Given the speed with which the F1 calendar is changing, the US Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas will soon be one of the old-school races. And that’s OK: there won’t be many people in the paddock this weekend who don’t regard it as a classic in the making.
There's often an air of negativity surrounding new races on the F1 calendar but it's not truly valid. Many of the additions of the 21st Century have proved very popular, and COTA is the cherry on top. It's a great race track. You can see that it's borrowed bits of the layout from other circuits – there's definitely a bit of Silverstone, a bit of Hockenheim and perhaps a bit of Suzuka thrown in there – but it's also got the unique Turn One, which is like nothing else in F1. TV doesn't really do it justice: stand at the bottom and it's like a wall, rising up to the blind apex. And just for a little bit of extra spice there's multiple lines for drivers to attempt an overtake while staring up into the sky.
But it's more than an exciting track. From day one we've experience tremendous support and full grandstands. When the case was made for Austin back in 2009-2010, the points frequently raised in its favour were that it was a good fit because it rivaled Silicon Valley as the tech capital of America, and that it was the biggest population centre in the USA lacking a major professional sports team. Those are reasonable points but there's a good chance that any big city in America would have given F1 a warm welcome – because it does.
Again, there's a slightly distorted perception of F1 in America. Sure, it has a small following compared to homegrown sports but a small percentage of 320 million people is a lot of people – which means it's plenty big enough to deliver the massive enthusiastic audience that we've seen for the last two years and expect to see again this weekend. When Infiniti Red Bull Racing first appeared in F1, Indianapolis could be relied upon to deliver one of the biggest crowds of the season, and there was no reason to believe Austin would provide anything else.
That said, it's great being in Austin. The city is wonderful. Despite this not being a city race, we get the city vibe by staying downtown. It bills itself as the live music capital of America – there's a few other cities that might argue about that but from where we're sitting it's certainly very lively. Also, gradually, the support the race has had since 2012 is getting more focused: people here are choosing teams and starting to wear the kit (happily, quite a lot of ours!) and talking more and more about F1 in the (many) bars and restaurants. There's a sense that the grand prix is a big event on the social calendar in this part of Texas.
And that's what we want. Ask anyone in the paddock which are their favourite races and everyone will name somewhere different – but it's usually somewhere with a lively social scene, a great track and a big, enthusiastic crowd. It makes sense: what more could you want?