United States Grand Prix – prologue


For two days the skies have been cloudless, the sun blinding, in central Texas, but the temperatures have been a surprise. In November you don’t expect to find frost on your windscreen in the morning, but that’s what there has been, and through the day it has remained cool, in the 50s.

The action on the track begins tomorrow, when it is expected to be warmer, and that will be a relief to Pirelli, whose tyres might otherwise have struggled to get up to temperature.

That pattern is expected to continue through the weekend, with Sunday into the 80s. The threat of showers is apparently receding. Everyone is glad to be back at Circuit of the Americas.

Paddock talk

In the paddock the chat has been of many things, not least the sale of Silverstone for, as one incredulous team principal put it, “One third the price of that bloody Wing!”

Not popular with F1 folk that white elephant of an edifice, built only because that was what Mr E decided he wanted – if, that is, Silverstone wished to continue to have Grand Prix. Funny old world.

Mainly, though, the conversation has been about drivers, about who’s going where – and about who might not be going anywhere. Sergio Pérez did his best to put a brave face on being pitched after just one season by McLaren (in favour of Kevin Magnussen, announced this morning).

Kevin Magnussen’s career so far
2008: Formula Ford Denmark (1st)
2009: Formula Renault 2.0-litre NEC (2nd)
2010: German Formula 3 (3rd)
2011: British Formula 3 (2nd)
2012: Formula Renault 3.5 (7th)
2013: Formula Renault 3.5 (1st)

“I only found out a couple of days before you guys did,” Pérez said. “I was pretty sure I was going to stay with the team, but in the last couple of months something changed – and now I’m in a very difficult position, looking for a drive at this late stage. One thing is sure, though: I won’t stay in F1 for the sake of it…”

Felipe Massa to Williams

Earlier in the week Williams announced that Felipe Massa would partner Valtteri Bottas, and it is expected that Rob Smedley, Felipe’s longtime race engineer at Ferrari, will join him there.

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Out of Williams, after three years, is Pastor Maldonado, who is saying in Austin that it was entirely his decision to leave, and he was ‘very happy’ to be doing so. “They gave me the chance to come into Formula 1, and we did win a race (Barcelona) in 2012, but… I think I did more for the team than they did for me…” Not all in the paddock would accord with that view, but there you are.

Perhaps the worst news in the paddock – if the speculation be true – is that the Quantum Motorsport money, intended to be the saviour of Lotus, may not materialise after all, in which case Maldonado’s vast Venezuelan sponsorship will put him in the team next year, alongside Romain Grosjean.

All very nice for Pastor, of course, if the rumours prove to be correct, but for most in the paddock it was mighty disappointing – for if Maldonado is a Lotus driver in 2014, that means that Hulkenberg will not be, and yet another season will pass without Nico in a top car – which is a criminal waste of a huge talent.

If Maldonado does the deal, the likelihood is that Hulkenberg will return whence he came, to Force India, partnering one of the present incumbents, Adrian Sutil or Paul di Resta.

These are very nervous times for all the established stars in F1 – and particularly so for those who don’t bring money with them. Magnussen will be only too aware of his good fortune in arriving in F1 – just as Lewis Hamilton did seven years ago – in a top team, and without personal sponsorship.

Dario Franchitti retires from racing

In the Austin paddock this afternoon there was great sadness at the news that Dario Franchitti – present here last year simply as an enthusiastic fan – has been forced, on doctors’ orders, to call time on his racing career.

Dario Franchitti’s career at a glance
Indianapolis 500 wins: 3 (2007, 2010, 2012)
IndyCar champion: 2007-2011
IndyCar wins: 21 (2002-2013)
CART wins: 10 (1997-2002)

Not many men have won the Indianapolis 500 three times, but, more than that, Dario is one of the best-liked people in motor racing, and will be greatly missed in the IndyCar racing world, where he had for years been the biggest name in the series.

Given his spinal and head injuries from the accident with Takuma Sato in Houston last month Franchitti’s doctors considered the risk of similar further injuries simply not worth taking, and Dario has wisely accepted their advice.

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