The United States Grand Prix roars into the Circuit of the Americas Sunday. The race marks the end of an odyssey that began years ago when Tavo Hellmund discussed the idea of bringing Formula 1 to Austin with his longtime family friend, F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone. It was Helmund who drew out the raw beginnings of this track himself with pencil and paper.
Getting from there to here was nothing short of great Texas drama. Hellmund will be watching the race from the stands (or more likely from Ecclestone's suite) as a fan, not as an owner anymore. Hellmund's unceremonious departure nearly killed the project a year ago and threw the construction schedule dangerously behind.
Looking around you will see the markings of fan favorites everywhere — Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull, flags of Sweden, the U.K., Mexico, signs cheering for Lewis Hamilton, Sebastiian Vettel and a clear favorite here in Austin especially, Mexican Formula 1 driver Sergio Perez.
You can read about all the details, but suffice it to say the vision of Bobby Epstein, COTA's co-founder, combined with the unconstrained optimism of main investor Red McCombs made this day a reality.
Formula 1 race cars are screaming in Austin, Texas before 120,000 roaring fans. And those fans, as many as a third from outside the U.S. seem to approve.
The Circuit of the Americas (COTA) is not just a great American sports venue, it is one of the best in the world and this weekend COTA hosts one of the world's greatest sporting events.
Got it fixed
Saturday became qualifying day for both entities as well. While Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel took the race pole, COTA fine-tuned what they learned on day one.
On a gorgeous "chamber of commerce" Texas day, the Circuit played the part of international host and won accolades from nearly all of the 82,000 fans who showed up.
COTA added more buses, they adjusted the entry and exit routes slightly, traffic was not horrendous and they fully stocked the restaurants and bars — no VIP went without vodka for even a moment on Saturday. The result was a pretty flawless day.
At the Circuit
While the circuit is huge — the track is almost three and a half miles — it is very walkable.
If you listen carefully beyond the roar of engines and the beeping of cash registers, you will hear dozens of languages being spoken; the smell of BBQ and burgers from local vendors like The Salt Lick and food trailers fills the air; looking around you will see the markings of fan favorites everywhere — Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull, flags of Sweden, the U.K., Mexico, signs cheering for Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and a clear favorite here in Austin especially, Mexican Formula 1 driver Sergio Perez.
The 22 year-old Perez from Guadalajara drives for the Sauber team this season, but he just recently signed with the elite McLaren team for next year.
Perez named Circuit of the Americas his home circuit and on Saturday as he finished his qualifying run, he could be seen waving to the crowd from his cockpit with Mexican flags waving and fans cheering. Of all the international visitors, none are more prevalent than Latinos here to cheer on a favorite son. COTA marketed heavily to Latin America and those efforts paid huge dividends.
There have been many skeptics about Formula 1 in Austin and many debates about how our town would fare on this international stage. It's too early to judge how Austin is doing, but the exit polls are looking good. One thing is clear though, this venue — built with all private money, bringing hundreds of millions of dollars into the region, employing thousands of people and introducing over 100,000 visitors to our city — and this Grand Prix are already an unqualified success, and we haven't even run the race yet.
The United States Grand Prix begins at Circuit of the Americas Sunday at 1 p.m. The race will air live on the Speed Channel.