Alex Palmer Writes
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Reports over the last few days would suggest that the near-final version of the 2014 calendar has been released.  Of particular note for those who have frequented the Austin round the last two years is the change in timing - the round now expected to be the last weekend in October.

The below dates were tweeted by Andrew Benson about 24hrs ago, although he notes it is not final hes confident its near final - with the final version to be released in early December.  Theres very few back to back weekends scheduled, notably the Melbourne and Malaysia rounds are now 2 weeks apart rather than consecutive weekends which will present an interesting conundrum for the paddock (as in, do they stay in Australia / Asia or do they fly all the way out to Australia and back to Europe, then back to Malaysia?)

Australia:  16 March;  Malaysia:  30 March;  Bahrain:  6 April;  China:  20 April;  Spain: 11 May;  Monaco:  25 May;  Canada:  8 June;  Austria:  22 June;  Great Britain:  6 July;  Germany:  20 July;  Hungary:  27 July;  Belgium:  24 August;  Italy:  7 September;  Singapore:  21 September;  Japan:  5 October;  Russia:  12 October; USA:  26 October; Brazil:  2 November;  Abu Dhabi:  16 November.


Also worth noting that Marussia appear to have advised Max Chilton that no decision on his future with them will be made until early December.  Given the rumours that Lotus reserve driver David Valsecchi is "...considering his options..." after being overlooked for the second Lotus seat in Kimis absence, perhaps he will turn up in the Lotus at the expense of Max Chilton?  Also some interesting developments in relation to Paul di Resta yesterday, although he did not directly address the rumours swirling since last week about a potential drive with Chip Ganassis outfit in the USA next year he did confirm that if F1 doesnt work out for next year he did have ...other options....  And finally, theres renewed speculation that a US-based team may once again be on the cards for 2015 with the backing of an eminent figure in USA motorsports.  Any ideas on who that might be??

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Race day started under misty low cloud with some light precipitation in patches, but very quickly cleared to one of the warmest November days in Austin for many years - with the temperature at race start around 30 degrees Celcius.  A bumper crowd began arriving early and queues formed at the main concourse gates, but became restless when gate open time passed without the gates being opened - although some patrons must have come in other gates as they were walking past those of us patiently queuing.  Turns out there was a police incident at turn one (the highest elevation on the circuit and a long way from the front gates!) but it was dealt with quickly and they let us into the track around 7.50am to take up our positions then wait until 1pm local time for the race to begin.

There are many ways to amuse ones-self for 5 hours on a hot day in Texas when most people got little or no sleep the night before (the fan fest carnival in Austin Saturday night, and the college football game!) and tempers flared in some locations as punters jockeyed for the best vantage points.  Some entertainment with the vintage racers passed quickly, then one of the largest fields of Ferraris Ive ever seen lined up for their feature race.  Which lasted only until the first corner before bits of Ferrari were strewn all over the track - and one punter was heard to comment "...way to burn up $10,000 on a Sunday morning!!"  But my highlight of the day was when the yellow US school buses appeared around turn 18 (doing about 1/16th of an F1 cars speed!) - imagine racing school buses (now thats a Top Gear Challenge if ever Ive heard one.

The drivers parade was a little longer than normal because both Esteban Gutierrez and Sergio Perez got out of their cars to throw promotional caps to the crowds gathered on the hill between turns 18 and 19, followed by a camera crew who interviewed them in both English and Spanish.  Interestingly theres a good chance neither will have a permanent drive in F1 next season, and it would be interesting to see if the absence of a Mexican driver has any impact on the crowd figures in 2014.  The official attendance for race day was around 112,000 with a total weekend attendance of just over 250,000 through the gates - about 4,000 per day down on last years sell-out.

The actual race was mostly unremarkable, with Vettel racing away to what has become his typical lead of late, leaving the rest of the field to squabble over the balance of the points.  There were some bright spots (Alonso and Hulkenburg, and Button and Ricciardos battles towards the end and also Mark Webbers valiant attempt to chase down Grosjean) but with only a single safety car and minimal tyre degradation issues the real entertainment was around cheering for Max Chilton each time he passed and also cheering for Heikki in the Lotus who didnt have such a good day.  Racing not withstanding, I would highly recommend the Austin GP experience  - after all, they say that everythings better in Texas (just ask any local)!

With Kimi out, Alonsos result today has all but ensured hell finish second in the drivers championship and Mercedes would have to be very unlucky to not finish second in the constructors championship this year - a great result for them.  As the paddock (and some of our F1infocentre alumni) pack up and head for Brazil we are still waiting for news on drivers for a few of the likely (or confirmed) vacant seats for next year, and of course Brazil will be Mark Webbers final F1 start.  There was a bit of discussion today around whether Vettel would ever consider letting Mark win in Brazil, but with Vettel equaling the most consecutive wins in a season today hes sure to be focused on winning next Sunday to break the record.  What do you think?

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Foggy Pit Lane

So yes, I can confirm that Alex made it to Austin, Texas!  A foggy start in Austin this morning (left) meant that FP1 was initially delayed and then when it did get underway the session was red-flagged about 20mins in under quite amusing circumstances.  There have been a few versions doing the rounds, but apparently according to Jenny Gow (BBC 5live quoting an FIA source) the medical helicopter - which has to be at the track and able to fly - was simply "...not at the track..." and with the fog around no-one actually noticed! From our vantage point with views over the medical centre we watched the helicopter fly in and FP1 resumed shortly afterwards (right).  In addition to Heikki Kovalainen in the Lotus, we saw Alexander Rossi (American) and Rodolfo (Speedy) Gonzales (Venezuelan) complete FP1 for Caterham and Marussia respectively in a session topped by Alonso in the Ferrari.  The session concluded at 11am local time as per regulations which require no less than 2hrs between FP1 and FP2 - even though around half an hour had been lost.  Interestingly, Jenson Button has been given a three-grid place penalty by the race stewards (this week led by Nigel Mansell) for overtaking under a red flag.

During the break I was able to pop over to the autograph stage and listen in to the interview with man of the moment Nico Hulkenburg and his Sauber team-mate Esteban Gutierrez.   One of the more memorable exchanges came when the interviewer asked Hulkenburg how he coped with being a tall driver in Formula 1.  His response was that he had to fold himself into the car more than other smaller drivers like Gutierrez, at which point Gutierrez asked Hulkenburg what it was like to "...be fat and drive an F1 car?..."  The crowd laughed but Hulkenburg didnt seem that amused, and the interviewer moved the conversation on quickly to food and fitness regimes for the drivers - which didnt really help because Gutierrez suggested because he was so small he kept being asked by the team to "...eat everything.." and that Hulkenburg was often in the gym.  Im guessing not so much love lost between the Sauber drivers!! And on the subject of food, I came across an "Aussie Pie" food van and was shocked to note that they were charging $10 USD for a Steak and Guinness Pie!!  And yes, I did have to get one, and yes it was really good (albeit small for $10......)

By the time FP2 started, skies had cleared and the track temperature had risen to be 31 degrees celcius (about 88 F) with all the regular drivers (except Kimi) back in the cars.  It was a full session which ended up being dominated by Red Bull with Vettel and Webber followed by the two Mercedes and Heikki Kovalainen who seems determined to make good use of this opportunity.  And he may have scored some new fans amongst the F1Infocentre crew who had been discussing where to source a Finnish flag before quali tomorrow.  Marussias Max Chilton facilitated some llate entertainment when he spun after a break failure on the final turn of the circuit.  The breakdown removal crane arrived on the scene but became bogged in the kitty litter - much to the amusement of those clustered around the big screens who cheered when the crane was finally able to remove the stranded car (but not before the yellow flag on that last corner had impacted most of the field who were on long run race simulations).

I cant finish off the day today without mentioning the signature cocktail of the Circuit of the Americas - the COTA Flame.  Quite a few of these were consumed today, and despite repeated attempts we were only able to determine that the cocktail was made of "ice, orange juice, cranberry juice and liquor".  Thank goodness for google - if you did want to recreate the COTA Flame for yourself you can find the recipe here:  COTA Flame Signature Cocktail

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Theres a LOT of news doing the rounds today.  Firstly we have Sergio Perez confirming that he will be leaving McLaren at the end of 2013, and Andrew Benson reporting that although its not been announced yet his replacement will be Kevin Magnussen (meaning its very unlikely that Telmex will be McLarens title sponsor for 2014 as speculated at the start of the season).  Theres also some speculation that the Mexican money has been slow to flow for McLaren and Sauber, and with the Mexican GP recently removed from the 2014 calendar thats unlikely to change any time soon.  Theres also reports this evening that Heikki Kovalainen will be driving for Lotus for the last two races (noting that both Nico Hulkenburg and Michael Schumacher were offered the drive and refused).

I was able to swing by the Circuit of the Americas this morning, and wandered into the main grandstand to have a look at the pit lane - snapping this picture of the Red Bull garage starting to come to life. Red Bull garage - Wednesday

COTA from the tower

I walked around to the main concourse and tagged along with a tour guide on a tour of the Tower to get a great view of the final touches going onto the venue.  The guide - Bruce - indicated that as of yesterday (13 November) ticket sales are running at only 70% of last years "full house" attendance, and the news about Perez today probably wont help ticket sales.  The venue goes into lockdown tonite with only accredited personnel able to approach the venue tomorrow (Thursday) before the fun begins in earnest on Friday.

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Another quali run, another Red Bull front row lockout.  Although on this occasion it was arguably a spectacular effort from Vettel who was almost 0.2 seconds slower than Webber by the end of the second sector before pulling out an amazing end to the lap to steal the pole by just over a tenth of a second.  Webber (pictured left on turn 19) could probably have done better but admitted mucking up the last sector.  Although the fog was hanging around again, it wasnt nearly as thick as yesterday and I believe that the medical helicopter overnighted at the track so no issues on that front to delay things today.  It was quite a humid day and very windy with a fair amount of cloud around and many drivers were complaining about not being able to bring their tyres up to temperature and the impact of the wind.

But some of the more remarkable stories were once again a little further down the field.  In Q1, Bottas (the driver Williams have retained for 2014) put in the fastest lap to top the timesheet, but Maldonado (who has been dropped in favour of Massa) missed the cut and was quite scathing of Williams treatment of him in the post-race press conference - to the point that some commentators are speculating on whether Williams might in fact drop him from Brazil.  Perhaps an opportunity for Suzie Wolff who has been waiting in the wings there at Williams??  It was a similar story at McLaren with Button (also carrying a 3-grid place penalty for passing under red flags in FP1 on Friday) being knocked out in Q2 but Perez will start from seventh.  Both Saubers are provisionally in the top ten (as are both the Lotus), but Gutierrez is facing a stewards inquiry for a potential block on Maldonado so may yet start outside the top ten.  In the battle of the Marussias and Caterhams, it was Caterham on top but Charles Pic changed a gearbox and will receive a 5 grid-place penalty and Chilton is facing a stewards inquiry over potentially blocking Maldonado (who really really had a bad day!) so it may yet be mixed up.

In other news, some of our F1infocentre friends and tipsters were spotted getting a close-up of a muddy puddle in the parking lot as they left the Circuit of the Americas this afternoon.  Maybe it was an experiment to see whether that was where the coffee being served in our area of the track had come from (yeah, it was that bad!!).  Or maybe they were just looking for some crawfish to have for afternoon tea??  I will do my best to find out, dear reader, and report back to you after the race tomorrow.

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Some interesting news overnight with Andrew Benson tweeting about a conversation with Lotus team boss Eric Boullier where he confirmed to Andrew that Kimi had phoned Saturday night to say hed be missing the last two GPs with a bad back.  There are other reports which go a bit further suggesting that Kimi will actually be going in for back surgery next week to make sure hell be back fighting fit for the 2014 season with Ferrari, but others are wondering how much the much-discussed pay issues with Lotus had influenced Kimis decision!  Speculation is mounting around who might get the nod for the last two races with Lotus, however Lotus have indicated they will make not make any announcement until mid-week.  But with Kimi out of the way, the battle for third in the drivers championship is now between Hamilton, Webber and  Rosberg.

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2019 Calendar

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1AustraliaSunday 17 March
2BahrainSunday 31 March
3ChinaSunday 14 April
4AzerbaijanSunday 28 April
5SpainSunday 12 May
6MonacoSunday 26 May
7CanadaSunday 9 June
8FranceSunday 23 June
9AustriaSunday 30 June
10Great BritainSunday 14 July
11GermanySunday 28 July
12HungarySunday 4 August
13BelgiumSunday 1 September
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