Formula 1 Inaugural United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas

I have been a fan of car racing since a friend took me to my first race when I was 18 years old.  And if you’ve read some prior posts, you’ll know that not only do I like watching races, but I like to drive the cars as well, having already taken some laps in both a NASCAR and an Indy Car and having learned some off-road skills at rally car school.  I love the whine of the cars (well, not NASCAR so much), the firesuits and helmets that make the drivers look like the Bic pen logo, the thrill of the starting lap when the cars bunch up going into the first turn, the chasing and the passing with gutsy maneuvers, etc.

When we heard that the Formula 1 circuit would include a race in Austin this year, my friend marked her calendar for the date when tickets went on sale.  We had both attended our first Formula 1 event last year in Montreal, but while the first two days had great weather, Sunday’s race day was wet and cold.  We actually missed the race itself due to a rain delay with an unknown restart time and an evening flight departure we would miss if we stayed.  With a race in Texas, we figured we had a much better chance of the weather cooperating in November.

Since this blog is basically a diary of my life experiences, and I enjoy trying new things so they tend to be very positive, it makes me sad that this post is going to be a record of one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had going to a race.  Let’s just say the major lesson to be learned is to NEVER go to an inaugural event ever!  Most often times, and as was the case last weekend, there are too many loose ends – construction and planning – that really detract from the experience.  And since Formula 1 tickets do not come cheap – ours were $320 for a three-day ticket (and that was not even close to the most expensive seats), in addition to the cost of airfare, a car rental, and a hotel with a minimum 4 night stay and prices 3x the normal daily rate – to be let down so much is extremely frustrating and a deterrent to future race outings.

So here’s the story (and I hope this reaches the organizers of the race somehow so people don’t have to endure a similar experience next year):

Track Construction:

The evidence of poor planning and time management during the construction of the facility was blatantly obvious:
1. The ground was still settling and took all of the recently laid (and dying) sod with it, causing some seriously dangerous walking conditions in some spots.
2. Instead of building permanent restrooms, the decision was made for only port-a-potties and not even the nice trailer kind with flushing features.  More money to the bottom line for the owners!
3. The organizers encouraged everyone to park in certain spots away from the track and take a 25 minute shuttle to the track, but did not explain that the shuttle stop onsite was still almost a mile walk from the track gates.  You certainly could not have any physical restrictions and come to this race.  How they passed an American with Disabilities Act inspection is beyond me!  

Crowd Management:

1. There were three ways to get around to the other side of the 3.4 mile track:  (1) take a tram/train that went about 5 mph, which was replaced by shuttle buses on Sunday that were overcrowded and only picked up maybe 8 people at each stop; (2) walk around the exterior of the track; or, (3) go over the ONE path that had TWO bridge overpasses at Turn 3 and Turn 15, both of which were not large enough to handle the quantity of people moving from one place to the other in between or after racing sessions.  The bridge issue was bad on Friday with only 50,000 people in attendance.  We avoided it on Sunday with 125,000 people in attendence!!  Plus, they had raised lighting on the floor of the bridges on the side, tripping people (i.e. me) who were unaware of their existence.  Very dangerous!
2. Again, encouraging people to use the shuttles, the line after the race on Sunday was unbelievable – probably at least a 1/4 mile long and 5 people wide. The taxi line was not as long, but since each taxi was only taking – let’s say – 3 people on average, the wait was the same.  We got on the shuttle only after an hour because at just the right time they opened up three extra crowd corrals, essentially letting us jump the queue a little.  But this line was AFTER the hour it took us to get from our seats on the other side of the track to the shuttle path.  It took us over 2.5 hours after the race to get back to our hotel!

Food and Drink:

1. The organizers took the cheap route and decided to not invest in building actual concession stands, opting to utilize the popular food trucks from Austin. These food trucks are not used to handling the volumes of people wanting something, scratch that, anything to eat.  It took us an hour to get through the line and to wait for the 1 or 2 cooks inside the truck to prepare the order.  Fortunately, we ordered when we did because 5 minutes later, they were out of chicken for their tacos, and it was early in the lunch period too!  And this was on Friday where, again, only 50,000 people were in attendance!
2. Drinks also had a long line.  And the only concessions being sold, very infrequently, in the stands that I observed, were canned beers.  On a hot day, the last thing you want to do is wait in line for a bottle of water!

Merchandise:
1. There was only 1 tent selling merchandise related specifically to the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas.  I heard one person say it took about 2 hours to get to the front of the crowd and purchase items.  We gave up after 10 minutes.
2. Team merchandise trailers shared the long line problem, albeit shorter than the solo race merchandise tent, and they were poorly stocked – running out of the most popular items early in the weekend.  In addition, the prices were extremely inflated!  I found a a jacket that I liked online for approximately $170 (translated from Euros), selling at the event for $290.  I didn’t end up buying it in either case.  I know Formula 1 is stereotyped as the “rich man” elite racing series, but come on!  A lot of people were stretching their budgets to come to this race since they can’t afford to go to all of the other events around the world.  It was such an example of greed exploiting a situation.  Of course, while the economist in me was somewhat temporarily fascinated by the scene, it still seemed criminal, in my book.  Greedy, greedy, greedy!
3. With the extremely inflated prices, one other observation was that most, if not all, of the merchandise trailers were only taking cash for purchases under $200!!!  Who carries that amount of cash on their body?

I’m sure there’s a lot more points to make, but my mind has blocked those details out as part of the recovery process from the weekend.

Best part of the weekend?  Capturing this amazing photo of the viewing tower (of course, to go up it you had to pay – I think – $35….uhhh, no!)

As for the racing experience itself, it was actually quite boring because there were not a lot of big moves save for the moment when Hamilton passed Vettel in Turn 12 for the lead.  We did have a good view from our seats in Turn 5 of the Turn 3-4-5 chicane sequence, the hard breaking before Turn 12 at the end of an overtaking zone where drivers can use their Drag Reduction System (DRS), and a turn sequence modeled on the Hockenheim “stadium section” that allows for some aggressive passing.  We didn’t spend the whole weekend in our seats, though.  We watched the Porche and the Ferrari races from the top of Turn 1, where we could see the race start and the crowded jockeying for position in the tight hairpin turn at the peak of the climb.  We also spent some of the practice and qualifying time at Turn 19 near the end of the circuit where we saw a lot of drivers taking too much speed into the turn and finding themselves off course or off line, especially during qualifying.  Of course, we had selfish reasons for claiming a spot on that corner, as well, because it didn’t require us to deal with the mess of crossing the two footbridges to the other side of the track!

Here are some photos from the weekend, including our side trip down to San Antonio to see the Alamo and have dinner on the famous Riverwalk, where I had what had to have been the world’s largest margarita!

View from Turn 5 of Turns 12-15
Austin Fan Fest – less of a music festival, more of a sponsor expo
Team Red Bull tent
Start of the Porsche Race
Turn 1 chaos!
Who needs a bumper anyway?
Start of the Ferrari race
A cleaner Turn 1 on Lap 1 for the Ferraris
Drivers Parade in classic American cars
Sebastian Vettel
Jockeying for position on Lap 1
Alanzo in his Ferrari
Best Action Shot

And now for the non-racing part, after the Friday practice we drove the short 1.25 hour drive down to San Antonio for a change of scenery.  I had never seen the Alamo before, and like most experiences seeing for the first time something you’ve only read about and seen in pictures in books or on the internet, it was a lot smaller than you would think!  One block from the Alamo site is an entrance to the Riverwalk, a below street level canal system with Venetian inspired bridges, restaurants, and shops.

See the Alamo.  Remember seeing the Alamo.  Remember the Alamo.
The Grounds of the Alamo where Santa Ana’s troops fought the Texans
At the Riverwalk, you have the option of taking a boat tour for $8.25 each
San Antonio Riverwalk
Here it is – a 60 oz. frozen margarita at Cafe Ole on the Riverwalk in San Antonio.  I bought it just to see how big it would be.  Didn’t make it through more than half, not because of the alcohol because it was quite week but because my stomach couldn’t take anymore.  Salsa bowl and silverware added for scale.
A fun bar we went to in Austin is called the Handlebar, and it’s themed entirely on crazy mustaches.  We were greeted by this handsome devil at the door.  Of course, with it being Movember, this Rollie Fingers (who by the way was signing autographs there that day) wannabe was only the beginning of the night’s visual journey of facial hair.
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2 responses to “Formula 1 Inaugural United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas

  1. Thanks for the review. My friend Pete and I cancelled going to the race after they announced you could only get to the race via bus shuttles. We were staying in San Antonio to avoid the exorbitant hotel prices. We had no desire spending five hours daily getting to/from our hotel. Based on your review we underestimated that time by an hour or two. We'll see how things go next year.Wes C

  2. Wes – You are a smart man! I believe we paid $300-400 per night for a Holiday Inn outside of Austin by the Arboretum with a minimum 4 night stay. We saw a lot of fans walking around San Antonio on our side trip. This race is like the first year of a new car model…never buy one unless you recognize the risk you're taking, that you have greater odds of buying a lemon. The inaugural Austin race was definitely a LEMON!

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