What do Michael Schumacher, Mark Webber, Jenson Button, Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso and Narain Karthikeyan all have in common? They are the only current drivers to have witnessed one of Formula One’s lowest points in US history…the 2005 United States Grand Prix. As these six drivers head back to the States, it will be on different terms. The USGP was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway between 2000-2007 but now they will face an all-new circuit built specifically for FIA sanctioned events. The Circuit of the Americas is a purpose-built circuit that will challenge the skills and senses of drivers, teams and fans alike.
Memories are fleeting and American fans will recall the 2005 debacle but they have two additional races in 2006 and 2007 that were equally attrition-filled in which to tote their soured impression of a Euro-centric racing series. The 2006 USGP saw 10 cars fail to finish and in 2007 it was 6 cars who never saw the checkered flag. From a biased point of view, I never attended the USGP at Indy because I was being a complete and utterly rude snob. I was raised watching F1 on road course and “Rovals” are just not my idea of a real F1 race circuit. I’ve been called every name in the book for that decision but I have to wrestle that decision to the ground, you don’t.
What will these six drivers face in one week’s time? A brand new track with all the teething pains of curing asphalt that has not been punished by 30 grands prix or 30 years of sun, wind, rain and snow. It is a circuit that will have new challenges including tactical strategies the teams deploy to driving limits as well as where the nearest bathroom is for the fan 6 beers into the race. Turn one may prove to be all the rage the media has made of it but I tend to think that the “esses” will be a real booger as well as the high-speed turns and dual apexes. One thing I believe we will avoid is the 2005 nonsense of two tire companies pushing the limits to disastrous ends. Speaking with Pirelli’s Paul Hembery this week, I was keen to hear his comprehensive knowledge of the COTA surface and how the company has approached the race.
As for Narain Karthikeyan, he’s not worried about the haunting memories of 2005 and has put it behind him telling Reuters:
“I have no feeling about it,” Karthikeyan said. “I have nothing much to say really.
The unfortunate result of the 2005 USGP did see Narain finish 4th in the race but he’s not counting that as a high-water mark of his career:
“I don’t think about it like that,” he said.
“It was exceptional circumstances and we were told to do a job and we did it.
“Everyone started the race… we didn’t know before the race. it was pretty weird to see all of them going out with the warmup lap and back to the pits. Bridgestone had told us to race and we did,”
It’s a new chapter in American F1 history and you have to approach the new Austin-based circuit with open arms and view F1’s newest attempt at conquering the US in its available light. There will be some niggles and issues but in the end, F1 is coming back and while it may have quietly left after slapping the faces of hardened fans at indy, it must be said that the investment from COTA owners, teams, sponsors and Formula One itself is a testament to their strong desire to leave the past in the past and look forward to a new, long, terrific relationship.