Grand Prix success?
Formula 1 viewed from Europe: How did Austin do?
After two years of tireless planning, re-planning, construction work and sheer willpower, the first United States Grand Prix in Austin is over. So how did Austin do?
There’s always been a tentative attitude towards the U.S. in European Formula 1 fan circles. After so many false starts and disappointing crowds at various circuits (none of which seemed to suit the characteristics of F1), many thought the last race at Indy in 2007 could well be the last race in America.
Thanks to Tavo Hellmund, Bobby Epstein, Red McCombs, the Circuit of the Americas team and certainly F1’s powerbroker Bernie Ecclestone, we were persuaded to give it one last try.
The enthusiasm from the largely American crowd was unbelievable. Even sitting 5,000 miles away and watching on television, the atmosphere was palpable.
We were in no way let down. Speculation was rife right up until the moment the gates opened to the fans on Friday morning for the first of the three practice sessions. Fans numbering 65,000 poured through the gates that day alone, whether they were repressed Formula 1 fans thirsty for some stateside action or F1 virgins wondering what all the fuss was about.
That number increased over the weekend to 82,000 on Saturday and 117,000 on race day for the all-important potential championship deciding U.S. Grand Prix.
I was at the British Grand Prix in both 2009 and 2011, when support for British drivers Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton was on the crest of a wave. Never have I seen such passion, excitement and anticipation from such a huge number of people, and I thought I probably never would again.
Until this weekend, that is. The enthusiasm from the largely American crowd was unbelievable. Even sitting 5,000 miles away and watching on television, the atmosphere was palpable.
For me, the defining moment was when the five red lights above the grid were extinguished. The wall of noise generated by 24 Formula 1 engines revving for the start always fills you with a surge of adrenalin, but when those lights went out and the clutches were dropped, for a second there seemed to be an intense silence.
The second the revs built back up and they were screaming toward the first corner, I realized it wasn’t just the cars I was hearing; the roar was from the banks of cheering spectators lining the circuit as they finally saw what they wanted to see — a race.
What of the race itself?
For those of you still unsure of exactly how F1 works, or unsure of what eventually happened, here’s a little recap.
Formula 1 is a global championship, and Austin played its part with aplomb. On behalf of European fans, thank you for a brilliant show.
Lewis Hamilton took first place honors with Sebastian Vettel second, Alonso third, Massa fourth, Button fifth, Raikkonen sixth, Grosjean seventh, Hulkenberg eighth and the Williams duo of Maldonado and Senna ninth and 10th.
Mark Webber was forced to retire after the third alternator failure on a Red Bull car this season. All this meant that there was no driver’s champion crowned in Austin; that goes on now to the Grand Prix next weekend in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Red Bull did however gain enough points to take their third Constructors Championship title to add to their success in 2010 and 2011.
I was startled to see the top three drivers donning Stetsons on the podium; I suppose I should have expected such a move to celebrate F1’s return to the United States.
Maybe the victor of the next British Grand Prix should be given a celebratory bowler hat? Or a winner’s turban for victory in India? Then again, it probably wouldn’t catch on.
The mood is best summed up in an anecdote heard Friday afternoon. SkyF1 television commentator David Croft remarked how his driver bussing him in and out of the circuit, known simply as "Jeff," displayed no interest in what was happening in Austin.
"I know nothing about Formula 1," he said, wearily.
Despite this, Croft managed to persuade the reluctant man just to have a quick look at the cars as they raced around the track for the first time. Within seconds, Jeff was calling his family and friends. "F1 is awesome!" he said excitedly. "You gotta come see this!"
Formula 1 is a global championship, and Austin played its part with aplomb. On behalf of European fans, thank you for a brilliant show. That passion must be sustained, and I hope you will become part of the F1 family as we continue on to the Brazilian Grand Prix next weekend.
Besides, there’s a championship that needs winning.