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What to watch for with Carlos Sainz and Brendon Hartley in F1 US Grand Prix

With the heat having gone out of the world championship tussle between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel - even a win for Vettel with Hamilton re...

What to watch for with Carlos Sainz and Brendon Hartley in F1 US Grand Prix

With the heat having gone out of the world championship tussle between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel - even a win for Vettel with Hamilton retiring leaves Hamilton well in control - there are some great cameos to pay attention to this weekend in Austin.

Top of my list is the switch around at Renault and Toro Rosso. Carlos Sainz will begin his Renault career, replacing Jolyon Palmer while Brendon Hartley gets his long awaited F1 debut at Toro Rosso.

Coming in mid season, or even late season as in this case, is never easy. I remember Jaime Alguersuari being parachuted into Toro Rosso in 2009 in Hungary, also further back Justin Wilson getting a chance mid season at Jaguar Racing. There are plenty of examples.

On the positive side there is also the example of Max Verstappen jumping into a Red Bull in Spain 2016 and winning on debut !

Hartley's case most closely replicates what Andre Lotterer did with Caterham in 2014 at Spa, shortly before they ceased racing. A sports car champion and Le Mans winner, who had a great junior single seater career but ended up diverting away from F1 through lack of openings, but finally getting a chance to race in a Grand Prix. It will be his first start in a single seater since 2012 in GP2.

Finding the limit will be the challenge for him, but he has found consistency and discipline as a Porsche sports car driver, which wasn't there in his early career and he will have had heaps of advice from former Porsche team mate Mark Webber.

Sainz is going to be worth watching, as he has a great opportunity to get up to speed with Renault ahead of the 2018 season with the team. These last four races will give him a chance to learn the team culture and its operations, to get a feel for the baseline of the 2017 car so he can make more valuable contributions in feedback to the 2018 car during pre season testing and to get the measure of his new team mate Nico Hulkenberg. One big positive is that he already knows the Renault engine well enough.

"It’s key to have this immediate taste with Renault and get to know the people and the car," said Sainz. "It’s a big challenge, but it motivates me. We have this last push for the season and I have to find where the limit of the car is, get used to the steering wheel, things like that. That’s the procedure and I will embrace the challenge."

Sainz comes to this with three years of F1 experience in the bag and he was well and truly ready for a change of scene. He was on a real high after Singapore and his career best 4th place, which may also have prompted Renault to move in the weeks that followed to get him into the car before the end of the season, to help boost their championship position.

The Renault is now the fourth fastest car in qualifying consistenty - top 10 on the grid in five of the last seven rounds and since the summer break, Hulkenberg has been seventh on the grid twice and eighth once.

So one would expect Sainz to be there with the Force India drivers on Saturday around the top ten.

Hulkenberg is the benchmark for the car and Sainz will have a personal target in mind for how far he expects to be off the German in qualifying - around two tenths maybe- due to unfamiliarity with the car and its limits. He has not tested it, but he has driven it on the simulator and his practice running will be crucial on Friday and Saturday morning to get his eye in and find the limit on the Ultrasoft Pirellis.

"I think (Nico) is a great driver and one of the most talented on the grid," said Sainz. "He has lots of experience in Formula 1 so I will learn from him as soon as I can. Hopefully we can both help the team move further up in the championship before the end of the season."

Of the two Sainz has the slightly better record at Austin with a seventh and an eighth in his two races to date, Hulkenberg hasn't finished there for three years.

Renault dropped to eighth in the Constructors' championship after Haas' result in Japan and the first objective will be to beat them and to try to catch Toro Rosso in sixth, who have ten points more on the board.

Nico Hulkenberg

With the car Renault have this should be an attainable goal especially with Toro Rosso shuffling around between Kvyat, Gasly and Hartley.

This would give a real bounce of confidence to Renault going into the winter. Their plan suggests that they should be fighting for podiums next season and to end the season on a positive note will help with preparations for that and morale back at the team's base in Enstone.

What do you think of Sainz and Hartley making their first appearances for their new teams this weekend?Where do you expect them to qualify and to finish? Leave your comments in the section below
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