Alex Palmer Writes...
It has been a spectacular weekend here in Austin, Texas, with race day dawning clear and crisp.  Despite having the opportunity for an extra hours sleep last night ( end of daylight saving) there are quite a lot of cars and people already in evidence around the track.  But with race start not until 2pm this year ( an hour later than normal ) I have plenty of time to try and capture some of the race day colour for you.

Talking with someone at the track yesterday, the shuttle service from downtown Austin or the offsite parking location ( Travis County Convention Centre) are no longer free, the shuttle costs $10 each person now and parking is $10-15 depending on where.  This has been free in previous years.  And I also noticed this morning that the parking attendants at the track seemed to be taking cash payments to allow people to park at the front of the lot, when to date they just allowed cate on first-in basis to those with parking permits.  And it is early, but there is a huge police presence here in the parking lot that I havent seen on previous days, police on quad bikes, push bikes, and even a couple walking.

Read more: Postcard from Austin

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Welcome to Austin!  The race is a few weeks earlier this year, coinciding with Halloween which is a huge deal for adults and kids alike here in the USA.  It may also be the reason tickets sales have been slow this year - I reckon there were noticeably less people around today than either of the last two years.   Also, unlike previous years, there is reasonably priced accommodation available in Austin and parking for COTA still being sold this morning from the ticket office.

But its not just those things that are different.  I went on my usual walk around the circuit this morning, only to find that you cant get into the main grandstand / pit area this year without a ticket - both previous years on Friday you could roam at will.  And this might sound silly, but there were a few sleazy street and venue performers around this year who I had not noticed in previous years if they were there.

On the track, things are different too - and I am not just talking about Daniel Ricciardos facial hair which stole the show at yesterdays press conference.  Neither Marussia nor Caterham are here, with both having declared bankruptcy in the last few weeks.  It seems the FIA has taken pity on them and decided not to apply further financial sanctions.  There is some hope they may be back for Abu Dhabi, such a shame for Marussia in particular who had scored their first points earlier in the season.  Also in the last few days Jules Bianchis family released a statement again thanking people for their support but noting there is still no real change in Jules condition at this time.

There are also a number of drivers who are being cagey about their 2015 plans, including Vettel who still hasnt confirmed what everyone thinks - that he will be in red next year.  Could we see three-car teams and Ferrari collecting world champions (Kimi / Fernando / Sebastian)?  Will Button and Magnussen remain with McLaren, and who will join them?  Will Grosjean stick it out at Lotus now they will be Merc powered?  Or is Ferrari sending Fernando to Haas F1 for their first year as a Ferrari customer to give Button a farewell year before Fernando moves to McLaren in 2016??  And will we know any answers before Abu Dhabi?

All I can say is - trick or treat!!

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For me, the race wasnt particularly interesting (in fact I fell asleep half way through and had to watch the second half on replay) - although Rosbergs recovery from near the back of the field to take a second place was admirable and one must congratulate Mercedes on locking up the Constructors World Championship so early in the season.  It was unfortunate for poor Marussia that they had to retire Chilton so early in the race, but thats not really out of the ordinary either.  For mine, the strange things were the ones happening off the track.

For example did anyone else find it a little odd that Russian military hardware was featured in the skies at a time when there is real military action going on elsewhere in Russia?  Also number of paddock and media representatives were tweeting that FOM had directed all personnel to be silent during the Russian national anthem (ironic given in Australia the FOM feed at the time of the anthem was visual only with the local host commentators talking animatedly over the top), and there have been stories through the week of security at the track entry points confiscating strange items like Berocca, tissues and pens.  And for mine, the strangest of all was to see Russian President Putin featured prominently during the pre-race and post-race activities at a time when he is not particularly popular with the rest of the world for some of the decisions his government has been taking.  Although there was one funny moment pre-race when I spotted someone on the grid decked out in the rainbow colours of the gay pride movement - obviously someone making a statement about what was such a polarizing issue leading into the Sochi Winter Olympics earlier in the year.

What did people think of the new procedure (which I understand is now to be a permanent feature of pre-race) whereby all race drivers assemble at the front of the grid for the national anthem?  I did notice Hamilton was the only driver who didnt remove his hat (and he did keep his ear plugs in).  It was nice to see the drivers huddle in a show of solidarity with Jules Bianchi who remains in a critical but stable condition in a Japanese hospital following the accident in Suzuka, many of them had noted it was difficult returning to their cars this weekend.

And so were now faced with a three-week pause in proceedings with the circus reconvening in Austin, Texas for the USGP.  F1infocentre will have a number of boots on the ground and we look forward to bringing you some of the local colour.

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After the spectacle that is Singapore, this weekend were off to another racers track - Sukuza in Japan.  While theres the usual stories around (eg.  was the component that failed in Rosbergs car sabotaged as payback, theres a typhoon heading for Sukuza likely to impact Sundays race, and how many barriers/walls/other cars/phantoms will Maldonado collide with), theres a couple worth pointing out.

Firstly, the conversation around McLarens driver line-up for 2015 got interesting this week, with Kevin Magnussen making public statements to the effect that if McLaren dont retain him next year he thinks hes not good enough for F1 and Jenson Button studiously avoiding the media.  With only 4 rounds to go after this weekend, and it being the last round in Asia, odds are pretty good that therell be an announcement from McLaren (who will be McLaren-Honda again from next season) on drivers this weekend.

Then theres the volcanic eruption on Mt Ontake that has sadly claimed a number of lives with many still missing feared dead.  Mt Ontake is about 4hrs north by road from Suzuka, but there are concerns that the ash cloud from the volcano may impact travel for those flying in from Europe for the race.  And add to that the threat of weather associated with Tropical Cyclone Phanfone which is forecast to be close to the southern Japanese coast by the weekend.  Wet races at Suzuka arent too unusual, but with the recently introduced (and not clearly understood) team radio restrictions and the behavior of this years cars in the wet the race could be a good one.  If youre not watching live, dont forget to extend your recording by at least an hour!

To finish todays blog, weve had news overnight that Max Verstappen - who recently qualified for his super-licence and turns 17 today (Tuesday) - will make his F1 debut in the Torro-Rosso in FP1 on Friday, replacing the hapless Jean-Eric Vergne.  Verstappen will become the youngest F1 debutante, overtaking Jaime Alguersuari who debuted for Torro-Rosso in Hungary 2009 at around 19 and a half, and Sebastian Vettel who was the youngest driver to drive in an F1 GP session at 19yrs and 53 days.

As often happens, the twitter-verse wags have gone to town on things that are younger that Verstappen.  If you have twitter, do a search for the hashtag #ThingsOlderThanVerstappen - if not, heres some of my personal favourites:

Things older than Verstappen:

  • The song "Barbie Girl"
  • First Toy Story movie
  • Jurassic Park (the first one)
  • Valentino Rossis first 125cc win
  • The Teletubbies (if you dont know what they are, ask someone from the UK or google it!!)
  • South Park (debuted 48 days before Max was born!)
  • Tony Blair becoming Prime Minister in the UK
  • Pokemon
  • DVDs and eBay
  • Diana Princess of Wales was killed a month before Max was born
  • the Nokia 6110

If that makes you feel old, join the club - maybe we should all plan to have a nanna nap!!

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Its been a tough week for everyone involved in F1 and my thoughts - as Im sure yours are too - are with Jules Bianchi and his family, and the Marussia team at this terrible time.  There has been some disgraceful media reporting of the accident, and Id encourage you to check out the official feed from the Marussia F1 Team for the latest news as we wait and hope that Jules makes a full recovery.

No-one really knows what the new facilities and track at Sochi will be like, and Im sure many of us will be watching with interest when Fridays FP1 kicks off.  Can the Mercedes continue their spectacular form, or will this be the breakthrough weekend for Red Bull or Ferrari?

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In case youve missed it, the big talking point this weekend will be the recent decision to ban teams from assisting their drivers over the team radio.  While the use of the radio wont be banned, there are some (arguably) grey guidelines about what teams can / cant say to their drivers - basically, thats anything that will give them information / advantage over the drivers around them.  Which in years past would have included instructions like "Felipe, Fernando is faster than you" or more recently "Lewis - youre faster out of turn three than Nico" - and probably also means the end of the "Lewis, its Hammer Time" calls as well.  And yes, before you ask, there will be no pit boards with large hammers on them in place of the radio calls.......the ban extends to all forms of pit - to - driver communications.  Some commentators think that teams without the McLaren driver control unit (which is the most advanced in terms of information available to the drivers in the car, and which most of the front-running teams are utilizing) will be disadvantaged, but on the flip side its equally as possible drivers with that much information available will get too distracted by turning knobs and pushing buttons that they wont really be concentrating on whats going on around them.

Of course, there are some drivers (*cough, Kimi, *cough) who Id imagine will be pleased with the diminution of interference over the radio - he seems to prefer being left to do his own thing.  But it will be interesting to see what intended - and unintended - consequences there are this weekend.

Also worth noting that the official 2015 calendar has now been released, its fairly similar to this year in that the season starts in Melbourne on the middle weekend in March, theres a two week break before Malaysia, then everything else remains essentially the same until you get to Austin which moves another couple of weeks earlier into October to accommodate the new Mexican round the following weekend, then two weeks until Brazil and the season concludes as usual with the Abu Dhabi night race slightly closer to Christmas than it has been.  For those forward planners, the full calendar is available here - better get booking those hotels!!

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2017 Calendar

RaceGrand PrixRace Day
1AustraliaSunday 26 March
2ChinaSunday 9 April
3BahrainSunday 16 April
4RussiaSunday 30 April
5SpainSunday 14 May
6MonacoSunday 28 May
7CanadaSunday 11 June
8AzerbaijanSunday 25 June
9AustriaSunday 9 July
10Great BritainSunday 16 July
11HungarySunday 30 July
12BelgiumSunday 27 August
13ItalySunday 3 September
14SingaporeSunday 17 September
15MalaysiaSunday 1 October
16JapanSunday 8 October
17United StatesSunday 22 October
18MexicoSunday 29 October
19BrazilSunday 12 November
20Abu DhabiSunday 26 November

2017 Driver Leaderboard

PlaceDriverTeamPoints
1HamiltonMercedes363
2VettelFerrari317
3BottasMercedes305
4RäikkönenFerrari205
5RicciardoRed Bull200
6VerstappenRed Bull168
7PerezForce India100
8OconForce India87
9SainzToro Rosso54
10HulkenbergRenault43
11MassaWilliams43
12StrollWilliams40
13GrosjeanHaas28
14MagnussenHaas19
15AlonsoMcLaren17
16VandoorneMcLaren13
17PalmerRenault8
18KvyatToro Rosso5
19WehrleinSauber5
20ButtonMcLaren0
21EricssonSauber0
22GaslyToro Rosso0
23GiovinazziSauber0
24HartleyToro Rosso0

2017 Constructor Leaderboard

PlaceTeamPoints
1Mercedes668
2Ferrari522
3Red Bull368
4Force India187
5Williams83
6Renault57
7Toro Rosso53
8Haas47
9McLaren30
10Sauber5