Your alternative U.S. Grand Prix preview

Everyone who follows Formula One knows both championships can be wrapped up in Austin -- Ferrari's run of misfortune at the last three races has turned what was looking set to be a genuine nail-biter into something of a formality for Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes. With plenty more going on beyond the battle for title glory we don't just want to focus soley on Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.

The F1 paddock is full of intruiging storylines worthy of your attention this weekend. We've rounded up a collection of some of the best below.

Liberty in America

The U.S. Grand Prix is growing from strength to strength in Texas. After joining in 2012 the popular Circuit of the Americas quickly established itself as a stand-out point of the F1 calendar and its race has added importance this year, with F1's new American owners Liberty Media attending their first home race. As F1 boss Chase Carey explained to ESPN this week, growing F1 in America is a top priority.

Keep an eye out for pink in the pit-lane and on the Pirelli's softest tyre compound, raising awareness for breast cancer, and an entertainment bill including Justin Timberlake, Stevie Wonder, athletics legend Usain Bolt (who will be starting the race) and legendary boxing announcer Michael Buffer (of "let's get ready to rumble" fame).

Opportunity knocks for Hartley

2017 has been a year of remarkable news stories in motor sport and Brendon Hartley's shock debut in Austin definitely continues that trend. The former Red Bull junior -- who joined the programme with a young Daniel Ricciardo in 2007 -- appeared to have missed his chance at cracking F1 long ago, but lingering doubts about Daniil Kvyat, Carlos Sainz's early move to Renault and Pierre Gasly's opportunity to win the Super Formula title in Japan have all combined to land him a golden opportunity.

It will be a tough ask with no experience of an F1 car for half a decade, but Hartley's recent career -- which includes a World Endurance Championship crown and a win at this year's Le Mans 24 Hours -- suggests he's more than capable of seizing his day in the Texas sun.

(Back) from Russia with love

The future of Kvyat's career could hinge on how the next few weeks play out. The Russian was rested for Malaysia and Japan after a difficult season littered with race-ending collisions and trips to the stewards' room. With Sainz off to Renault and Gasly finishing things off in Japan, he's got the chance to prove why he's worthy of a seat for 2018.

Though easy to paint Kvyat in a negative light given that he's had two demotions in as many years and has been brutally out-performed by Sainz this year, he is a talented driver -- albeit one massively lacking in confidence. He will be under huge pressure (the sort he has crumbled under too much this year) to show he hasn't lost the potential of the exciting youngster who broke onto the F1 scene in 2014.


Fernando Alonso's last taste of racing in America ended when a puff of smoke choked out of his McLaren-Andretti Autosport Honda in the closing stages of this year's Indy 500. The Spaniard's attempt at the famous oval race was hugely popular and he left a good impression on fans and media Stateside. He will return with the same helmet colours he used in May.

His future beyond 2017 has finally been confirmed with him remaining with McLaren for the 2018 season. The Spaniard has vowed to return to the Indy 500 one day, from continuing the charm offensive which won him so many admirers earlier this year.

Tight midfield

Behind fourth-placed Force India, there's been a tense fight brewing all year long for fifth position. Standings ahead of the weekend are as follows -- Williams, 66 points; Toro Rosso, 52 points; Haas, 43 points; Renault, 42 points; McLaren, 23 points. When you take into account the fact there's four races and 100 points on the table, the huge financial incentive in the final championship position and F1's knack of throwing up a crazy race every now and then, this fight is a fascinating one. With Honda showing progress (most of which seems to have come since McLaren announced its imminent switch to Renault), don't rule out a late surge by McLaren, while Williams' recent struggles suggest the British team's fifth position is increasingly vulnerable.

Carlos vs The Hulk

Renault launched its RS17 car in February with the bold target of jumping from eighth to fifth, but it has left itself with just four races to achieve that goal. Despite its lowly position in the midfield fight mentioned above, form suggests it's a team on the rise. Having lost plenty of points with Jolyon Palmer this year, the addition of Carlos Sainz alongside Nico Hulkenberg -- who has enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career so far -- gives the French manufacturer a great chance of maximising its potential in the remaining races. The Sainz-Hulkenberg tandem (originally due for 2018) is a tantilising one and we get to see it four races early.

Decision time nears for Williams

Though the general public is likely to be kept in the dark for the time being, Williams' top brass will arrive in Austin with a clearer idea of who they want to partner Lance Stroll in 2018. Over the past week and a half the team has given two private tests to Robert Kubica and one to Paul di Resta as part of a wider evaluation of both men's potential.

Felipe Massa is likely to be fielding questions about his future this weekend as a result and most observers in the media do not believe he truly has the desire to continue to another season, with Williams' tests hardly a ringing endorsement of a man who was meant to have been in retirement this year anyway. Kubica remains the popular choice and on pure talent would take the seat with ease, but the lingering uncertainty about his physical limitations means anything is possible.

Haas homecoming

Haas arrives at its second home race at the tail-end of an erratic but encouraging sophomore campaign. Keeping seventh from Renault will be a tough ask but a 20-point buffer over McLaren means it should fancy its chances of finishing at least eighth this season. The American team has been a great addition to the grid and the chance of building on Suzuka -- the second double points finish in its short lifespan -- would be hugely popular in front of the home crowd.

Mother nature calls

Rain, something which always has the potential of spicing up the order in F1, is forecast in Austin for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. After causing long delays earlier in the weekend, rain during the 2015 edition culminated in a dramatic and thrilling grand prix, one which also happened to confirm the outcome of a championship.

Raging Bull

Last, and certainly not least, is Red Bull. While the title fight has taken a dramatic turn in recent weeks, Red Bull's progress over the same time period has been equally deserving of intrigue. Strong form at the last three races has re-ignited what seems to be familiar end-of-year hype about Red Bull's chances for the following campaign.

While another strong result would only increase chatter of 2018 being Red Bull's year, it could also be significant in deciding when the championship is wrapped up. With only limited scenarios in the title permutations for this weekend, and with COTA being one of Mercedes' strongest circuits since 2014, another strong Red Bull performance this weekend could help Hamilton's hopes of wrapping his championship up if it is able to go toe-to-toe with Ferrari.