As America prepares for its annual rite of giving thanks for all the extraordinary bounty that its citizenry enjoys, the nation's Formula 1 fans have special reasons to feel appreciative. The spectacular inaugural United States Grand Prix at Austin's Circuit of The Americas earned rave reviews from attendees and wowed even hardened cynics among the Formula 1 press corps. Bringing grand prix racing back to this country after a five-year absence was a memorable accomplishment in itself, but by doing such in such epic fashion, Circuit of The Americas effectively relaunched the sport in a way that could reverberate far into the future.
The $400 million sports and entertainment venue was still being rushed to completion in the days leading up to its international premiere, but delighted those in the packed grandstands as well as the millions watching on TV. The 3.4-mile, 20-turn circuit delivered on its designers' promise of multiple opportunities for overtaking. Yes, Lewis Hamilton's decisive pass of polesitter Sebastian Vettel into Turn 12 may have owed much to the peculiarities of F1's Drag Reduction System, but there was considerable passing through the field, not least into and through the uphill Turn 1, witness to several close-quarters but notably accident-free moments during the race.
The official estimate of 117,429 race day attendance pushed the reported three-day crowd to 265,499. Like most crowd estimates these days that might have been a tad optimistic, but there's no doubting that Circuit of The Americas was well packed. Indeed, the few logistical problems of the weekend were the products of strong attendance – some long lines for trackside food and beverages, and problematic cell phone service as tens of thousands of callers vied for airspace.
“I would say we lost thousands because we ran out of beer,” Mika Scott, working at a drink stand as a fundraiser for a local youth sports group, told the Austin Statesman. “It was insane we ran out of beer at a Formula 1 event.”
By contrast, the most widely predicted bugbear – traffic – proved pleasantly unproblematic, with wait times well within accepted norms for major entertainment events.
“I've been to the Indianapolis 500 32 times. This is not a transportation problem,” Jim Bruner, visiting from Arizona, told the Statesman when asked about the traffic as he rode one of the official shuttles to the track on race day morning. “I expected it to take three hours to get to the track from my hotel. It's taking a little over one hour.”
The effective forward planning extended beyond the track, as commercial airlines at Austin's airport added flights and brought in larger aircraft for regularly scheduled flights to accommodate the large traffic load. Initial reports also supported the argument of race organizers that the event would significantly boost local revenues, too, with 60 percent of tickets being sold to buyers from outside Texas. Certainly, the presence of a large contingent of fans from nearby Mexico (ABOVE) to cheer on Sergio Perez helped make the circuit's name particularly apropos.
“The circuit was fantastic and the fans fantastic all weekend,” Fernando Alonso told COTA ambassador Mario Andretti, podium interview host for the race. “Big thanks to all the fans coming here, Americans, Mexicans and the South Americans who came also to support us. We enjoyed racing here thanks to the fans, thanks to the fantastic facilities, and I hope we put on a good show for everybody and people will enjoy even more next year.”
That's the key question, of course: Can the inspiring vibe of the inaugural race be sustained through year two and beyond? But the most powerful “viral marketing tool” – word of mouth – can only help Austin's case based on the results of last weekend. And for that, race fans can continue to give thanks.