Race Blog
United States 2016

Ten-gallon hat

Best grand prix in the world? Maybe. I’m struggling to think of one that’s all-round better.

A challenging, twisty and technical up-and-down-hill track; modern pits; a press room manned by courteous, friendly and helpful staff; thousands and thousands of enthusiastic and knowledgeable fans; almost always great weather; and, nearby, a city chock full of music clubs, bars, finger-lickingly great food, and cheerful folk happy to live in a creative hub enjoying an upward curve in both popularity and reputation. 

Hell, this year they even had one of the world’s biggest pop stars on hand to sing a few songs! 

Why can’t all F1 weekends be like the 2016 United States Grand Prix?

Post-disaster in 2015, things needed to change fast. International rescue arrived in the shape of successful Formula 1 marketer Katja Heim and her KHP crew. Parachuted in to put a creative and forward-thinking rocket up the backsides of the Circuit Of The Americas organisation, Katja worked quickly.

What a difference a year makes…

Sure, 2015’s hurricane was long gone, replaced by sizzling sunshine and a clear blue sky, but it’s the details that can be controlled that made the weekend such a success.

As I walked back from an FP2 shoot in one of the many grandstands that offer a great view, an interesting character said “Hello”.

I did my best to look my new friend in the eye – dressed, as he was, in a Mercedes T-shirt, a purple tartan kilt swinging above spectacularly embroidered cowboy boots, the intriguing ensemble topped off with a ten-gallon cowboy hat!

What we had here, laden with expensive camera kit, was a bona fide F1 super fan. Flying in to Texas straight from Christchurch – yes, the earthquake-shattered city in New Zealand’s south island – he was full of informed opinions.

No F1 rookie, he: COTA was his fifth grand prix weekend of the year. Already under his sporran were 2016 trips to Melbourne, Montreal, Monza and Spa. That’s a serious commitment to a sport from a dedicated fan. I congratulated him on his admirable devotion to the cause.

We discussed many topics, but chief among them was his bewilderment at the attitude of some grand prix promoters: “Melbourne do a great job, Montreal’s not bad, COTA’s the best, but Monza and Spa – bloody awful.”

“About 98% of the F1 paddock would agree with ya’,” I replied.

Unhelpful staff, lack of spectator-friendly amenities and facilities, and eye-wateringly over-priced tickets were just a few of his – very reasonable – gripes about the grandee venues.

Before you leap to the defence of F1’s ‘traditional’ races, I am well aware of the financial and political difficulties facing the sport, but excuses are the crutches of the ill-prepared and just don’t wash. With the help of Katja’s guys ‘n’ gals COTA was a roaring success, a salvo across the bows of all those complacent old-school venues in need of some creative thoughts.

Working trackside during Saturday and Sunday I spied F1’s number one fan a couple more times. Experiencing the technological marvels we should all enjoy, he was walking purposefully – in his purple kilt! – from corner to corner so as to really appreciate his heroes at work.

Good on you my friend, and I hope to see you again soon…


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