Home at last
“Nah, it’ll just be another Mokpo – middle of nowhere, hick little town, NASCAR, bible-belt, red-neck territory where Formula 1 is doomed to fail”
So went the line from some in the all-knowing and ever-cynical F1 paddock.
Well yah-boo-sucks to those who doubted.
Sunday’s United States Grand Prix at the brand new Circuit of the Americas was a roaring success. Close on 120,000 people were in attendance at the Austin, Texas venue, creating a fantastic atmosphere brimming over with pomp, enthusiasm, razzmatazz and good ol’ southern states fun.
Flying in from all four corners of the country, US Formula 1 fans are both knowledgeable and keen to learn more about a sport they’ve followed from afar for far too long.
In recent times only Singapore – which joined the F1 circus in 2008 – has done what Austin has now emulated: coming from nowhere, exploding onto the scene and instantly becoming one of the year’s blue riband grands prix. Every team wants to win it and every driver now dreams of victory in cowboy country.
What a shocking about-face for our sport.
Many in F1 remember only too vividly the appalling scenes at Indianapolis in 2005. A childish spat between the teams, Michelin and the FIA resulted in only six cars ‘racing’ for glory on possibly the most famous purpose-built race track in the world.
I felt ashamed that day as I walked past angry, disappointed and dumbstruck F1 fans, many of whom – understandably – vented their disgust with a tirade of acerbic profanities directed towards anyone who looked like a Formula 1 regular.
The fact that the patient and forgiving American F1 followers had ‘us’ back at Indy for another two years amazed me then as now, the sport owing those who stuck by us a sizeable debt of gratitude.
Well we are back, and back with a bang. The circuit is a modern day tour de force, the track designers producing a wonderfully flowing layout that follows the undulating topography of the land perfectly. Steep uphill into turn one; blasting back down and through a series of awesome left-right-left-right esses; a long back straight; a tricky, twisty complex; a flat-out sweeping right-hander; a tricky penultimate corner; and the lap is run.
Finished off with photogenic red, white and blue stripes (Bernie apparently had the stars painted over!) and complete with its very own soaring viewing tower, lit at night in a myriad of bright colours that can be seen from miles around.
Maybe, just maybe we’ve finally cracked it. Formula 1 in the United States has found its home, and if we mess it up this time there’s surely no coming back…