Formula 1 has always had a reputation for being full of drama. With its millionaire playboy drivers and roster of rival teams, the organization's nickname of "The International Circus" is all too fitting; and this time around wasn't going to be any different. The top two drivers were going into the United States Grand Prix with a very small points difference (most points wins the championship), the race was going to be at a track that no one has ever driven on, and it was being hosted in a city that has never hosted an event of this magnitude.
I was skeptical at whether the city of Austin would be able to handle the influx of race fans, especially since I've always known Austin to be a small-ish college town with a hippie vibe. When I tried looking for a hotel about three months before the race date, I found everything within an hour and half drive to be sold out or absurdly priced (1 star motels were asking $250+ per night). Things weren't looking good for the city of Austin and my friends who live there were ready to hunker down for that weekend.
Much to my surprise, the experience in Austin was extremely pleasant! Included with my race tickets were directions to a park and ride location where free shuttles would take us to the race track. I dreaded the line and the wait for the shuttles, imagining the most packed summer day at a brand new ride in Disneyland, but in reality, we never stood still in the line. In fact, we were always walking at a fairly brisk pace and eventually piled onto a nice charter bus for our 20 minute ride to the race track.
The race track itself was beautiful and new, and the track staff were kind and understanding. At every event that I've been to, people have never been allowed to stand on the stairs or take photos from a crossing bridge, but the staff at the Circuit of the Americas didn't seem to mind when people did so, as long as they were out of the way of foot traffic. The attendees were, for the most part, courteous and aware of their surroundings, except for that father-son combo that plopped down in their lawn chairs right in front of me, obscuring any view I had of the race. Other than that, everyone had a mutual understanding that we were all here for the same reason: to enjoy the sights and sounds of Formula 1.
Speaking of sights and sounds, the race was like nothing I've ever experienced before. I've been to my fair share of auto races and I've even ridden inside some real race cars, but there's nothing that can prepare you for the vibrations in your chest as one of these engineering marvels screams past you at 200 mph. It's amazing what today's engineers have accomplished with an engine that is smaller than what's inside of a baseline Toyota Camry. A lot of people have asked me about the race, probably hoping for some detailed description of my experience, but all I'm able to come up with is that is was two hours of sensory bliss. It's something that can't be explained in words.
I must say that I was very satisfied with the race and impressed with how the city of Austin handled the event. Some of the locals that I spoke with felt that the city over-prepared, but I thought it was just right. It could have been a major fiasco with people coming in from all over the United States and Mexico, but the city's organizers planned for just about every scenario. Kudos to you, Austin. You'll be seeing me again in 2013.
I leave you with a short video of footage that I shot from various places around the track. It really doesn't convey the power and ferocity of these million dollar works of art and technology, but maybe it'll inspire you to go experience it for yourself next year.
See what it's like to drive on the Circuit of the Americas in F1 2012, available for Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PC!
[Photo via Circuit of the Americas]