Formula One returns to the United States

For the first time in five years, Formula One will compete on American soil.

The new Circuit of the Americas -- a 3.4-mile, 20-turn road course located 15 miles southeast of downtown Austin, Texas -- will host the United States Grand Prix for the first time. Sunday's 56-lap USGP is the penultimate round in the 20-race season. F1 will run its season-finale on Nov. 25 in Brazil.

Fernando Alonso's second-place finish coupled with a third-place run for two- time defending world champion Sebastian Vettel in the Nov. 4 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix allowed Alonso to trim Vettel's points lead from 13 to 10.

"We just need to concentrate on our race, and if we finish in front of Sebastian in the next two races, then maybe we have a chance," Alonso said.

Vettel from Red Bull and Ferrari's Alonso are the only drivers who remain eligible for the championship. Kimi Raikkonen from Lotus won the Abu Dhabi GP, but Raikkonen has been mathematically eliminated from the title race, as he trails Vettel by 57 points. The maximum amount of points a driver can earn over the next two rounds is 50. The race winner is awarded 25 points.

Teams will be faced with a lot of unknowns at COTA. No active driver has yet to make any laps around the course. Former F1 driver David Coulthard drove a Red Bull Racing showcar there when circuit construction had just begun. Lotus test driver Jerome d'Ambrosio piloted a 2010 Renault R30 on opening day at the track. Teams only have simulator data to help them with their weekend preparations at this course.

"We're in the best possible position, so I think we're looking forward to the next race, a new grand prix and a new challenge," Vettel said. "It's difficult to know who is going to be quick."

Vettel is scheduled to make his 100th career F1 grand prix start. The German made his F1 debut in the 2007 USGP, which was held on Indianapolis Motor Speedway's road course. Substituting for the injured Robert Kubica at BMW Sauber, Vettel finished eighth at Indy to become the sport's youngest point scorer. He was 19 years old at the time.

"I think it's great that we are traveling to the United States again," Vettel said. "I have been in the simulator learning the Austin track, how it flows and getting a general feel for it."

Nine U.S. venues have previously hosted a F1 grand prix: Sebring, Riverside, Watkins Glen, Phoenix, Dallas, Detroit, Las Vegas, Long Beach and Indy.

Lewis Hamilton is the last winner of the USGP, doing so in '07. Racing for McLaren in his rookie season, Hamilton scored pole position and won at Indy. It came one week after he recorded his maiden F1 win in the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal.

"It's crazy to think that the last United States Grand Prix was five years ago," Hamilton said. "It's a race I still remember like yesterday, though the nervy anticipation as I drove into the [Indianapolis Motor] Speedway for the very first time, the thousands of supportive fans and the fantastic car I had beneath me that enabled me to take my second grand prix victory in the space of a week. For me, those were incredible, thrilling times."

Made up of 11 left and nine right turns, COTA is one of just five current F1 circuits to run anti-clockwise. Singapore, Korea, Abu Dhabi and Brazil are the others.

COTA's track surface took four months to lay, and the third and final layer was completed in late-September. 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.

"I think the Circuit of The Americas looks like it could also be the place that modern Formula One finally calls home," Hamilton noted. "I've only driven it on the computer and in the (simulator), but I think it's going to be a track that drivers enjoy, which produces some great, close racing, and which fans will quickly love.

"This is a new circuit, a new challenge and a new opportunity. I'm definitely looking to be the first grand prix winner at the Circuit of The Americas."

The first two practice sessions for the USGP are scheduled for Friday. The third and final practice will take place on Saturday, prior to qualifying.

Series: Formula One. Date: Sunday, Nov. 18. Race: United States Grand Prix. Site: Circuit of the Americas. Track: 3.4-mile (5.470-kilometer), 20-turn road course. Start Time: 2 a.m. (et). Laps: 56. Miles: 191.939 (308.896 km). Television: Speed.