Today, Sebastian Vettel of Infiniti Red Bull Racing made motorsport history, claiming his spot in the F1 record books by winning his 8th consecutive Grand Prix, surpassing Ferrari’s Mark Schumacher who racked up a string of seven wins in 2004. I was glued to my phone as we drove back from a quick trip to Dallas on family business, avidly following the Twitter feed (#USGP) and shocked to see that two completely different races were under way. One was evidently the most boring event ever while the other was an exciting contest. How could this schism be so great?
I found the entire thing to be riveting, not just the race going on over the Circuit of The Americas course but the accompanying fan commentary as well. Those on Team Boring were hoping for gearbox failure, tire issues, or some other mishap to dethrone Vettel and wrest making history from his grasp. This camp was also more anti-Vettel, making comments that F1 was being “ruined,” had become “boring,” and quipped about what the German driver must’ve been doing while he was driving “all alone.” Team Excitement was more focused on a variety of other factors and following the strategic moves of various teams, engineers, and the men behind the motors. There was more positive discussion about who was driving well and commentary about the reasoning behind pit stops, tire changes, and a variety of technical issues and penalties. (There was actually a third group full of people whom I really pitied—the folks whose U.S. Grand Prix viewing was totally hijacked by weather warnings.)
Where did I fall? I’m glad that Austin was host to this history-making event, and I was firmly camped in Team Excitement—but perhaps for different reasons. I found the whole concept of team driving versus individual glory fascinating. Was bad blood and looming retirement enough to drive Mark Webber to ruin his teammate’s moment in the sun? Would the two rivals make ego-driven mistakes, enabling an exciting upset? Would Vettel be his own worst enemy, his desire to crush the field pushing his car’s limits and opening the window for a catastrophic failure in tires? Would Fate simply throw a wrench into the whole proceeding? And how exactly would the battle for the remaining points play out?
I cheered on the Williams F1 team driver Valtteri Bottas, who claimed his first F1 points with an 8th place finish, and despaired over teammate Pastor Maldonado’s car problems and disappointing claims of team sabotage. I’d hoped for a better finish for Lotus’ Heikki Kovalainen but KERS problems and a second pit stop cost him dearly and he finished 15th. And how about Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso who, despite reports of persistent headaches, nabbed a 5th place spot to move into second place in the Championship?
I marveled at some numbers. The #USGP overtook #SundayFootball on Twitter at times, and there were insanely quick pit stops: the Red Bull sensors had Mark Webber’s pit stop at 1.95 seconds—as one tweet pointed out, that’s faster than most can get off the couch, much less change four tires. The lap times seemed to get faster and faster, Vettel saving his quickest for the end, as did Webber and Grosjean. The final ten laps of the race were, at least to my mind, completely engrossing and, despite what seemed to be a sure win for Vettel, intensely exciting.
There seems to be a love/hate relationship with the cowboy hats that were awarded to last year’s podium finishers and much exclamation ensued at the lack of their presence this year. Scorn was heaped on the NBC broadcast regarding commercials (the timing and number of) and technical problems, not to mention a failure to show the traditional Drivers’ Parade at the start. Not surprisingly, much love was showered on the Longhorn Band, COTA’s Grid Girls, the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, and the purely Texan twang of barbeque in the circuit air.
Saturday’s P3 and qualifying round saw 78,886 fans and the Grand Prix today drew in 113,162, bringing the grand total of trackside viewers over the three-day motorsport event to 250,324 people. Aside from the helicopter/weather-related delays, some continuing transportation issues (which may have solely affected employees and media), and a “suspicious incident at Turn 1” that delayed fan entrance to the grounds for a short time today, it appears that COTA has pulled off another stunner of a sporting event.
I’m going to leave you with a pictorial recounting of today’s events; take a look at our Austin Fit Magazine Facebook page to see the sights of the U.S. Grand Prix from Art Director Weston Carls’ lens.
I can’t wait for next year!