From Far East to Wild West

To paraphrase Ferris Bueller: “Formula One moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” It seems like no sooner had we handed back the keys to the Kaido racer we’d driven around Tokyo’s Shibuya district and put down our chopsticks after a big night out at Kill Bill restaurant Gonpachi than we were back on home sole and perusing emailed tickets for the next back-to-back leg of this rollercoaster rush towards the end of the season.

Are we complaining? No fear of that, especially when those tickets are taking us to two of the best races of the season – the US GP in awesome Austin and the Mexican Grand Prix in frankly mental Mexico City.

First up is Austin, home of the US GP. The USA has always been a favourite stop-off for F1, from the distant past of races at Watkins Glen and Long Beach right through short sojourns in cities such as Detroit, Phoenix and Las Vegas in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. Seven visits to Indianapolis kept the Stars and Stripes alive in F1 in the early part of this century, but it seems that in just four short seasons since 2012 Austin and the Circuit of the Americas have found a place in F1’s heart as a true home for the sport in the USA.

It’s not hard to see why. First there’s the city, which prides itself on its slogan ‘Keep Austin Weird’. That’s a pretty irresistible invitation to a travelling circus of upwards of 1000 people who spend their lives in the odd bubble that is the F1 paddock. And while Austin isn’t actually that strange it does have a laid-back charm that’s markedly different to the rest of Texas.

It’s best demonstrated in the city’s reputation as the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’ and on any given night you’re never more than a few blocks from a bar or club where a top-class bunch of local or visiting musos are bashing out anything from bluegrass to banda, Motown to metal. The wealth of great live music means there’s a wealth of great venues for bands to play in and that means plenty of late nights and sore heads early in race week and after the grand prix. The fact that it’s a compact city of around a million people means that you don’t have to travel far to find a good night out.

That goes for the city’s mouthwatering food as well. Austin is famed for its street-food trucks and they’re brilliant spots for hanging out of an evening. Then there’s the world famous Texas BBQ and Austin has more than its fair share of fantastic BBQ joints for inveterate carnivores. Add in top-notch shopping, great green spaces and loads of funky neighbourhoods to chill out in and it’s not hard to see why Austin was rated the USA’s fastest growing city of 2016 by Forbes magazine.

The Circuit of the Americas is an extension of Austin’s twin themes of approachability and unique identity. While the track was designed to incorporate sections modelled on some of the world’s great circuits – the Maggots/Becketts-like complex, a Hockenheim-style, highly technical stadium section – the sum of the parts is a circuit with an identity all of its own, and its one F1’s drivers love. As Daniel Ricciado succinctly puts it: “The track in Austin is sick, I love it.”

There’s also a wonderful community feel to the paddock. With very un-Texan understatedness it isn’t the biggest, it isn’t the most showy and it’s not the most architecturally over-the-top paddock but that’s precisely what gives COTA a lovely old-school grand prix feel.

With just four races left before the end of this marathon 21-race season there’s a very real feeling of bone-weariness among paddock people, but races like those in Austin and Mexico City are a true balm for the spirit and definitely get the racing blood pumping. It’s going to be good fortnight in the wild, wild west.