Sebastian Vettel cruised to his eighth consecutive Formula One victory Sunday in front of a packed house of American fans at the Circuit of the Americas track near Austin. Vettel makes his job look easy, but for fans, navigating a venue with a race day crowd of 113,000 around a sprawling Grand Prix facility can be dizzying. Here are some tips that we discovered over the weekend that can make a next visit to COTA even better.
TIP: Skip the boring hot dogs and find some interesting food. It's all around you. We covered the incredible variety of vendors and caterers serving concessions at Circuit of the Americas, and there really is something for everyone.
The striking observation tower at Circuit of the Americas is so photogenic that I want to take a picture of it every time I have a clear view of it. And I do. I haven't been to the top yet, but it's a pretty brilliant, recognizable landmark for the track. A motorsport beacon.
TIP: Try the COTA Flame ($12). The new signature beverage includes Tito's Vodka, Paula's Texas Orange and Bad Dog Barcraft's FIre and Damnation Bitters, and it adds up to a refreshing, tasty cocktail. Plus it's the only way to get the awesome glass (I'm building a collection of these at home). If you missed it this weekend, it's also available at the W Austin.
TIP: Wear comfortable shoes. This probably applies to any racing event, but especially here. The place is huge; the elevation, as seen in this shot from Turn 1, is immense; and the terrain can be uneven and unpaved at times.
TIP: Dress up in costumes honoring your favorite team. I mean, probably. I wouldn't really know, but they seemed to be having fun.
These guys are awesome.
A packed crowd at the highest point on the track, Turn 1.
TIP: I had bleachers at Turn 3. I would recommend not doing this. Why? The "seats" are tiny, and it gets really claustrophobic really fast. The hard metal is uncomfortable, and the people seated four inches away from your in every direction are sure to be (A) smoking, (B) loudly spouting off nonsense you have to listen to, (C) infringing on your space with annoying clip-on "bleacher chairs" that stick into your row or (D) all of the above. The bleachers are great for getting visibility above the fences and not having to carry a chair. But I'd rather be in the grass and have room to breathe.
Opening lap of the United States Grand Prix, from Turn 3.
So what should you do if you don't want to sit in bleachers?
TIP: Find a place at Turn 2. The grass is elevated enough that you have great visibility of several parts of the track, and even at the most crowded time of day, there was some space to walk around and see the action. The cars are on power as they come out of Turn 1 and down the hill, so there's a great sensation of speed. Additionally, the pathways adjacent to Turn 2 are wider and less congested, and the concessions are less crowded.
Fans in Turn 2 watching the Grand Prix
TIP: If you can get somehow get Formula 1 paddock access … do that. More on that later.
TIP: Learn the basics about tire ("tyre") strategies and keep track of who's on what tires throughout the race. These are the white sidewall tires, which were the softer compound this weekend.
TIP: Walk around. As this shot from Turn 19 shows, the elevation allows for tons of viewing opportunities.
TIP: Have sun protection, even in November (but you knew that, because this is Texas).
TIP: Try Turn 20 (pictured, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1) and Turn 9 if you want to be as close as possible to the cars and really experience the race. Watching from a high vantage point from far away can be great for following the race, but doesn't come close to the sensation of being right up near the fence while Formula 1 cars power out of corners and accelerate at full throttle. Turn 20 offers a great line of sight to see how different drivers approach the corner and carry through it.