Formula One returns to the United States in two days for the first time since 2007. Technically, the race is Sunday, but real-life, honest-to-goodness F1 cars will be on track for two practice sessions Friday at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
Five years is a long time. It was the year Tumblr was created, Twitter was only a year old and Instagram was barely a gleam in Kim Kardashian's eye. We thought you might need an F1 refresher, so we addressed some questions you may have...
1. What is so important about Formula One?
Formula One is -- by far -- the most technologically advanced form of motorsport in the world. Think of it as stealth fighters to NASCAR's Sopwith Camels. That's an exaggeration, but not by much.
F1 cars are sculpted in the wind tunnel for maximum aerodynamic efficiency. They can reach speeds of more than 200 mph and stop on a dime. Some say that F1 cars create so much downforce that they can even drive upside-down.
2. What's the big deal about the U.S. Grand Prix?
The last time Formula One competed in the United States was 2007 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. While popular the world over, F1 has never found consistent footing in the U.S., maybe because American drivers have been few and far between. This year, again, there will not be an American in the United States GP. But keep in mind, for the most part -- at least at the front of the grid -- these are the best drivers in the world.
3. What makes Circuit of the Americas so special?
Lots of reasons, but primarily: it's new, expensive and fast. The asphalt on the track was laid just over a month ago, and the F1 race this weekend will be its first real action. At an estimated cost of $350 - $400 million, Circuit of the Americas is the only track in the United States built specifically for Formula One. The F1 cars will hit the speed trap at around 205 mph, which makes it among the fastest tracks in the world.
Grand prix cars have a long history of racing in the United States, starting in Watkins Glen, New York, in the 1960s. They have raced on the streets of Long Beach, California, and Detroit. They've even raced in the parking lot of Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. But none of those could compare to the legendary circuits in Europe, such as Monaco and Spa-Francorchamps. Circuit of the Americas not only measures up to the international circuits, it surpasses them.
4. What's at stake?
Only the world championship. Red Bull Racing's Sebastian Vettel leads Ferrari's Fernando Alonso by 10 meager points in the drivers' standings, and they are the only two with a mathematical shot at the title. It's unlikely that the championship will be decided in Austin, but whatever happens there will make the final race either way more interesting or simply protocol.
5. What else is at stake?
Both Vettel and Alonso already have two world titles to their names. That in itself puts them in elite company. But one more title brings being known as a three-time champion and, well, there are very few drivers with that distinction. The names of every triple world champion are familar to even armchair racing fans: Jackie Stewart, Ayrton Senna, Juan-Manuel Fangio, Michael Schumacher, Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Nelson Piquet and Jack Brabham.
Also, should Vettel win the title, it'll be his third championship in a row -- all before the age of 26. Suddenly, Schumacher's seemingly untouchable record of seven world championships will -- well, it may still seem untouchable... but the door would be open just a bit more.
6. Who else should I watch for?
First of all, Michael Schumacher, mainly because he will be leaving F1 at the end of the season. Also, with Schumacher on the grid, there are six world champions racing in Austin -- which has made 2012 a landmark season. Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen round out the group. Among those three, Hamilton and Raikkonen are among the most amusing drivers to watch. Two weeks ago at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Raikkonen admonished his race engineer during the race. "Leave me alone," he said over the radio. "I know what I'm doing."
7. Will anything be decided in Austin?
Going into the race, Red Bull Racing leads Ferrari in the constructors' championship, 422 points to 340 points, so odds are pretty solid that Red Bull will lock up its third straight title.
In case you need to brush up on F1 the points system: Drivers who place in the top 10 of each race are awarded points, with 25 points given to first place, 18 to second and 15 to third (followed by 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, 1). Each team has two drivers, so Ferrari only has a shot at extending the title chase if it finishes one-two or one-three in the race (43 or 40 points, respectively) and Red Bull Racing scores zero points. That hasn't happened all season.