The First US Formula 1 Grand Prix in Austin (Day 2)

Thanks to my father, I was indeed fortunate to be given the opportunity to go to my first Formula 1 race in person. I’ve been a huge F1 racing fan for many years. I love it so much I even wrote a young adult novel about the sport. What made this event special was that the Grand Prix race was held at a brand new racing circuit called, The Circuit of the Americas. It was built specifically for Formula 1 cars, a first for North America. The circuit was raised from the ground up during most of 2012, then polished up just in time for the Formula 1 race weekend on November 16th-18th of this year. The following is part two of my first-person account of the race weekend. Hope you enjoy it.

(Click here to read Part One)

5:45am Sunday morning. Race morning.

We get up and our brains are still on snooze, but we get dressed and hit the road anyway. Our hotel is in Temple, Texas which is about an hour north of Austin, only place we could find under $150 a night. And we booked months early too. It’s all water under the bridge as we chow down on a quick McDonald’s breakfast and make it to the downtown shuttle bus location in Austin. It’s a forty-five minute bus ride out to the track, then a few miles walking after you get off. And then another mile or two walk to our seats. No one can say that we aren’t getting our exercise during this trip.

We make it to our seats at 9:30am just in time to see the first race of the day, a 10-lap all GT-3 Porsche race. It’s fun watching these Porsches thundering down the racetrack. But one thing I notice is these cars look slow going through the S-curves compared to the lightning fast speed of the Formula 1 cars, which is strange because these GT-3 Porsches are quite fast in their own right.

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Next race is an all Ferrari super-car lineup. These showroom Ferrari’s are slightly modified to handle this circuit. The honor of driving them falls on a bunch of Ferrari dealers who get to pitch these cars around in this amateur race. It’s fun to watch one of them crash a brand-new Ferrari. The crowd also pity-applauds the Ferrari in last place. 

Hunger tickles our bellies so I convince Dad to go grab our lunch now so he doesn’t miss the start of the Grand Prix. The food choices here are interesting. The jumbo corn dogs that you can get at the state fair for about $6 are $10 here. That’s nuts. What’s that a 95 percent markup? It’s a hotdog with batter.  The big sausage sandwich is $15. Someone also sells Krispy Kreme donuts at a very high price too. Dad found a hot dog place yesterday that was only $5 a dog, a bargain here. Unfortunately today, everyone found out about the hot dog place and now it’s too busy. So dad gets us nachos which comes with a cup of cheese, a cup of peppers, and a bag of Tostitos Tortilla chips. Oh well. We’re not here to enjoy lunch. We’re here to see some racing action!

The pomp and circumstance for the Formula 1 race begins. The University of Texas marching band plays at the Start/Finish line. We see them on the jumbo-trons, pounding on their drums, smashing on their cymbals, and blowing their trumpets. But we’re too far out and can’t hear them at all. Guess the show is not really for us.

Now a line of vintage American cars forms on the grid. All convertibles. Each Formula 1 driver sits on the back to wave at the crowd as the cars make their way around the circuit. Except driver Kimi Raikkonen‘s Mustang, it’s having some issues so he hops on-board with another driver.

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After the tour on the track ends, we wait.

The race cars form on the Start/Finish grid. The crews make last-minute checks. The national anthem plays as a man with an American flag parachutes down.

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A flight of three World War Two aircraft and an F-16 do a diamond-shape formation over the circuit. The parachute guy realizes he’s taking too long and dives down quicker to get out of the way of the low-flying aircraft.

Finally the safety car (or pace car as we like to say in America) leads the group of cars for a parade lap around the circuit. Cars weave back and forth to try to warm up their tires so they’ll stick to the pavement better.

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I’m way past excited. The cars are right in front of me. I’m not seeing all this on television. It’s in-person and it’s wonderful. In the stands, I can feel the anticipation in the air. Over 120,000 fans collectively hold their breath, like 120,000 antsy children waiting for the teacher to call recess.

The cars do their parade lap and line up to their places on the grid. We have to watch the jumbo-tron for this part. But that’s okay. Five red lights come on one by one and I know what’s coming next.

Wait for it…

The lights go out and the cars are moving. Many fans are ooing and awwing at the screen, but my gaze falls to my left. I’m not missing my first glimpse of all those cars screaming down the S curves in front of us for the very first time.

Here they come. Fast. Very fast. The leaders at the front. My favorite Ferrari driver Fernando Alonzo had a great start on the grid, managing to jump from 8th place to 4th going before going uphill to the first turn. The screaming engines fill the air, piercing my eardrums, and it feels soooo damn good.

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The race is fast and furious. My head swivels, trying to check out everything that’s happening. The cars on the S-curves in front of us. The faraway straightaway on the other side that funnels cars to the action-packed Turn 12. The series of turns out of turn 12. Lots to keep up with and it’s awesome.

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 Kimi Raikkonen makes an amazing pass on the tricky S-Curves in front of us. How cool is that? It was so gutsy that no one else tries to duplicate it during the race.

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Sebastian Vettel, who is leading the World Championship, keeps the number one spot. But second-place Lewis Hamilton reels Vettel in lap-by-lap while Alonzo and Kimi make their own charges up the black pole. Soon Hamilton catches up to Vettel and zooms around him going down the long straightaway towards Turn 12 opposite us. And we see it right from our seats!

Hamilton keeps his lead. Alonzo climbs to third-place but can’t make any more ground on Vettel and Hamilton.

Hamilton goes on to win, joining Vettel and Alonzo on the winner’s podium. Normally, each driver wears a cap from the Italian tire manufacturer Pirelli  with #1 #2 and #3 on them. But Texas always has to be different. The Pirelli caps have been turned into black cowboy hats. It looks funny on all three of them. I’m sorry that Alonzo wasn’t able to win. But it’s nice to see Hamilton win because lately it’s been all Vettel and it’s kind of boring. Still, what a fantastic race! Now all of us have to leave…

All 120,000 of us.

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The human traffic jam is enormous. Waiting to go through the two pedestrian bridges takes awhile, in some places you only move four feet every five minutes. Yet, we still make it to the other side and walk down the long, gravel pathways to the long bus shuttle lines. Saturday’s lines were long, but it doesn’t compare with these. Almost a half a mile I would say, maybe longer.

So we wait.

But the cool thing that we all get to witness is world democracy in action. Our line is filled with every nationality and ethnicity one can think of, forming a true melting-pot of the world. And in this world the one thing that can bind people together…is their outrage of seeing a-holes trying to cut in line. Especially THIS line.

One by one, people in line rat out people who try to cut in. And we always know when these little line-dodgers are getting near us because the crowd takes turns booing and verbally mocking them all the way down to the end as they do their walk of shame. It’s hilarious.

Finally we climb aboard our bus and get to our car in Downtown Austin. We are tired but in extremely high spirits. The weekend is the best I’ve had in a long time and I think my dad would agree.

As an American fan of F1, I’m glad to have our race back again. 

A huge thanks to the people of Austin, the people who run the Circuit of the Americas, and all the people involved in Formula 1 for making it a special weekend! I hope to be back for more next year.

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