Friday 15 December 2017

F1: Austin delivers as new home for f1

David Tremayne

LEWIS HAMILTON'S brilliant victory over Sebastian Vettel in the US Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin was the icing and the cherry on a cake that had universally been deemed delectable long before the race started.

A huge amount of effort went into creating a decent race track, which combined sections from other tracks such as Interlagos, Silverstone, Hockenheim and Istanbul Park, and would be challenging and offer drivers the possibility to overtake. They loved it.

"It's a great drivers' track," Hamilton said. "It's very tough to pull together three perfect sectors.

"Personally, I find the final two sectors easier than the first. Those high-speed changes of direction need a good set-up, and balancing that requirement against the demands of the slow-speed stuff is tricky.

"Turn One probably looks more exciting from the outside than it does from inside the cockpit, but it's certainly not easy. You can get oversteer, or lock-up, and it's tricky to get a perfect line through there."


McLaren team-mate Jenson Button, who finished fifth, agreed. "Turn One is a strange corner, with a very wide entry rather like Turn Three in India," he said.

"The section from there to Turn Nine is brilliant and free-flowing. Turn Three, the start of the esses, is fantastic. It's quicker than Becketts at Silverstone. It's very unusual to find a section of corners like this on a modern Formula One track. I love it."

Button was doubtful about overtaking opportunities but, while the leaders found it hard when following one another, he drove an aggressive race, passing many cars.

"We were surprised that the drivers found places we hadn't expected to see used for overtaking," said race steward Tim Mayer.

They do things bigger in Texas, whether it's the grandly-titled circuit's viewing tower, which looks like it should be the ultimate thrill ride; the Friday crowd for a US GP which doubled the raceday crowd in Phoenix; or the number of celebrities in the paddock.

It was teeming not just with famous faces from racing, but with actors, singers, entertainers, movie-makers and shakers, athletes from other sports and politicians.

Some were esoterically American, but that wasn't the point. Many people who weren't there would be left wishing they had been.

When you remember the first races in China and Korea, the comparison was embarrassing.

But, crucially, there was one area in which size was not too excessive, and that was Austin itself. If you'd been given 10 dollars for every time you heard an old stager suggest that it reminded them of Adelaide, you'd have been able to sponsor a team.

The final race in Australia's City of Churches attracted 500,000 people. It was the focal point, the carnival which everybody wanted to join and be part of. Street parties abounded.

When the Australian GP moved to Melbourne, with three times the population, the race became just another event and some of the magic was lost.

Downtown Austin heaved just like Adelaide did and like downtown Montreal still does, with signs everywhere welcoming the race. The FanFest street shows proved massively popular. It was F1 marketing the way it should be done.

In the days when F1 struggled to excite people in Phoenix, the crowd was around 35,000 and interest in the race minimal. Here, 65,360 came on Friday alone, 82,710 on Saturday and 117,429 on Sunday, making a total of 266,499 spectators for the weekend. Those are Silverstone-type figures.

And they came from all over – Americans, of course, but also Mexicans, there to support Sergio Perez, whose Sauber was beset by brake problems. And south Americans too, to support Felipe Massa and Bruno Senna.

They were angered when Ferrari employed some questionable tactical subterfuge by deliberately breaking a seal on Massa's gearbox, so he would be penalised five grid places and team-mate Alonso could thus move up to start on the clean side of the grid.

But the FIA deemed it perfectly legal, and after a brilliant performance, Massa admitted he was quite happy after all to have started 11th.

Was the US GP a success? It was a lot more than that.

The Formula One family awoke yesterday as if from a happy dream, the warm afterglow of a successful race in the United States radiating from the pages of the local newspapers in Texas, which all carried images of Hamilton atop the podium, beaming beneath the brim of his stetson, holding aloft the inaugural race trophy.


It was difficult not to share in Hamilton's happiness at the end of another tough year.

The 27-year-old will not be fighting for the drivers' title at the season's climax in Sao Paulo this weekend. Instead, Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel and Alonso will battle it out, the German holding a 13-point advantage over the Spaniard. Yet this thrilling victory was a reminder that Hamilton belongs in their company.

Only team errors, poor luck and reliability issues with his McLaren have held him back this year, and his deep sense of satisfaction on Sunday night was entirely understandable.

"I think I stamped my mark on the sport and showed I have the status that the others do," Hamilton said. "Even though I am not competing for first or second in the championship I still hold that drive. I just beat the supposed best.

"I have been driving at my best all year, getting stronger and stronger and this was my strongest performance of the year. To be able to push and not make mistakes and to hunt Sebastian down and see him make the mistakes is a great feeling." (© Independent News Service)

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