Austin, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - Red Bull driver and newly-crowned four-time Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel will try to keep his winning streak intact in Sunday's United States Grand Prix.
Two weeks ago in Abu Dhabi, Vettel became the fourth driver in F1 history to win seven or more grand prix in a row. His fellow German compatriot, Michael Schumacher, most recently won seven straight races in 2004. Jim Clark accomplished the feat in 1965. Alberto Ascari holds the record for most consecutive victories with nine, doing so from the tail end of the 1952 season through the early part of the 1953 season.
If Vettel wins at Circuit of the Americas, a 3.4-mile, 20-turn road course located 15 miles southeast of downtown Austin, the 26-year-old German will set the record for most consecutive victories in a single season with eight. The 2013 season concludes with the Nov. 24 Brazilian Grand Prix in Sao Paulo, where Vettel could match Ascari's record.
"I know that any kind of record you talk about, Michael is involved for sure, I don't know what to say," Vettel said. "The thing is that people see seven races. People don't see the challenge it takes every single race to nail it. It's been exceptional. The fact that we got everything right, smooth pit stops and reliability. All these things need to come together.
"The numbers are not that important to me, but equally, they make me very, very proud. If you equal something or you're close to something then the guys you talk about are the most special drivers in the world in Formula One. I don't think I'm old enough yet to realize that."
Lewis Hamilton from Mercedes is figured to be Vettel's biggest challenge in the USGP. Hamilton is the only current driver to have won at more than one American circuit. The Briton scored his second career grand prix victory in 2007 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway's road course. When F1 returned to the U.S. five years later, he claimed his 21st career win in the first Austin race. Both of those victories occurred when he drove for McLaren.
"The first race at the Circuit of the Americas last year was such a great occasion, particularly for me, as I was lucky enough to win," Hamilton said. "The enthusiasm and passion from the fans at the new venue was amazing, and it was fantastic to see the support at the track and in the city. Austin is such a cool place.
"The track itself is a lot of fun and a real challenge to get the perfect lap. The high-speed changes of direction combined with the long straights and slower sections make it quite tricky to find the right setup and balance."
In last year's USGP, Vettel started on the pole and led the way for 41 laps before Hamilton overtook him for the top spot. Hamilton, who started second, ran in front for the final 15 laps, beating Vettel to the finish line by just 0.6 seconds.
COTA is one of five current F1 circuits to run anti-clockwise. The track's surface took four months to lay, and the third and final layer was completed in late-September of 2012. The last layer is made up of aggregate from all over Texas. All told, over 640,000 cubic meters of material have been used to construct the track.
"Last year, we were all sliding quite a lot because the tarmac was still so new, especially on the tight and twisty bit towards the end," Vettel said. "It was sometimes almost more rally style than Formula One, because it was so slippery. The section after the steep hill at the beginning is particularly challenging. It took me quite a while to get my bearings and to position the car correctly."
Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen will not be competing in this race and the season- finale in Brazil. Raikkonen, the 2007 F1 world champion, is scheduled to undergo surgery back surgery. He has been suffering from back problems during the second half of the season. The 34-year-old Finn has opted to have surgery now so his 2014 season will not be impacted when he drives for Ferrari.
On Thursday, Lotus announced that Heikki Kovalainen will replace Raikkonen in the USGP and the Brazilian GP. Kovalainen has 109 grand prix starts, driving for Renault, McLaren, Lotus and Caterham in the past. He has not competed in a race since last year's Brazilian GP.
"It is a fantastic opportunity for me to join Lotus F1 Team for the final two races of 2013," Kovalainen said in a team statement. "We've seen this year that the (Lotus) E21 is a car which can win races and finish on the podium, so I will be pushing hard for the best results possible. Jumping into a car so late in the year when you have not been competing in the races all season will be a challenge."
Series: Formula One. Date: Sunday, Nov. 17. Race: United States Grand Prix. Site: Circuit of the Americas. Track: 3.426-mile (5.513-kilometer), 20-turn road course. Start Time: 2 a.m. ET. Laps: 56. Miles: 191.939 (308.405 km). 2012 Winner: Lewis Hamilton. Television: NBC.