Five big talking points ahead of a potentially pivotal United States Grand Prix
Lewis Hamilton heads to Austin, Texas for the United States Grand Prix 33 points adrift of championship leader Nico Rosberg.
Here, we take a look at five talking points prior to the 18th round of the season.
1. Hamilton needs to be in the right frame of mind.
Hamilton secured his third title in Austin last year, but the Briton arrives in America firmly on the back foot. After seeing his Mercedes team-mate Rosberg romp to four wins from the last five races, Hamilton faces arguably the biggest test of his career to wrestle the championship momentum back in his favour.
The three-time world champion has a good record in Austin – having won three of the four races staged there – and he has a strong following in the States, too. But both will count for nothing if Hamilton does not turn up for the first of four remaining races in the right frame of mind.
The reigning world champion will be thrust in front of the media on Thursday after being summoned by the sport’s governing body for the official pre-race conference, and following his controversial Snapchat antics in Japan a fortnight ago, Hamilton’s mood there will set the tone for the rest of what will be a pivotal weekend.
2. Rosberg is the hot title favourite.
Rosberg, now the odds-on favourite to win the title, heads to Austin in the form of his life. While he may have been afforded straightforward victories in Belgium (Hamilton started at the back) and Italy (Hamilton fluffed his start), the German was on another level in Singapore and he was utterly dominant at the last race in Japan, too.
There had been a sense that Rosberg was lucking-in to what will be his first title, but his emphatic victories over Hamilton in two of the last three races, coupled with his cool off-track demeanour, has forced many paddock observers into a re-think.
Another win on Sunday will surely be enough for him to emulate his father Keke Rosberg and claim his maiden championship.
3. No home for Palmer?
Another piece in the driver market jigsaw for next season fell into place last week after it was announced that Nico Hulkenberg will be joining Renault from Force India.
Hulkenberg, 29, heads there with a big reputation – having won the GP2 series and the famous 24 hours of Le Mans race last year – but he is yet to finish on the podium in more than a century of Formula One appearances.
Renault’s move also leaves Jolyon Palmer’s future at the team in doubt. Palmer, the British rookie, has impressed at recent grands prix, but could now be forced to look elsewhere with Frenchman Esteban Ocon also on Renault’s radar for 2017.
4. Will Jordan be King for a day?
British driver Jordan King will be handed his Formula One debut in Austin. King, who is the son of former Sainsbury’s CEO Justin King, will take to the Manor cockpit for the opening practice session this weekend.
King has tested for Manor at Silverstone and Barcelona this year, but his appearance on Friday will be his first at a grand prix weekend. “You dream of driving an F1 car from a young age and then to be a part of a race weekend and be on the circuit with everyone else is something very special,” King, 22, said.
5 Swift start to the weekend.
While Hamilton will be the star attraction on track this week, pop star Taylor Swift will spearhead the off-track entertainment.
The 26-year-old American, who boasts more than 80 million followers on Twitter, will play at Circuit of the Americas on Saturday night – her first concert in nearly a year – with RnB star Usher closing out the F1 festival after the race.