US Grand Prix is a motor race which has been taking place in the Americas since 1908. The race has been called by many names like The Vanderbilt Cup, American Grand Prize ,Indianapolis 500 etc. The race has been run on and off due to the World Wars and has been held in more than 10 places.
The Formula One Championship started on the May 13th, 1950. The Indianapolis 500 was part of the World Championship in 1950 but failed to attract any European drivers. However, it wasn’t until 1959 that the American race became a part of the Formula 1 calendar. Before 1959, America played host to many different types of motor sports which were not related to Formula 1.
In 1959 , a Russian man named Alec Ulmann organized the first United States Grand Prix for Formula 1 cars at Sebring International Raceway. The inaugural edition took place after the race in Monza and was famous for Jack Brabham pushing his car over the line as he ran out of fuel to finish fourth, thereby taking the drivers’ and constructor’s championships for himself and for team Cooper, respectively.
Despite the exciting and pulsating race, it wasn’t a success as the race didn’t attract sponsors, lacked enough promotion and also the prize money cheques bounced. Two noble men paid the money to save their country’s face. Ulmann and another man named Watkins Glenn succeeded in hosting the US Grand Prix for another 20 years.
In 1969, Britain’s sensational driver, Graham Hill broke both his legs when he was thrown out of his Lotus car after the punctured tyre rubber exploded and the car cartwheeled off the course. Nothing eventful happened for a few years except the race changing its location from time to time. During these years, the cash prize money kept on increasing manifolds to increase the drivers enthusiasm to participate in the US Grand Prix.
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The US Grand Prix reached its low when two fatal accidents happened in a space of two years where Cevert in his Tyrell lost control and was cut into half and the other accident in 1974 which left Helmuth Koinigg decapitated under the barriers, killing both the drivers on the spot. This prompted the introduction of a medium speed chicane in the 75’ edition of the US Grand Prix.
In 1976, James Hunt won the race to finish ahead of third placed Nikki Lauda which just left him 3 points adrift of Lauda going into the final race at Fiji, Japan. Also in the same year, America became the second nation to host two Grand Prix in the same calendar year after Italy in 1957.
Over the years, the drivers started complaining about the bumpy tracks and lack of safety forcing the race to shift its location many times. Phoenix hosted the race for 3 years from 1989. McLaren dominated all the 3 years with Alain Prost and Senna winning comfortably each year. The Phoenix race failed miserably as the long straits and easy turns of the track hardly challenged the drivers and it was decided by Ecclestone to terminate the contract with the city of Phoenix and omit the race for the 1992 season.
The image of the once popular US grand prix of Ulmann and Glenn was tarnished and the public of United States became disillusioned with Formula 1. Between 1992 and 2000 there were failed attempts to host the US Grand Prix in four different locations.
It wasn’t until 2000 that the USGP took place at the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The largest ever crowd witnessed (about 2.2 lakh ) this race which the seven time world champion, Michael Schumacher won to claim his third world title.
The 2002 USGP was famous for Schumacher and Barichello switching positions at the finishing line which prompted FIA to introduce a new law regarding this. The victory margin was 0.011 seconds, the closest margin in a Formula One race since the introduction of timing to the nearest thousandth of a second.
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The Formula One community was shamed when just six cars (3 teams with Bridgestone tires) started the race in 2005 after problems with Michelin tires forced seven teams to withdraw after the formation lap. In 2007, the last Indianapolis GP was held, as Ecclestone and Indianapolis Motor Speedway authorities could not renegotiate the terms and conditions.
Bernie Ecclestone finally negotiated terms and awarded Texas a 10 year contract to conduct the race. The United States Grand Prix finally returned in 2012 on a specially built new track in Austin which was named Circuit of the Americas. Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel lead the pack by a whopping margin of over 40 seconds and finished on the podium comfortably.
At the time of writing this article, Lewis Hamilton stands on the verge of becoming the first British driver to defend his World Champion title and become the 2nd British driver to win three world titles. Hamilton needs to outscore Vettel by nine points and Rosberg by two to clinch his third Drivers’ Championship with three rounds to spare.