short-odds favourite to win the United States Grand Prix from pole position. But the real question is whether title rival Fernando Alonso can take the battle for the world championship down to the wire in Brazil. If Vettel does win, the Spaniard needs to finish in the top four to stay in the hunt.
The Ferrari driver starts down in eighth place so has a lot of work to do if he is to deny Vettel a third world championship. And if he doesn't make the top four, his only chance is for something to go wrong for Vettel in the race.
Fortunately, Ferrari's race pace has generally been stronger than its qualifying pace and Alonso has a knack of getting himself into podium contention even when starting down the grid. But that's not to say it's going to be easy for him.
Hamilton starts from the 'wrong' side © XPB
Given how green the new Austin circuit was at the start of the weekend, it's no surprise to see that the dirty side of the grid is dirtier than normal.
Jenson Button reckoned on Thursday that starting second might have an advantage over the pole man given a shallower launch into the climb to Turn 1.
But that's going to be outweighed by the lack of grip .
Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa, who are the first three on that side of the grid, will be delighted if they can even hold position on the first lap.
The left side of the grid will be cleaned before the race, but that won't make up for the lack of rubber that has been laid down.
Up the hill
No matter what happens off the line, the first corner is guaranteed to deliver drama. Drivers vary in their opinions as to whether or not the corner is blind, but with 24 cars jostling for position on the first lap, there are going to be a lot of drivers in no-man's land.
Will the first corner generate chaos? © XPB
Turn 1 is also exceptionally wide, meaning that there's plenty of scope to have several cars running abreast. Whether they can still do so near the apex as they converge is another matter.
Choosing a braking point will also be difficult given the steepness of the hill, the lack of grip off the racing line and tyre temperatures that won't necessarily be perfect.
One way or another, the start is going to be spectacular even if it's only because of the topographical characteristics of this part of the track.
With Pirelli having gone conservative by allocating the medium and hard compound rubber, an understandable move given the lack of circuit data, the first United States Grand Prix since 2007 is unlikely to one defined by strategy.
Drivers fear passing will not be easy © XPB
But the real question is how much overtaking will there be?
The DRS activation zone should ensure that there's some action into Turn 12, but it's going to be difficult for anyone to get ahead elsewhere through a combination of track configuration and lack of on-track grip, although Turn 11 has an invitingly wide entry.
But with strategy likely to be pretty straightforward, we might see the cars relatively well-sorted into pace order for much of the race, mitigating against passing.
F1's American comeback
The new Austin track joins the Formula 1 calendar in the wake of a vast number of circuits where grand prix racing hasn't proved sustainable in the long-run.
F1 must deliver on Sunday at Austin © XPB
Although world championship point-counting races have been held in the United States on and off since 1950, none has lasted longer than the 20 runnings at Watkins Glen.
The Circuit of the Americas is an impressive track, with the fast sequence that begins with Turn 3 arguably the best place to watch F1 cars at their best in the world.
With a capacity crowd of over 120,000 anticipated for the race and huge local interest, it's essential that F1 delivers a dramatic race worthy of the facility.
After a week of soundbites about putting on a good show, now is the time for F1 to deliver.
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