AUSTIN SPREADS THE WORD

Favoured by F1 per­son­nel, Austin’s feel­good vibe seems to be rolling out across the US

F1 Racing (UK) - - CONTENTS -

Hav­ing sam­pled ten dif­fer­ent venues, it feels as if For­mula 1 has fi­nally found a home in the United States with the race in Austin. The venue has es­tab­lished it­self as a favourite, as much for the fun to be had off-track as the great rac­ing on it. But now it’s time to spread the mes­sage fur­ther…

From the mo­ment you touch down in Austin, you are aware this is a city un­like any other. Weird is an un­der­state­ment. The gi­ant Les Paul gui­tars that adorn the lug­gage carousel in the air­port, ac­com­pa­nied by a blues sound­track in the ar­rivals hall, re­mind you that Austin is the self-pro­claimed live mu­sic cap­i­tal of the world. But it’s not just blues, soul, rock or jazz. There’s good ol’ fash­ioned coun­try, too. This is Texas, where boot-cut jeans, over­sized belt buckles and Stet­son hats swing in time to the clas­sic Cot­toneyed Joe line dance.

Texas was once a part of Mex­ico. But it broke free to es­tab­lish it­self as an in­de­pen­dent repub­lic be­tween 1836 and 1845. That strong sense of iden­tity, which again came to the fore dur­ing the Amer­i­can Civil War, has never left Texas. It is a proud state with the un­of­fi­cial motto ‘Don’t mess with Texas’, while its state cap­i­tal’s slo­gan is: ‘Keep Austin weird’.

Austin is the largest Amer­i­can city with­out a pro­fes­sional sports team, which per­haps helps ex­plain why For­mula 1 has had such a mas­sive im­pact here – and, equally, why F1 has so fully em­braced Texan tra­di­tion. The sport is still not on the radar of the wider na­tion, but this week is all about chang­ing that per­cep­tion. Start­ing here in down­town Austin.

Tru­luck’s is an up­mar­ket ‘surf ‘n’ turf’ eatery, close to the banks of the Colorado river. As the piano tin­kles and the vo­cal­ist croons, F1R ven­tures down­stairs to dis­cover a most un­likely sight. Wear­ing a ten-gal­lon hat and at­tempt­ing to get to grips with line danc­ing is none other than Wil­liams’ en­gi­neer­ing brains, chief tech­ni­cal of­fi­cer Paddy Lowe. The danc­ing is a small sideshow in a Q&A evening hosted by spon­sor Acro­nis, a tech company that works in cy­ber pro­tec­tion. At no other event on the 21-race cal­en­dar would it be con­sid­ered a good idea to break pro­ceed­ings with a lit­tle two-step dance rou­tine, but in Austin, it seems, any­thing goes.

F1’s em­brace of the un­usual doesn’t end there. Four blocks away is a bar called The Rus­tic Tap. To one side is a stage nor­mally re­served for rhythm and blues bands, but tonight it fea­tures a mock-up mono­coque of a Red Bull F1 car. Max Ver­stap­pen is here tak­ing on the bar’s reg­u­lars and out-of-town F1 tourists in a tyre-chang­ing chal­lenge. This is Mo­bil 1’s way of tak­ing F1 to the peo­ple, and Max’s re­laxed man­ner be­lies the fact he’ll be charg­ing around the Cir­cuit of The Amer­i­cas in Fri­day’s first prac­tice ses­sion the next morn­ing. And for those who get their hands on the free drink to­kens – shaped like plec­trums – the next morn­ing could be a strug­gle…

Over on the other side of town, more fun and games are tak­ing place – this time be­hind closed doors. Trin­ity Hall is per­haps best de­scribed as ‘an event space’: an in­dus­trial venue with a mod­ern twist. The venue’s own lit­er­a­ture de­scribes the “sexy brass light fea­tures”. Right in the mid­dle of the room is a fully made-up bed – du­vet and all. It is a prop await­ing the ar­rival of Valt­teri Bot­tas. His role here is to ex­tol the virtues of Bose’s lat­est in­no­va­tion: tiny, noise-mask­ing head­phones that are de­signed to help you sleep. Per­fect, no doubt, for help­ing him doze off for real once he’s back at the Westin Ho­tel op­po­site, by block­ing out the pump­ing live mu­sic em­a­nat­ing from all the bars.

Valt­teri’s week fin­ishes with a trip over to At­lanta to watch the Fal­cons play the New York Gi­ants in the NFL. He’s ac­com­pa­nied by Mercedes team prin­ci­pal Toto Wolff and team-mate Lewis Hamilton, at the ap­pro­pri­ately named Mercedes-benz Sta­dium.

The week of the US Grand Prix has been a busy one for Wolff and Hamilton, too. Prior to Austin, they vis­ited the New York Stock Ex­change and NAS­DAQ’S head­quar­ters, where an image of Lewis was pro­jected from the fa­cade of the build­ing across Times Square. While in NYC, Lewis also ap­peared on the chat show cir­cuit, tak­ing in Good Morn­ing Amer­ica and the satir­i­cal news pro­gramme The Daily Show.

As F1R chat­ted to var­i­ous lo­cals in down­town Austin, each re­it­er­ated the fact that wider Amer­ica has no clue what For­mula 1 is. Peo­ple are aware of NASCAR and the Indianapolis 500 but as­sume F1 must be an­other part of the Indycar se­ries. Hav­ing Austin as a per­ma­nent home is the first step in try­ing to en­gage with the huge US mar­ket – but there is a long way to go. PR par­ties in Austin, while pop­u­lar and fun, are just the tip of the ice­berg.

“For­mula 1 is one of the big­gest sports in the world, with mil­lions of peo­ple watch­ing it, but in Amer­ica just as many peo­ple have no clue what it is,” says The Daily Show’s an­chor Trevor Noah to Lewis Hamilton. “When I try to ex­plain For­mula 1 to peo­ple, they say ‘what is that?’”

To the Amer­i­cans, Lewis is a sports­man in the mould of an NFL star, tran­scend­ing his sport to suc­ceed in the fields of fash­ion and mu­sic. And for the TV ex­ec­u­tives, that makes him the only box-of­fice draw of the 20 drivers on the grid. He’s do­ing his bit to sell ‘the show’, but if For­mula 1 is to achieve the same level of in­ter­est, it must reach be­yond the drivers.

On the same week­end as the US GP in Austin, For­mula 1 hosted a fan fes­ti­val in Miami, with Re­nault and Red Bull demon­strat­ing cars along the streets of the city. The high­light was a health and safety headache of a stunt, in which David Coulthard per­formed a se­ries of donuts on the top floor of a 700ft, 62-storey sky­scraper.

For­mula 1’s com­mer­cial chief Sean Bratches was in at­ten­dance in Miami and spoke again of his con­tin­u­ing de­sire to hold a sec­ond US race in the Florida city. A bid for a grand prix to be held here in 2019 was scup­pered, but there is still hope for 2020.

The eco­nomic im­pact of the grand prix in Austin should not be un­der­es­ti­mated. Fig­ures com­piled by busi­ness an­a­lysts, in­clud­ing IM­PLAN and An­geloue­co­nomics, cite that since open­ing in 2010, the Cir­cuit of The Amer­i­cas has had a cu­mu­la­tive eco­nomic im­pact of $5bil­lion on the Austin metropoli­tan area. Within that, $423 mil­lion has come from direct vis­i­tor spend­ing and there is also a $306 mil­lion an­nual pay­roll for Austin-area work­ers, at­trib­ut­able to COTA’S op­er­a­tions. Per­haps, then, what Austin is do­ing isn’t so weird: it’s sim­ple fi­nan­cial sense. For this race and F1’s long-term fu­ture in the US, long may the party con­tinue.

Time for a change? Max Ver­stap­pen takes on cus­tomers at the Rus­tic Tap, in both a quiz and a tyre change chal­lenge

Paddy Lowe goes from se­ri­ous to con­sid­er­ably less so as he shakes a leg at Tru­luck’s…

Valt­teri demon­strates the lat­est tech from spon­sor Bose – noise-mask­ing ‘sleep­buds’, per­fect for F1 rac­ers with an early start the next day…

Lo­gis­tics, health and safety are all over­come in the name of a few donuts by DC on top of a Miami sky­scraper

Shar­ing the mes­sage: Lewis and Toto take to the US talk­show cir­cuit

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