Wow! That was quite a weekend. We did not get to see anything of Austin, my only visit to downtown was a couple of hours as a guest at a dinner in a fancy steakhouse on Friday night. The rest of the time was spent at the circuit or at a hotel next to the freeway, which was decently priced and perfectly utilitarian. Today (Monday) and tomorrow are going to be spent working in the mornings and discovering the city in the afternoons. And then, just as all the Americans are getting ready for Thanksgiving, we will be off to dodge the bullets in São Paulo, where it seems the cops and the drug dealers are now in a state of open warfare… Oh joy.
Last night as we were driving back from the circuit, having decided to work in the hotel environment for a change, we were discussing life as F1 journalists these days. DT made the point that this year we have done more travelling than most people do on their lifetimes. We have had some pretty interesting adventures as well, notably in Bahrain, but on top of that we’ve been pretty much everywhere. We whinge about it a bit, but it is a great way to spend one’s life. I was trying to get this across to one or two of the US writers in Austin and, as usual, I came back to the old description: when you are kid you want to run away and join the circus. We did!
Anyway, Austin was a huge success and it will be great For F1. There was huge spectator interest and the journalists were there is large numbers as well, including such publications as The New Yorker. This is just the way to get teh word about F1 spread across the States. The Circuit of the Americas was the perfect venue and the racing was tense and exciting all the way. There were 117,429 spectators on race day, many of them who had never seen F1 before. And there were many more out there watching on TV.
One thing that many F1 veterans said in Austin was that the city reminded them of Adelaide, in Australia, where F1 had races from 1985 to 1995. Adelaide was special. We all loved it and on the morning of the last race the F1 mechanics gathered on pit straight and waved a sign saying “Thank You Adelaide” to the crowds in the grandstand. It was unprecedented and completely spontaneous. It was no PR stunt. It came from the heart.
There were 210,000 there to watch that last race and over the weekend the four-day attendance figure hit 520,000 – which is an impressive number in a city of a million souls.
Adelaide was a favourite in F1 not just because of the great organisation, the exciting race track, not even because of the topless hairdresser. It was loved because of its party atmosphere. You knew that it was going to be fun when you arrived at the airport and found a jazz band playing.
I think the key is that a million residents means that the Grand Prix is a big enough event to dominate the town, rather than being swallowed up by it, as happens in cities where there are three million or more. We all love Melbourne, but it is still not Adelaide.
When F1 comes to a town with a million people everyone knows about it and they are proud of it. Almost all of them embrace the event and get involved in some way or another, even if that only involves partying with the visitors. The result of that was Adelaide was not just a race meeting, it was a carnival and people came to town for the party, not just the race. And that was important because it added to the economic impact of the event.
Austin, which interestingly counts Adelaide as a sister city, will be like that given a little more time. It will help that in the years ahead there are plans to build up interest. There will be a Mexican Grand Prix in 2014 and hopefully there will be a second US race in New Jersey as well. That would give the sport five races in the US time zone, alongside Brazil and Canada. That would mean a sensible TV package could be found and the following can be increased. There are even whispers that F1 is trying to negotiate a deal to take over the IndyCar race in Long Beach for 2016.
That would be great.
From these kind of foundations, other things will grow. We want to see a US driver who can hack it with the best in the world, and we would love to see a US team in F1, run by a Roger Penske or a Chip Ganassi. If that one day happens and F1 becomes big in the US, the one thing we will be able to say with some certainty is that it all began that day in 2012 in Austin…
I certainly hope so.