Circuit of the Americas Grand Prix 2013
Birmingham to New York, New York to Houston, Houston to Austin! Texas, the home of the American Grand Prix. It’s a long way, 4800 miles to be exact, but believe me it was well worth the travel.
I arrived in Austin a few days before race day and the whole city had been transformed for the race. Twelve blocks in the centre of the city were devoted to the Austin F1 Fan Fest which was jam packed with everything automotive and had a really lively atmosphere. The Austin Fan Fest included food and drinks stands, live bands, merchandise stands, as well as simulators and other audience participative activities.
Outside of those twelve blocks you still knew the F1 was in town as you couldn’t walk more than a few minutes without seeing people wearing clothing covered in F1 Team sponsors. But more excitedly were the cars that were in town. Modified Nissan GTRs, Ferrari F12s, Porsche GT3s, Mercedes SLS’, if it has a special edition badge on it; it was most likely there. It was great to see a strong following of the Formula 1 the other side of the pond.
I got up early and made my way in to central Austin to catch the Shuttle Bus to the Circuit of the Americas (COTA), it’s not glamorous I know, but I assumed it was a lot easier than driving and parking locally to the track. I arrived at the circuit around 8.30am and the atmosphere was already building. There were thousands of race fans from all corners of the globe. Some people where concentrating on reserving the best areas on the grass banks for when the race started later that afternoon, whilst others were busy shopping at the many F1 merchandise stalls. T-shirts, hats and even race shoes where on sale, you name it you could buy it.
The circuit is America’s first purpose-built Formula One track and prior to this 2013 race, the F1 Grand Prix had only held one other race in 2012 there. I spent my first hour at the track exploring what the COTA had to offer. One of the first things I noticed was the COTA observation tower which stands a massive 251 feet tall. Looking at the tower, you will see the bright red steel tubes that stretch the full height of the tower; these tubes are said to be inspired by the red tail lights of race cars.
The observation tower links directly to the Austin360 amphitheatre which opened in April this year and can hold 14,000 people. The Austin360 was hosting the F1 after party straight after the race with PitBull headlining.
Classic Formula One Racing
Following my tour around the COTA, I worked my way over to my seat to watch some racing. I was seated on turn 5 of the circuit which has a great view of some very fast S bends. At 9.30am the first race of the day kicked off. It was the Vintage F1 racing featuring various cars from various decades of F1. The demonstration of these cars was fantastic. The drivers put in real effort, driving these priceless historic cars to their limits and didn’t seem to hold back at all.
Next up at 10.30am was the Ferrari Challenge. This hosted a large grid of Ferrari 458 Italias. Almost as soon as the race kicked off there was car to car contact. On the S bends where I was watching, two 458s made contact and went off the track into the barrier at pretty high speed. Luckily, both of the cars involved got back on the track and round to the pits for some quick repairs. The Ferrari Challenge was great to watch up close, unfortunately about six or seven laps were done under the safety car whilst a couple of the other crashes elsewhere on the circuit were cleaned up by the COTA marshalling team. But once the safety car was out of the way the race was intense and very entertaining to watch.
One hour before lights out for the COTA F1 race the drivers took part in a driver parade done in true Texas style. The drivers were parading in classic American cars, here are a few pictures of just some of the drivers. You can see the world champion Sebastian Vettel driving himself around in a classic AC Cobra.
We can see Lewis Hamilton being driven around looking calm and pretty happy, showing the crowd some appreciation for attending the race.
And here we can see Mark Webber’s replacement and up and coming Red Bull star Daniel Ricciardo looking calm and relaxed before the race.
The driver’s parade wrapped up and I took the opportunity to get out of the smoking hot Texas sunshine and grab a snack before the race. Whilst out of the grand stand I took the time to have a chat with fellow fans to hear of their experiences over the last few days. Everyone I spoke to had had a great time and loved the cars, the track and the facilities available at the circuit.
Race time came; the sun was beating down, and the grand stands filled up once again. Then you hear the engines fire up in the distance and you can feel the excitement of the crowd around you. The cars came round warming up their tyres and brakes and the noise simply electrified the crowds. Everyone stood, cheered and waved at the cars as they passed by.
Once the cars were on the grid the crowd watched, eagerly awaiting for that first full speed pass. We heard launch control kick in and the cars fly off the line, 30 seconds later the cars came by at full pace led by Sebastian Vettel. From a man with a limited vocabulary I find it very difficult to explain the overwhelming sound of 22 2.4-litre, 750bhp+, V8 engines screaming past at near terminal velocity at 18,000 rpm. So, the only possible way to share this experience is with a slightly shakey video taken at the time. It is only 12 seconds but you will get a good idea of my experience. It was the perfect treat for any car enthusiast.
The combined sound was that loud and powerful that you could feel the vibrations of the passing cars in your drink as you held it. This was the first F1 race that I had attended, I have watched F1 young drivers testing previously at Silverstone, but I always wondered what it would be like to watch an F1 race in person and if you could really follow what was going on. It was a great experience, my seats were great, and I had a big screen right in front of me with live commentary, so keeping up with what was happening in the race was fairly easy. Although, when a batch of cars came past it was very difficult to hear and even talk to the person next you. But it is a brilliant sound, all part of the experience and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The biggest distraction I had was continuously trying to nail a good picture with the camera as the cars hammered by.
The most exciting part of the race was the dogfight, towards the end, for second place between Lotus’ Romain Grosjean and Red Bull’s Mark Webber. Webber had to settle for third, but he still had an awesome showing. Texas hasn’t seen the last of Webber either — “I’ll see you next year in the Porsche,” he said at the podium.
All in all, it was a great day of racing, and between this year’s race and 2012’s, I’d say F1 is off to a great comeback in America. And that’s good news.
The race was won by Sebastian Vettel who completed the 56 laps and 309km in 1 hour 39 minutes, taking 25 points away from the race. This win meant that Vettel broke Michael Schumacher’s record of the most consecutive race wins by completing his eighth win in a row. Vettel is also on track to match Schumacher’s 13 race wins in a season if he wins in Brazil.
Previously, in Abu Dhabi Red Bull were fined $33,000 by the stewards. They said that they had delayed bringing the cars into the parc ferme, which was because Vettel and Webber were doing some celebratory donuts. Upon winning the American Grand Prix, Vettel once again decided to celebrate in style by performing donuts for the crowd. However there was no such fine this time due to some tactical placing of the performance and gentle persuasion from his team to bring the car in on time. “Sorry to be on your case but to be clear you do need to bring it home,” said his race engineer Guillaume Rocquelin on the radio. Vettel replied: “Yeah, yeah, yeah – I know what I’m doing!”. The teasing continued post donuts on Red Bull’s radio as Rocquelin told Vettel: “I’ve counted, that’s $125,000”, “And by the way you can pay that one!” added team principal Christian Horner.
Following the race the Circuit of the Americas invited all fans to take a walk around the track and cover all 20 corners. Would I turn down this opportunity…I don’t think so! I walked round to corner one and got straight on the track with thousands of other fans. It was great to be so close to where the action happens; it gave you a real feeling of involvement with the day. For me it was great just to walk up to the pit wall and have a good peer into those secretive team garages and see what was going on, but the real enjoyment came from brushing shoulders with thousands of other happy F1 fans from all over the world that were all so excited to be on the track.
Following the track walk an after party, headlined by PitBull, was held on the Austin360 stage. I dipped into this party and it was certainly buzzing. The arena was jam packed and everyone was dancing and enjoying the F1 after party.
To sum it up in one word – amazing! I have looked forward to this event for months and I wasn’t disappointed. The circuit was brilliant, travel services to and from the circuit were great, the speed and the sound of the cars were so impressive to watch up close, the racing was top notch and everyone I spoke to was so nice and friendly and really added value to the day. Following the F1 is expensive, literally everything about it, the tickets, the parking, the food and drink, the merchandise, everything. But as long you know how much it is going to cost you before you go you can’t complain. I enjoyed the entire day and would love to do it again. The raw sound of the F1 cars on that first lap has been burnt into my brain and I can’t wait to hear it again.
Author: Paul Hadley