I attended my first Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend in Austin Texas a few days ago; the elements threw all they could to make any sane man weep along with the clouds, yet a few opportunities grew from that downpour including the greatest race I’ve ever seen.
Lead image taken by Opponaut Zerofret at Turn 4
I arrived Thursday night after sixteen hours cramped in a sports car with my brother, and before any racing began we headed down to the Rattle Inn for Will Buxton’s Big Time Bash.
The NBC Sports pit-lane commentator hosted a night of splendor with a few friends. After donating a small sum to fitting charities and ascending a flight of stairs to the rooftop bar, fans were greeted by Will and his producer, Jason Swales. We all grabbed a few drinks and settled in.
Will Buxton hopped on the down-to-earth stage to begin the night, and who should arrive at the back door but the Williams F1 driver Felipe Massa! Felipe’s personality came out from behind the PR shield with no cameras rolling.
Esteban Gutierrez, the former Sauber F1 and current Ferrari reserve driver, and Alex Lynn, GP2 and Williams F1 reserve driver, soon sprang themselves up on the short stage.
Will asked a few fun and pressing questions and opened the floor for more, which I will not be repeating as we all took a blood oath...
Will Buxton’s three coworkers, usually sheltered in a studio, then appeared: Lee Diffey, Steve Matchett, and David Hobbs.
Between the driver and reporter interactions, Will gave away a plethora of autographed memorabilia including professional photos, team wear, Sergio Perez’s podium-raced gloves from Russia, and for the big finale a signed Manor MR03B rear wing endplate by the American Alexander Rossi. No, I didn’t win anything.
Who should then show up but the newly crowned American Manor F1 driver, Alexander Rossi! His exit after a few eye-opening questions and responses was followed with a chanting, “USA, USA, USA.”
Thursday was a good night, and if you find yourself in Austin next year, I can’t push you enough to go to Will Buxton’s Big Time Bash.
We had tickets for bleacher seats at Turn 5 for the race weekend and entered the overcast Circuit of the Americas (CotA) at the far end, turn 11, after parking in Lot L.
My brother and I scouted the track a bit before Free Practice 1. While I had T5 tickets, my plan was to watch different sessions at different General Admission (GA) grassy areas for each session as the weekend progressed, yet the weather would do its best to negate my dastardly plan.
We were walking back to the turn 5 bleachers as 9 AM marched in. I heard a muffled turbocharged V6 “whurr” past from behind a stack of metal stands and raced forward to catch a glimpse in the gap between the two bleachers.
For and avid Formula 1 fan, for me, seeing and hearing a modern Formula 1 car streak past at speed was a magical moment I’ll always remember. Forget about the whole, it’s not a normally aspirated V8/10/12 for a moment, and perhaps its all in my head, but the sound was stupendously advanced, complicated, “far-out.”
We took our seats and spectated for the 90 minute practice we would come to hope wasn’t the only dry running at Circuit of the Americas.
My brother and I headed for the food trucks behind the Turn 5 grandstands soon after.
Then the rain came. We huddled under tents for what seemed like hours. Lighting stuck and the marshals were pulled from the circuit.
The racetrack was pretty much abandoned at this point. Formula 1’s Free Practice 2 was canceled as the medical helicopter couldn’t fly with acceptable visibility in these conditions.
We headed for my rear-wheel-drive Genesis Coupe, which was luckily at the top of a hill in lot L, and watched as others struggled to escape the Texas mud. We sat there for a few minutes debating whether to leave and try some famous Texas barbecue before the Friday-night crowd descended, or stay and peer over some support race practice.
The rain lightened and we headed back to the circuit.
Whether due to our sneaky nature or the fact that everybody was gone and the ticket-guards just flat out didn’t care anymore, we snuck on to the main grandstands in front of the pit straight.
The 991 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup racecars took the track; oh yes, this is why I love normal aspiration. The echo from the exhaust bouncing off the grandstand roof, bouncing off the pit garages, bouncing off the front straight asphalt, bouncing off the ... , created a glorious flat six howl echo chamber.
The historic Formula 1 cars that followed in the next session sounded arguably even better.
From the main grandstand, we could see over the pit wall, into pit garages, down into turn 1, and all the racing in between. I could see now why people payed that sort of money to watch a grand prix unfold from here, and I will have to experience it in the near future.
The sun set and we led our growling stomaches on the half-hour drive to the famous Salt Lick in Driftwood. After a full stomach we met some Jalopnik readers and Opponauts at a bar near the college back in Austin.
Friday wasn’t a bad day either, not a bad day at all.
The rain wouldn’t stop; it was so bad in fact, that most on-site parking lots were closed and we were forced to take a shuttle from downtown instead (and pay an additional $10 to park in a garage, still waiting for a refund by the way).
Free Practice 3 (or FP2 as it was canceled the day before) was on shaky ground for starting, but it eventually did. However, all the fans were stuck waiting for the buses, which didn’t show up because Circuit of the Americas determined it wasn’t safe, or not worth the liability, to have all the fans descend on their property before noon.
Free Practice 3 was run, but with only a handful of lucky fans who got to the track in time for CotA to shelter them inside rather then be liable for their potential injuries as they stood outside the gate.
Noon arrived and the busses came to pick us up from the downtown Austin Convention center. Rain still fell.
We entered the circuit grounds and found a tent. Still the rain fell. Hours passed and nearing the inevitable call for qualifying we left for some cheaper, better dinner (this time In-N-Out), but of course I was not as committed as some and those few were rewarded with a walk down the pits to meet drivers, engineers, and get up-close-and-personal with some modern Formula 1 machinery.
More rain fell on Sunday. We huddled in some more tents, then braved the weather to watch two qualifying sessions, postponed from Saturday due to the weather.
Carlos Sainz Jr. crashed his Toro Rosso right in front of us in the esses, which was quite spectacular, and then the call came that Q3 wouldn’t be run. The grid was set from Q2.
We headed back to a tent to escape the escalating rain. I missed the historic race, deciding after poking my head out to see them running behind the safety car that it wasn’t worth it.
However, I wanted to watch the Porsche race, and I’m glad I did.
We aimed for Turn 1, which was perfectly fine the last time I glanced down the grass hill on Friday. On Sunday however, the famous hill was covered with glops of shoe-print mud, and I didn’t pack my boots.
I managed to find a wooden plank to stand on that was supporting one of the covered suites (those bastards!).
The racing was excellent, and the view from turn 1 was second to none.
The rain grew lighter as my brother and I walked down to our purchased seats to await the race we’d come to watch.
Pre-race celebrations began, that we couldn’t really see not being on the main straight, and the warmth (greatly appreciated warmth) from the fans packing into the stands grew.
The greatest race I’d ever seen unfolded, and no it wasn’t just because I was there watching it live instead of behind a television set. (You can read our race review here if you missed it)
Image taken by Opponaut Zerofret at Turn 4
The cheering and excitement from the crowd wasn’t something I really expected after quietly rooting my teams/drivers on in the comfort of my own home; it was awesome!
Daniel Ricciardo stole the lead and half the stands erupted in euphoria and strong encouragement. Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen stormed through the grid in their Ferraris and the other half exclaimed the same. Lewis regained the lead after Nico’s mistake and somehow a third half of the crowd leapt to their feet.
This fan interaction and ability to listen to the race unfold via the track announcers helped me appreciate the quietness of the current turbocharged V6 power units.
The race ended and Lewis Hamilton was crowned triple Formula 1 World Drivers’ Champion. We rushed down to the podium celebration after watching the drivers complete their in-lap, but despite our relatively rapid ground speed over the mud and wet grass around the flowing crowds we didn’t make it in time. However, we were still allowed onto the track.
What an event; I can’t imagine what it’ll be like when I come back next year and it’s sunny out!
My brother and I, again hobbled in torn ponchos to the other side of the track. The bus line was outrageous by the time we arrived and ended up waiting nearly two hours, not something CotA was prepared for after forcing half the fans on the buses from closing the on-site parking.
But it wasn’t all bad as I snapped a photo of Ferrari-hat-guy going back to see how long the line continued behind us.
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