AUSTIN, Texas — The Formula One season comes down to this: Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel leads Ferrari's Fernando Alonso by 10 points with two races left, the first on a track neither has driven before.
The first U.S. Grand Prix since 2007 will be run Sunday on the new $400 million Circuit of the Americas built a few miles outside of Austin. With so few points separating Vettel and Alonso from winning a third world title for either driver, learning every nuance in elevation, the straightaways and the 20 turns in practice and qualifying could make the difference.
“If you do everything perfectly, you will have a chance,” Alonso said Thursday. “If you make a mistake, you will lose the chance.”
If the title chase isn't decided Sunday, it will head to the season finale next week in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Vettel and Alonso have spent hours practicing the race in course simulators. Alonso did two laps on a bicycle on Wednesday and Vettel planned to walk the course Thursday afternoon.
“By the looks of it, it looks quite interesting, but it's always the feel you get inside the car that's most important,” Vettel said.
Alonso said he first studied the course on a simulator after the Singapore Grand Prix in September.
“The track seems spectacular,” Alonso said. “Very, very nice. It will be challenging for us drivers and for the engineers as well. I think it will be a good show for everybody and hopefully some good overtakings as well.”
The Circuit of the Americas is the first track in the U.S. built expressly for Formula One. From 1961-1980, the U.S. Grand Prix was held in Watkins Glen, N.Y. before starting a run of street courses in cities such as Long Beach, Calif., Las Vegas, Detroit, Dallas and Phoenix. The race moved to Indianapolis Motor Speedway where it was run on a road course built inside the oval track from 2000 to 2007.
The Circuit of the Americas was designed by German firm Tilke GmbH, which has built tracks in Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Shanghai. The designers tried to mimic several notable characteristics of other courses, such as the quick succession of turns 3-6, similar to Silverstone in England.
“We've taken good bits from all the different circuits and put them together,” Formula One President and CEO Bernie Ecclestone said. “It should make good racing.”