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Autosport Staff

Autosport writers' favourite F1 US Grands Prix

The addition of the Miami Grand Prix to the calendar this year made it 11 venues in the United States that have hosted a world championship race after Sebring, Riverside, Watkins Glen, Long Beach, Las Vegas, Detroit, Dallas, Phoenix, Indianapolis and the host of this weekend's US Grand Prix - the Circuit of the Americas in Austin.

Not every track has been a hit, as we detail here, but there have been plenty of memorable races down the years.

From Jack Brabham famously running out of fuel and pushing his expired car over the line to clinch the 1959 title at Sebring, to Innes Ireland claiming the first win for Team Lotus at Watkins Glen in 1961, and Michele Alboreto scoring the final win for the hallowed DFV engine and storied Tyrrell team at Detroit in 1983, a nation largely ambivalent to F1 until recent years has a rich lore to call on.

Here, Autosport's team of writers pick out their favourite races held on US soil.

1980 (East), Champion’s drive from Jones after Giacomelli stars – Charles Bradley

Giacomelli escapes in the lead as behind Jones is turfed onto the grass. But by the end of the F1's final race at Watkins Glen it would be the Williams man on the top step of the podium (Photo by: Motorsport Images)

A week after winning the 1980 Formula 1 world championship in Canada, Alan Jones put the cherry on top of his cake at Watkins Glen for Williams – but he was forced to work for it and might never have caught the early-race dominator.

This could have been the day that launched Bruno Giacomelli’s F1 career to join the elite of Grand Prix winners, rather than the also-ran he ultimately became. The 1978 F2 champion dominated qualifying, topping both Friday and Saturday sessions, and beating the opposition by 0.789s to score Alfa Romeo’s first F1 pole since 1951!

He averaged over 130mph around the swooping and recently resurfaced 3.3-mile track in upstate New York. In a recent interview, Giacomelli reflected: “By the end of 1980 we managed to have an extraordinary car. Along with Williams, I think they were the best ground effect cars ever built with the sliding skirts.”

Giacomelli aced the start, and although he came under pressure from Nelson Piquet’s Brabham into The Loop on the opening lap, he soon pulled well clear as his qualifying pace had suggested.

Behind him, from the third row of the grid, Jones had lunged past Piquet at the first corner only to run wide over the grass and plummet to 16th. But this was a day he wouldn’t be denied – instead, it was poor Giacomelli whose fortunes would wane in his 23rd GP start.

TV commentator Murray Walker declared: “Giacomelli is well in a rhythm, the car is obviously reliable, although he’s had a lot of trouble in previous races – but he seems to have it beautifully sized up today”. Alongside Walker, James Hunt added of his 12-second lead: “It would require quite something of a turnaround for Jones to do anything about him”. They proved to be fateful words as his Alfa’s electrics failed and Giacomelli crawled to a halt in The Boot section on lap 32 amid a haze of smoke and a flicker of flame.

Jones, meanwhile, had pulled some awesome moves to get himself into prime position to inherit the victory, picking off Didier Pironi’s Ligier as they lapped Marc Surer’s ATS and later slingshotting past the second Williams of Carlos Reutemann into The Loop on lap 30. Despite his team-mate’s best efforts to fight back, he beat Reutemann to the flag by over 4s.

The race was also significant in many other ways – the final F1 starts for two world champions, Emerson Fittipaldi and Jody Scheckter, as well as Mario Andretti’s last drive for Colin Chapman at Lotus, and the last Grand Prix ever to be held at Watkins Glen.

Giacomelli would go on to score a solitary podium from his 82 starts – at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, in 1981 – but his grand prix career fizzled out disappointingly with Toleman in 1983. The less said about his 1990 comeback with the W12-powered Life F1 team, the better…

1983 (West), Watson’s Long Beach stunner - Kevin Turner

Watson turned a lowly 22nd starting position into a remarkable victory with a tigerish drive on the streets of Long Beach (Photo by: Motorsport Images)

Here’s an F1 record Max Verstappen can’t break – at least, not until there are more cars on the grid. John Watson’s win at Long Beach in 1983 was from further back than any other victor has started in world championship history.

McLaren duo Watson and Niki Lauda lined up 22nd and 23rd on the 26-car grid, four seconds off poleman Patrick Tambay’s Ferrari.

Goodyear’s qualifying tyre was better than McLaren’s Michelins on the street track and the Cosworth-powered MP4/1Cs suffered from low grip and understeer. They weren’t helped by the fact that, not being turbo cars, they could not generate heat into the rubber. But race day was warmer.

Watson gained two spots on the first lap before Lauda overtook him as both made progress. Unreliability and mistakes ahead helped, but Lauda and Watson also overtook a lot of cars as they rose into the top 10.

Leaders Tambay and Keke Rosberg clashed at the hairpin on lap 26 of the 75-lapper, putting the Ferrari out of the race. Rosberg’s Williams only managed a few more corners before contact with Jean-Pierre Jarier’s Ligier forced both out.

The two McLarens were in the process of dealing with Danny Sullivan’s Tyrrell and the Arrows of Marc Surer, so suddenly they were running third and fourth!

Watson now closed right up on Lauda and, going onto lap 33, he slipstreamed the previous year’s Long Beach winner and dived past into the first corner. Both charged up to the battle for the lead between Jacques Laffite’s Williams and the Brabham-BMW of Riccardo Patrese.

With Watson looming, Patrese’s efforts stepped up a notch and he had a quick run up an escape road, allowing the McLarens through.

Watson was already regarded as one of F1’s best overtakers and, on lap 45, he dived down the inside of Laffite at the end of Seaside Way to take a lead he would never lose.

Lauda soon followed into second but, suffering from cramp, he couldn’t stay with Watson, who was running an older spec of Michelin tyre and took the flag 28s clear.

It would be Watson’s last GP victory but, given the current F1 field is unlikely to top 20 cars for at least the next couple of years, his remarkable record should remain safe for some time.

1990, Alesi the ultimate upstart - Richard Asher

Alesi starred at Phoenix in 1990 to hold Senna at bay for more than 30 laps before the McLaren man got through (Photo by: Motorsport Images)

Lifelong F1 followers can usually point to a standout moment at an impressionable age. One that sealed the fate of their Sunday afternoons – plus the odd morning or evening – for the rest of their days. For me, that moment was watching the 1990 United States GP aged nine-and-a-half.

That year, the US GP had taken on the unusual role of season-opener. Back in the days when the off-season was a lengthy thirstland for those needing their F1 fix, the first round beckoned like an oasis in the desert. Just like host city Phoenix, in fact.

The circuit was perhaps the ultimate – and final – expression of the American street course littered with lookalike 90-degree corners, the kind of track that had staged F1’s American visits throughout the previous decade. But combining the bumpy, dusty boulevards of the Arizona state capital with the lottery of a new season proved the perfect recipe for an outlier of a weekend.

And that was before it rained for final qualifying on Saturday. As a result, the first session of the year on Friday, when Pirelli’s rubber had taken a shine to the circuit right out of the box, determined the grid.

Pirelli runners tended to fill the grid’s lower reaches in those days – but not this time. The dominant (and Goodyear-shod) names of the era, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, were left in fifth and seventh places respectively. While Senna’s steady team-mate Gerhard Berger took pole, he would be sharing the front row with none other than a Minardi – the only time in the Faenza squad’s history that it would achieve that honour. It was fitting that stalwart driver Pierluigi Martini, delivered it.

Top 10: Ranking the greatest Minardi F1 drivers

The second row was wackier yet, with another hard trier of many years’ standing, Scuderia Italia driver Andrea de Cesaris, taking third. He edged out Tyrrell’s Jean Alesi, the 25-year-old embarking on his first full season of F1. Three of the first four on the grid were running Pirellis, as was Olivier Grouillard’s unfancied Osella in eighth. It was as though Lady Luck had decided to reward all the sport’s perennially unrewarded on one whimsical weekend.

The race has been documented enough times for me to spare you the details, other than to say Alesi catapulted into the lead on lap one, led for the next 33 of them, then traded blows with the sport’s biggest superstar as though the name Senna meant nothing to him. The Brazilian prevailed in the end, but Alesi’s second was still a major coup for Tyrrell. Both Ferraris, Berger and de Cesaris succumbed to reliability issues. And life at Minardi went back to normal: Martini finished one place out of the points in seventh.

That summed up a weekend on which hope had been dangled before so many – including kids rooting for underdogs – before being pulled back just tantalisingly enough to make it a script for the ages.

The remarkable footnote to it all is that Alesi needed another half a decade to register his first F1 win. And you have to go back to Phoenix 1990 to understand why Montreal 1995 was such an emotional day.

2001, Hakkinen back to his best at Indianapolis - James Newbold

Hakkinen scored his final F1 win at Indianapolis in 2001 after perfectly executing his one-stop strategy (Photo by: Motorsport Images)

Mika Hakkinen’s US Grand Prix victory in 2001 was a fitting way for the double world champion to sign off his glittering Formula 1 career after a trying season.

Apart from a classic win at Silverstone, the Finn had been dogged by disappointments as his McLaren team-mate David Coulthard instead took up the mantle as Michael Schumacher’s main title threat. Three times Hakkinen failed even to get off the line due to faulty hydraulics (Brazil), an uncooperative launch control (Austria) and gearbox failure (France), while losing victory to Schumacher on the final lap in Spain when his clutch exploded was a bitter pill to swallow.

It had been announced at Monza that Kimi Raikkonen would replace Hakkinen for 2002 as the elder statesman embarked on a sabbatical that would take on a more permanent departure from F1 (a 2007 comeback test aside). But at Indianapolis, in the first major international sporting event held on US soil after 9/11, Hakkinen showed emphatically that he still had gas in the tank to deliver a famous win.

After missing a red light in warmup, his best qualifying lap was cancelled and he was demoted from second to fourth in a penalty Autosport's Nigel Roebuck termed "draconian and, so far as anyone could remember, quite unprecedented". After losing a spot at the start to the light-running Rubens Barrichello, Hakkinen ran fifth in the early stages as the Ferrari driver charged past Juan Pablo Montoya's Williams and compliant team-mate Schumacher.

On a one-stop strategy, Hakkinen bided his time moved up the order when the two-stopping Williams of Ralf Schumacher pitted from fourth and had a slow service before spinning out. Barrichello also resumed behind after his first service.

Montoya had stormed to the lead by passing Michael Schumacher before making his one and only stop, but faulty hydraulics cost the 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner the chance of a unique back-to-back triumph. And so it came down to a duel between the old rivals once again, Hakkinen rejoining ahead of a somewhat muted Schumacher after pitting seven laps later with a flying sequence of laps.

After Barrichello made his second stop from the lead, the Brazilian began to close on Hakkinen but his engine wasn't playing ball. He coasted to a halt after seeing Schumacher and Coulthard pass with three laps to go, leaving Hakkinen free to romp to a 20th and final career victory by 11s.

Jarno Trulli was fourth for Jordan, reinstated after initially being disqualified for an overly worn plank due to a procedural technicality, ahead of Jaguar's Eddie Irvine and the Sauber of Nick Heidfeld - who denied a points finish for Jordan man Alesi on his 200th and penultimate grand prix start.

2005, The day F1 took a back-seat - Jake Boxall-Legge

Aside from Tiago Monteiro and the Jordan team, the 2005 US Grand Prix was not a good day - but it also provided a timely lesson for our technical editor (Photo by: Motorsport Images)

The grid was stripped bare of all but six cars, as the remainder of the field trickled into the pitlane at the close of the formation lap in protest. A weekend marred by tyre troubles, typified by Ralf Schumacher's heavy impact at the banking, the 2005 weekend in Indianapolis is one of F1's dark weekends. With the ranks divided, nobody could put their pride aside and work towards a common goal. Instead, the intransigence of both the FIA and Ferrari resulted in a public stand-off, and the thousands of fans in attendance were collateral damage in the ego trips of a few.

It's not my favourite United States Grand Prix. But the memories stay with me. Two red Ferraris waltzed off into the distance, and the yellow and black cars of Jordan and Minardi buzzed around each other like wasps knowing they could enjoy a bumper pay-day if luck went their way.

PLUS: Autosport rides shotgun with a 2005 US GP points-scorer

Like many, I walked away from the TV. Instead, I chose to join my mum to walk our dog, Sam. Back then, Sam was barely a year old, and his boundless youthful energy carried him into impressive athletic sprints through the long grass when eventually unshackled from his lead.

We were always wary when he'd run off slightly too far; he'd once gone missing during a walk, only to be found half-an-hour later standing exactly where we'd last seen him. He was a typical Jack Russell, enamoured with hiding in small spaces and a true exhibitor of classic short-dog syndrome. He'd bark at the slightest breeze, but it was at least comforting to know he took the protection of his adopted family seriously.

Once Sam had tired himself out sprinting across the field and chasing shadows, we clipped his lead back onto his harness and began the walk home. I recall that the sky had begun to darken, and it wasn't too long before I'd have to go to bed for school the next day. But I wanted to see how the race would play out, and just about caught Tiago Monteiro's sole podium of his F1 career before having to switch off.

Sam's still with us, barely. He's 18 years old now, blind in one eye, deaf and spends most of his time curled up resting in a bed several sizes too big for him. I know that he won't be around forever, and I know I'll miss him deeply when the time comes.

However, even if that Indy race in 2005 was an utter shambles of Trussian proportions, I have my own treasured memories from that day. And, as much as many like to spend their time arguing on social media about sport, there are many more important things to fill your life with. Get out, have a walk, and enjoy the moment.

2018, Raikkonen's final stand - Luke Smith

Raikkonen saw off the challenge of Mercedes to secure his final F1 win at COTA (Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images)

The peak of Kimi Raikkonen’s F1 powers may have long passed come his final season with Ferrari in 2018, but he managed to roll back the years in Austin for one last hurrah.

Raikkonen’s second stint with Ferrari had been largely underwhelming but undoubtedly improved as the years wore on, making his final campaign the best of the lot.

With Sebastian Vettel’s title bid unravelling in the closing stages of the season, Austin was the final big blow as a grid penalty followed by a first-lap incident dropped him back. It left Raikkonen to take the fight alone to Mercedes.

But Raikkonen did that perfectly. He made a great start from second on the grid to muscle past Lewis Hamilton up the inside at Turn 1, and was able to keep the Mercedes driver at bay through the opening stint.

Mercedes switched Hamilton to a two-stop strategy under an early VSC, giving him fresh tyres and just eight seconds to make up to Raikkonen ahead. But Raikkonen was brilliant in defending from Hamilton, keeping him back for three laps before diving into the pits. It was enough of a delay to swing the race in his favour.

Hamilton had a big gap to make up to Raikkonen by the time he had pitted a second time, but the Ferrari already had company in the form of Max Verstappen, who was also on a one-stop strategy. Hamilton quickly caught up with both cars, knowing that if he passed both, his fifth title would be clinched.

But as Verstappen and Hamilton diced for second, the pressure eased a bit on Raikkonen, who crossed the line to score his first win since Australia 2013 - and his first for Ferrari since France 2008.

“F**king finally,” was Raikkonen’s succinct radio message. At long last, his win drought was over. Little more emotion followed as he kept his sunglasses on throughout the podium ceremony, but he said after the race he was glad to have “proved some people wrong” with the win.

It was a fine final stand from Raikkonen, reminding the F1 world of his quality even as he neared the twilight of his career.

Raikkonen's final win came after a five-year drought, and a decade after the last of his original Ferrari stint (Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images)
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