AUSTIN -- The Circuit of the Americas is one of the few tracks on the F1 calendar that promotes overtaking, which not only makes for exciting races but also opens up strategy options.
"Here you need to be 0.8s quicker [per lap] than the car in front [to be able to pass]," Lewis Hamilton explained on Friday. "That's quite low compared to the other circuits. Lots of other circuits you need to be 1.8 seconds faster than the car in front to be able to pass. It's quite often over the one second mark."
As a result, teams may be more inclined to a commit to a two-stop strategy knowing that a driver on fresh tyres will be able use their performance advantage to cut back through the field.
Based on data from Friday practice, Pirelli's F1 racing manager Mario Isola believes a one-stop is just about doable if track temperatures remain low, but the temptation to do something different on a two-stop strategy could see a variation in strategy as the race unfolds. Keep an eye out for cars pitting for a second set of ultra-softs (which is coloured pink this weekend in aid of breast cancer awareness) around lap 18 in order to spot the two-stoppers.
The performance gap between new ultra-softs and new super-softs is 0.9s to 1.0s, which should be enough to manufacture an overtaking move on tyre performance alone if a driver takes on a new set of ultra-softs midway through the race.
The soft compound is only 0.7s down on performance compared to the super-soft and could come into play if there is an early Safety Car and teams are looking to make one pit stop through to the end of the race. The soft compound will be particularly attractive if the temperatures climb high in the afternoon as the compound is designed to work in hotter temperatures whereas the super-soft and ultra-soft are low-working range tyres.
Long-run pace from Friday suggests Red Bull could be a real threat, but with Max Verstappen starting from 17th the onus will be on Daniel Ricciardo to take the fight to Mercedes and Ferrari. However, Red Bull's advantage is in the corners, so it will take something special for Ricciardo to overtake following COTA's long back straight. Ferrari's long-run pace is a bit of a mystery, however, as Vettel was limited to just eight laps in second practice.