Kansas City – I returned a couple mornings ago from a holiday of a lifetime. For a couple Christmases worth of gifts, my Mom bought my Dad and I weekend passes to the F1 United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas. And what a fantastic weekend it was! As first-timers at going to an F1 race weekend, I thought we did a good job. Considering that the sport itself is worth a few billion, it makes sense that the prices were awfully high for most everything – the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team hat that I bought cost me a week’s wages, and the little 6″ personal pizza was $4.00 more expensive than the local Texas wine at the concessions, we did a good job at that ever present necessity known as “money management”.
The grand prix weekend itself began on Friday with Free Practices 1 and 2 (FP1 & FP2 for short).
The first of the two was delayed by about an hour because of heavy fog in Greater Austin, covering the circuit and downtown alike, which made it impossible for the medical helicopter to travel between the venue, Circuit of the Americas, and the local hospital where causalities as my British and Irish friends would say (injured people in American English) would be taken. It was a fairly sensible problem, though I rather liked the fog, and wouldn’t have minded if cloud cover remained throughout the weekend. However, the fog lifted, and the Texas sun began to shine, thus the necessity for purchasing that hat. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice hat, quite good at keeping my face out of the sun, though it does mean that I’m advertising for Vodafone whenever I wear it, which is a slight problem as my UK mobile is with O2. Of course, since the 2013 F1 season has ended as of this past Sunday, Vodafone is dropping its’ naming sponsorship of McLaren Mercedes.
Our tickets were for the bleachers at Turn 12, at the end of the long straightaway that starts at Turn 11 with the DRS zone. Approaching our corner down the straight, the cars were travelling at around 200 mph (321 km/h), however to make the hairpin turn at our corner they had to decelerate to around 65 mph (104 km/h) . For the first day or so we saw more of the Catheram’s and Marussia’s than any other team. However, as the practise sessions ran down and the qualifying sessions commenced, the Red Bulls, Ferraris, Lotuses and McLarens appeared in full glory. From the hairpin at Turn 12, the drivers have to make a u-turn up at 13 and again at 14 before going around 15 and into the wider turn around the base of the observation tower, which leads into the latter turns and the starting grid.
One of the major highlights of the weekend was getting to see one of my favourite drivers, Mark
Webber, on his penultimate Formula One weekend as a driver. Not only is he a fantastic man, no matter what the luck may say, but he is also a fine driver. I’ve enjoyed watching him race for Red Bull more than his now-former teammate, 4 time champion Sebastian Vettel, because Webber has seemed, since I first starting watching F1 3 years ago during the Belgian GP, a sort of everyman of F1. He has been a driver that everyone from the English-speaking world can relate to, as long as that Australia-New Zealand rivalry doesn’t come into play.
The weekend came to a head with Vettel’s 8th consecutive win, which further secured his place as 2013 World Champion. Though I have said that I have preferred Webber to Vettel, it would be foolish of me to pass by Vettel without giving him praise for what he has accomplished. And on top of that, the fellow has shown his humility in interviews and over the team radio. He is truly a master at F1, at driving that awesome Adrian Newey creation that is the RB9. This is truly a historic time in the world of motorsport, and I’m honoured and amazed to say that for 3 days I was able to see the fastest man in the world express those terrific talents in person.
If you have a chance to go down to Austin in 2014, I’d highly recommend doing it. Though our
seats were at Turn 12, I also enjoyed standing on the berm just opposite the pit lane exit at Turn 1 and also from the berm at the base of the observation tower. Our Turn 12 tickets for Sunday were US$249 per person, whilst the local NBC morning news programme said that Sunday general admission tickets were around US$79 per person. Or, if you’re looking at going posh, I heard from a Ferrari owner on the bus that a weekend pass to the Ferrari club was in the US$4,000 range. They also had a couple of other nicer venues from whence to watch the Grand Prix, including a Legends Club, where such notables as Sir Jackie Stewart and Al Pacino were seen on Sunday. Someday, after I win my Oscar, I’ll look into one of the main grandstand seats. Though by that point I’ll be living in the UK, so Silverstone it is.