Into our seventh year, we’re still not sure if ‘Keep Austin Weird’ is the official mission statement of the Texas capital, or merely wishful thinking on the part of its residents. Weird is a pretty subjective term. The city seems pretty normal to us. Maybe that means we’re weird too.
The word we’d probably use to describe Austin is ‘great’. Over the years Red Bull Racing has been competing, there have been plenty of new venues but none have felt like quite so perfect a fit as the Texan capital.
Whenever F1 goes somewhere new it’s looking for an engaging circuit and an enthusiastic audience. Austin had no problem providing either of those: noisy grandstands, plenty of people and a circuit purpose-built for F1 that delivers the sort of spectacle that the audience deserves.
The Circuit of the Americas (COTA) pays its dues. The run down the hill in the first sector has the high-speed, swift changes of direction that mimic Suzuka’s Esses or Silverstone’s Maggotts-Becketts-Chapel complex. It then has a fast run into something similar to the Adelaide Hairpin from Magny-Cours, before the lap ends in something that looks a bit like the mirror-image of Hockenheim’s Stadium. It isn’t all a lift though: COTA’s signature turn is all its own. Turn One is an enormous corner: uphill, blind and with multiple lines; very much the place where things happen.
Our best day at COTA came in 2013: Sebastian Vettel won the race from pole position and snaffled fastest lap into the bargain. Mark came home third – but along the way participated in a pitstop that lasted just 1.92 seconds. As far as anyone can make out, it was the first sub-two seconds stop in the history of the sport.
Seb also managed pole at the inaugural COTA race and gave us three consecutive fastest laps between 2012 and 2014. We’ve also had three other podiums at COTA. Seb again in 2012, and Daniel in 2014 and 2016. Max crossed the line third last year – though he wasn’t particularly happy to be demoted to fourth after his last gasp lunge was a lunge too far for the stewards.
Not essential for a good grand prix but certainly on our wish list is evidence of life beyond the circuit gates. Austin most definitely has that. The city calls itself the live music capital of the world – and certainly there’s no shortage of live bands to go and watch, if you’re not too busy hunting down steak or a barbecue – or perhaps a barbecued steak in front of a live band. Basically, no-one from the F1 travelling circus has ever claimed to lack for something to do in the evenings.
Austin has very much embraced the grand prix, with all manner of downtown promotions and show runs – but we’re still the minority sport in the US of A. It’s a different sensation to pretty much everywhere else: around the world F1 tends to get top-billing wherever it goes, but in Austin we’re still on the undercard if there’s an important college (American) football game in town. This, frankly, feels a bit weird – but Austin likes weird, so we’re OK with it too.