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Lewis Hamilton won the inaugural United States Grand Prix at Austin in a thrilling duel with Sebastian Vettel.
Vettel’s runner-up finish did not reward him with the World Drivers’ Championship but it was good enough for him to bring home Team Red Bull’s third-straight Constructors’ Championship. The Drivers’ Championship will still be on the line at Brazil because Fernando Alonso minimized the damage of finishing behind Vettel, securing third place, and is only 13 points behind the defending champion heading into the finale.
The atmosphere above parc fermé was electric as the Red Bull guests celebrated a team championship and reveled in the moment of standing right next to the most star-studded podium of recent memory.
I was in the middle of the fracas, collecting one of the championship tee-shirts, getting drenched in champagne and taking this awesome picture of Mario Andretti, Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton – four World Champions on the podium at Circuit of the Americas.
This was also, remarkably enough, the first time that Alonso, Vettel and Hamilton have shared the podium – the three no. 1 drivers from the top-three teams in Formula 1. Adding 1978 World Champion Mario Andretti was just the cherry on top.
We quickly left COTA as soon as the race ended and traffic flowed much better than a crowd of 120,000 fans would indicate. It took only 30 minutes to get to downtown from the track – just 10 minutes longer than what it took on Friday and Saturday.
That’s a testament to the city of Austin and COTA’s logistic group who had a contingency plan for every problem all weekend and there wasn’t many.
I will have a complete post up soon containing my final thoughts on a fantastic weekend in Austin and at Circuit of the Americas. Thank you for taking this journey with me and I hope you’ll continue reading.
In a brief Q&A session today at the Red Bull hospitality booth, Mark Webber told fans and media that Formula 1 doesn’t need the United States to survive.
"Formula 1 has lived a long time without the United States and its survival is not based on whether or not we continue to race here.”
While it may not be important to Formula 1, it is important to the race teams and its sponsors. The United States is the largest market for both Red Bull energy drinks and the Infiniti luxury car brand which sponsors the race team.
Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner is of the mindset that the United States is important for Formula 1, if only for sponsor exposure.
“It is important to our partners that Formula is a true World Championship and that means racing in the United States,” Horner said.
Webber also asked that American fans unfamiliar with Formula 1 display patience as they continue to learn the sport. He also urged that fans keep watching the sport beyond this weekend at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
“We hope that everyone continues to watch the races and listen to the commentary,” Webber said. “There are a lot of things to learn about but try to be patient and take the time to learn the sport. I think that once fans do, they’ll find it to be quite exciting.”
Webber asked for patience because he doesn’t think today’s United States Grand Prix will deliver on the excitement that the most recent Formula 1 race in Abu Dhabi produced two weeks ago. The most exciting moment of the race is likely to be at the start as drivers will have to navigate a very wide frontstretch into an uphill and narrow turn 1.
But even then, Webber is still convinced that the start will be clean and the drivers will be on their best behavior.
“I don’t know how exciting the race will be,” Webber said. “I don’t think the track will provide a lot of overtaking but there has been a lot of mystery involved in this weekend. The track is still very new and there is still room for additional speed and grip.”
When asked if he followed United States NASCAR or IndyCar racing, Webber was more familiar with the latter. He called Will Power a personal friend, not remarkable given their shared Australian and New Zealand heritage. But the more surprising answer was that he was a fan of 2004 IndyCar Champion Tony Kanaan.
“I’ve watched him race and he’s a lot of fun,” Webber admitted.
Sunday will mark Webber’s sixth start in a United States Grand Prix. All of his previous starts came at Indianapolis Motor Speedway where he holds a best finish of seventh in the 2007 United States Grand Prix. His previous five starts all resulted in retirements.
Take a tour of the Circuit of the Americas F1 track in Austin, Texas -- check out SB Nation contributor Matt Weaver's photo album from day two of the United States Grand Prix
The appeal of NASCAR has always been the access and intimacy that drivers share with their fans. NASCAR drivers can be approached at almost any time and can be propositioned for autographs, pictures and anything else they desire.
This is far from the case in the ultra-controlled Formula 1 environment here in Austin. Drivers have just a few seconds walk from the garage stall to their paddock quarters and fans are not allowed downstairs without special cause or occasion.
The situation is not much better outside of the venue. Fans had just one opportunity this weekend to get autographs and at the Ferrari tent, Fernando Alonso was made available for just 15-20 minutes for fans who had gathered outside up to three hours prior to his arrival.
Most of these fans didn't even get their favorite driver's autograph, something that they had to have looked forward to all year.
If Formula 1 is going to stick in America, this has to change. Americans will never accept that their favorite drivers are too busy to meet their fans. They are too conditioned from NASCAR and IndyCar. They'll flock right back to the familiar unless they are given a brief glimpse into the glamour of being a Formula 1 driver.
It's perceived as European snobbery on Formula 1's part and won't go over too well as F1 tries to establish itself in America in the long term.
Formula 1's most difficult challenge from a marketing standpoint is driver recognition. The sport often sells itself on the cars -- on Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren -- the driver is somewhat secondary.
Americans want to meet the stars -- to know them and pick a favorite. In Austin, 15 minutes is hardly enough.
Fanvision continues to be my favorite piece of racing technology.
Their corporate slogan reads, "Welcome to the Inside," fitting considering the overwhelming amount of data the device gives you access to during a race weekend. Not to be confused for the now defunct SprintVision controller, FanVision offers a live continuous loop of track action with no commercials and more statistics than you could ever need.
I first used a Fanvision device at Daytona at the start of the season just as they began their partnership with NASCAR. The device and I quickly became inseparable as it offers live video, team communications, timing and replays of each of the above while at the racetrack.
It's invaluable at larger venues where you can't see the whole track. And it also eliminates the myth that sitting at home is better than going to the track. Fanvision is the best of both worlds displaying broadcast quality video and graphics as an enhancement to your ticket.
NASCAR is actually Fanvision's second foray into the motorsports market. They've serviced F1 for several years, previously under the name Kangaroo. The Fanvision crew understands what motorsport fans want and super-serve them content while they are at the track.
My favorite aspect of the controller is that it can also support the Formula 1 software which is even more dynamic than its NASCAR counterpart. Unlike NASCAR, F1 controls its own television content. The video is shot by Formula 1 and distributed to its broadcast partners all around the world. This allows Fanvision to show the same video that you would get at home.
The commentary options include both the BBC and Sky broadcasts and with the standard F1 video feed, it’s virtually the same as what you would get sitting at home.
As an added bonus to Formula 1, all 24 cars are equipped with on-board cameras and Fanvision provides each one to be viewed at any point a driver is on the track. And because picking from 24 cars might be difficult, Fanvision also offers a quad vision where you can select four cars to watch at the same time.
In other words, there’s no reason to sit at home.
NFL, College Football, NASCAR, Formula 1 – welcome to the inside, indeed.
I tweeted earlier today that the Team Red Bull hospitality box was all party even in the face of competition but that totally changed on Saturday afternoon, during qualifying for Sunday’s United Sates Grand Prix.
And their two drivers gave them every reason to pay attention with Sebastian Vettel taking the pole position for the inaugural race at the Circuit of the Americas with teammate Mark Webber placing third. Vettel captured the top spot by one tenth of a second over McLaren's Lewis Hamilton.
It is the sixth pole position of the season for Vettel and is especially pleasing considering that his only championship rival, Fernando Alonso, qualified ninth. Vettel entered Austin with a 10 point championship lead and could mathematically clinch on Sunday.
Austin the penultimate race of the 2012 season.
As soon as qualifying ended, the cars were assembled at Parc fermé just above our location at Red Bull’s hospitality box, giving us a splendid view of the cars and its drivers. After a quick wave to the Red Bull crowd, Vettel and Webber, along with Hamilton shunted over to the legion of photographers to have their pictures taken.
This weekend is setting up perfectly from a Red Bull perspective and should Vettel win and/or capture the championship, I’ll have a front row seat for all the festivities.
Perhaps then, Team Red Bull and its guests will have a real reason to party
I returned to the Circuit this morning to find even colder temperatures than on Friday. It was 45 degrees when we first arrived and will be just 62 degrees when qualifying starts at Noon -- by far the coldest race of the season.
Media credentials have always fascinated me. They come in so many different shapes and colors. And when it comes to motorsports, they make colorful reminders of where I've been. So when I started posting pictures of them on Twitter, my friends and followers were really receptive -- they wanted to see more.
So I've received a lot of questions about the F1 lanyards and media passes and how they looked more expensive than many of the others I’ve received this season.
That's because, like most things in Formula 1, these passes are pretty advanced. There's a computer chip embedded in every pass that must be swiped and scanned at the entrance each time you leave or return to the track.
In other words, there's no sneaking into the venue like the old-timers used to do to at classic NASCAR races such as Bristol or Martinsville.
Additionally, there's a pass for every form of access. The three I've used this weekend and those photographed below are the media, paddock and paddock club passe. There’s also a different set of credentials for every day of the weekend.
I went to a party and a Formula 1 race broke out. That’s the best way to describe what happened once I finally stepped foot inside Circuit of the Americas.
The most fascinating aspect of this trip is the comparison between Formula 1 and NASCAR. The reality is that there is no comparison at all.
When NASCAR sponsors treat their VIPs and media to hospitality functions, the menu usually includes barbecue or something fried. That would be undignified for those working in Formula 1.
The media roundtable with Christian Horner featured a cup of green tea, cranberry juice and sushi. Imagine that, a formal Japanese dinner at a European event deep in the heart of Texas. This is how Team Red Bull rolls.
But man do these guys know how to throw a party. A DJ is mixing tracks continuously throughout the evening, people are dancing and there’s always a drink to be had. Racing is in the backdrop. The party even takes precedent over track action.
It will interesting to see the party that will erupt at Red Bull’s hospitality box if Sebastian Vettel is able to win the race and secure his third-consecutive World Drivers’ Championship.
After the second practice session, our hosts at Infiniti treated us to a three-course meal at Judge's Hill and the food was extremely fancy. I'd love to tell you what it is, but the truth is that I'm not sure.
This Alabama-bred country boy was going through analytic shock at several points throughout dinner. For example, what was that and why does the steak smell like root beer?
That's not meant to be an insult to either Formula 1 or NASCAR. Simply put, NASCAR is beer and wings while Formula 1 is white wine and caviar.
Tomorrow, track action really heats up with free practice three and qualifying. So too will the number of updates.
I’m off to bed. Talk to you guys in the morning.
Take a tour of the Circuit of the Americas F1 track in Austin, Texas -- check out SB Nation contributor Matt Weaver's photo album from day one of the United States Grand Prix
Christian Horner wants Formula 1 to succeed in the United States
Ordinarily that goes without saying but the Red Bull Racing Team Principal made himself available to reporters for a rare intimate lunch roundtable, where the executive discussed everything from the Circuit of the Americas to the sport finding success in the United States.
The latter is extremely important as the United States is the largest market for both Red Bull and one of the team’s primary sponsors -- Infiniti. The United States Grand Prix is crucial to the sport's future and everyone involved in it.
“This is a great opportunity for Formula 1 to attract the American market,” Horner said. “It’s important for our partners that we compete in a true world championship and to do that we have to compete in America.”
Horner believes that Formula 1 provides a racing experience you can’t find anywhere else. The pride, pageantry, speed and technology all speaks for itself but the fact that Americans demand action is not lost on Horner.
“It’s important that we put on a good race,” Horner said. “It’s a spectacle you can’t see anywhere else and it’s the climax of a championship. And with the enthusiasm that we’ve generated, we have a great chance to establish something really special here.”
For the race to succeed long-term, Formula 1 will likely need to develop an American driver. Horner agrees but only on the condition that it’s a “winning driver.” Red Bull Racing has a history of investing in American open –wheel drivers and conducted the “Red Bull American Driver Search from 2002-2005. That competition produced Scott Speed who struggled in Formula 1 from 2006-2007 before eventually moving on to NASCAR.
“Having an American driver would definitely help,” Horner said. “Spain did not become a hotspot for F1 until Alonso arrived. America could be in a similar position. We invested in an American driver (Speed) but we learned that it was important that he becomes a winner.”
When asked which American drivers he thought could eventually make the leap to Formula 1, Horner responded with Alexander Rossi, saying the California-native “looked promising.” Rossi, 21, has spent the last two years in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series but tested in Formula 1 during the summer for the Caterham F1 Team.
Austin has been invaded by Formula 1 and it’s obvious no matter where I go in the city. From the banners hanging from the bright street lights to clever advertisements written on barroom chalkboard, F1 has taken over.
The first thing I did after leaving the airport was to check-in to my hotel. And to no one’s surprise, I was greeted by the following projection:
Once I checked-in and posted my previous journal entry, it was off to downtown to find lunch.
I have a long-standing rule for when I'm on the road to always seek out a local pizzeria -- this one I chose in Austin was called Roppolo's. Their signature dish -- the Papa’s Calzone was the best I’ve had in a long time. I also got a little bit of work done at Roppolo’s asking the manager if he expected the Formula 1 race to increase business for local establishments. His response was somewhat hopeful.
"We’re not entirely sure yet," he said. "But we hope so. This is a different kind of crowd than what big events typically bring. We hope it will help us and the fact that you’re here is probably a good sign."
It was a good point, I thought. The pizza was good enough to bring me back should the race continue beyond this year.
After dinner, I walked down the world famous Sixth St. -- the Austin equivalent to New Orleans' Bourbon St. The presence of Formula 1 was felt here too, alongside the bars, nightclubs and restaurants. I found this sign particularly amusing:
Next up: Dinner with Infiniti executives where they will explain what they hope to accomplish in the American market via the United States Grand Prix and Team Red Bull.
My flight from Mobile to Atlanta was one of the most pleasant flights I’ve ever been on. The cabin was half-full and I had a three-seat section all to myself. It was a pretty pleasant way to start the morning after a 5 a.m. wake-up call.
Those who have followed my career over the past few seasons will remember that I often drive myself to races in my pickup truck. And I’ve often been known to sleep in whichever parking lot or rest area suits my fancy. This was prior to hooking up with SB Nation mind you – they’ve taken care of me since coming on board.
I called it “paying my dues.” My editor called it plain crazy.
Flights are still somewhat novel to me and are one of the few situations where I find myself able to sit back and relax. I've always enjoy the process of flying, especially taking off. Perhaps it's the novelty or the excitement of going someplace new but I always think of whimsical things once the jet completely immerses itself in the clouds. How could I not?
I've flown roughly 10 times -- but it's the only atmosphere where I really feel like I can slow down and just relax.
While this story doesn’t focus much on Formula 1 and the United States Grand Prix, I hope this entry serves as an introduction to who I am as a writer and will give you the opportunity to know a little more about me before I ride over to Circuit of the Americas on Friday. I hope to receive feedback or commentary throughout the week via Twitter or the comments section below each of these stories.
In the meantime, I can promise some really exciting content that will appear in the coming days and I'll list some of those at the end of this post.
While landing in Atlanta, the co-pilot came over the radio and delivered the most impressive promotional work I've ever heard -- and that says something coming from a former carnival worker, professional wrestling fan and the son of a short track race car driver.
I've heard it all...until today.
"We have some exciting news to share with you this morning,” the co-pilot said. “News that is more exciting than most of our trips and more exciting than the romance of Romeo and Juliet…”
Despite the dramatic build-up, this was only an advertisement to purchase the new Delta Airlines credit card which came with some pretty impressive perks. Whether or not it meets the standards of Shakespeare is best left up to you, the reader.
The reality of what I was about to experience (Formula 1, not the credit card) didn't truly set in until my layover in Atlanta. It was business as usual at one of the busiest airports in the country until I walked over to Terminal 6A – the one leading to Austin.
It was there that I sat down with a truly international crowd of passengers already adorned in their Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari regalia. It was like attending a motorsports convention with some of the biggest names and biggest fans in racing.
Once I got on the plane I was seated beside a Grand-Am Series official and an American Le-Mans team owner as the two discussed the upcoming merger and evolving rules packages for the 2014 combined series debut. I wanted to get their names but they were embroiled in a pretty lively conversation throughout the flight.
The short of the conversation is that the team owners are happy with the merger as sports car racing under one roof and NASCAR’s marketing arm is a huge positive. However, a merged series will mean the end for a lot of careers in 2014.
Anyway, I promised a preview of what sort of content will appear on this blog in the next few days and here's what I can promise. Keep in mind that I'm going to be adding even more as the weekend progresses -- just stay tuned.
11:00 CST: Team Red Bull Garage
11:30 CST: Pit Lane Walk
1:00 CST: Free Practice 2
TBD: Roundtable discussion with Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner
1:00 CST Qualifying
7:00 CST Interview with Infiniti’s Director of Global Marketing/F1 Keith St. Claire and Team Red Bull photographer Andrea Sigl
And that’s all prior to Sunday’s Grand Prix. I’ll divulge my race day coverage as the details get ironed out.
In the meantime, the plan is to hit up downtown Austin, say hi to my hosts at Infiniti and report back just how the city is preparing for Formula 1 on the eve of the first official track action at Circuit of the Americas.
Infiniti sent SB Nation contributor Matt Weaver to the United States Grand Prix, giving him a behind-the-scenes look at Sebastian Vettel's attempt to secure a third-consecutive F1 World Driver's Championship. Matt writes about his expectations leading up to his first F1 Grand Prix weekend in the first of several F1 diary entries.
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