“Turn one is a strange corner, with a very wide entry, and turn three – the start of the esses – is fantastic, quicker than Becketts at Silverstone,” he explained, “It's very unusual to find a section of corners like this on a modern F1 track. I love it."
Letting the media loose around the circuit was to have been the precursor to a joint McLaren/Pirelli test, one which was ultimately vetoed by rivals worried that the Woking team would seize an early advantage ahead of the USGP, despite running with a two-year old car and a brace of development drivers in place of regular racers Jenson Button
and Sergio Perez. With the invitations already issued, however, the car, back-up team and driver Oliver Turvey were still in place, and the young Briton was clearly excited by the prospect of putting the MP4-26 through its paces.
The Circuit of the Americas, its corners still identified by number rather than the more evocative names that come with established European venues, is definitely Jekyll and Hyde in nature. After the signature ascent to turn one, a gradient reminiscent of Eau Rouge and Paddock Hill, turn two leads the opening section into a dizzying combination of esses through turns three to six, before rising up to the blind left at seven. As with Silverstone's Becketts section, getting one apex slightly wrong will have repercussions for the following one, maybe more.
“I think having good brakes going in to turn one is important!” Turvey jokes, “It's such a steep hill, you're almost pointing up into the sky.
“I think this circuit is a challenge because you have the high speed through the first section and also the slower speed corners from turn twelve through to turn 16, where you've got some very tricky braking sections, where you're braking and trying to turn. Then, in the final section of the track, there are again some quite quick corners, so getting the most out of the car is a compromise of high speed and slow speed.
“[Turns 2-8] is certainly one of the most challenging parts of the track. It's a real fast section, but there's also some gradient changes through there and a lot of the corners are blind and trying to find the apex is particularly tricky - if you get offline through one of the corners, it affects the whole complex. It's really like threading a needle through there, a real challenge from the driver's point of view.”
Once turns eight and nine are dispensed with, and the kink at ten brushed aside, there is a moment of harder braking before the cars are unleashed onto the long back straight. F1 cars reach nearly 200mph here, before having to shed much of that for the tight second gear left at turn twelve, taken at just a shade over a quarter of its approach speed.
From this point, the more mundane side of CotA takes effect, with turns 13, 14 and 15 little more than a means of concentrating the mind. The combination bears comparison with Hockenheim's stadium section but, even flanked by grandstands, it begs the question of what the designers were hoping to achieve. Fortunately, the situation is redressed by turns 16-18, although, effectively, three becomes one in much the same way as turn eight at the late lamented Istanbul Park. From the renewed high of getting that section right, turn 19 lies in wait to catch the unwary or over-exuberant, before turn 20 returns to the main straight, and that glorious run up the hill to start it all again.
“Turn 17 is a really challenging corner,” Turvey admits, “It's a triple apex corner and it's quite a challenge to get your line through there - it's very easy to turn in too early and end up running out of track on the exit. It's almost 180 degrees around, a really fast corner and certainly, in the F1 car, it's nearly flat. The G-force we pull through there is very high - it's trying to rip your head off basically!”
Since 100,000 fans witnessed the inaugural USGP at the Circuit of the Americas
last November, the venue has added to its repertoire on and off track, with non-motorsport events interspersed by visits from the World Endurance Championship, American Le Mans Series, Australia's V8 Supercars and MotoGP. For now though, the 3.426 miles are my own private playground. Well, mine and the five other drivers on track at the same time...