At the risk of coming across all Negative Nancy, erm, Negative Norm I mean, I feel like we Austinites should be preparing some sort of apology, or better yet and proactively a Plan of Action, to assist visitors who wind up lost, shrieking with terror, at the inanity of our road naming "system", the ineptitude of most drivers in the city and I35 in general.
I'm not sure South by Southwest is a particularly apt control for the How Bad Could It Be? experiment, simply because there are so many people in the city, walking, riding, driving, ambling, crashing, and falling on our streets that it really bears no resemblance to what things are normally like here in fair Austin. If you aren't "doing" SXSW with total commitment, and willing to experience and accept any circumstance that might befall you (a friend of mine was run over by a train of Segways, which he finds more of a point of pride, something to tell the grandkids, than an annoyance), then you probably just stay at home and pretend the downtown area has been invaded by Captain Trips or Mongol invaders or zombies until it passes like the mist from Stephen King's mind. But what's going to happen when the comparatively small but nonetheless horde-like throngs of people come for the first ever United States Grand Prix in Austin Texas, in Wheneverber of 2012?
We need an ambassador to explain the clusterfrak that is Austin traffic and assuage the anguish, because if anyone so much as leaves their hotel to wander about the city, I'm afraid we'll never see them again. Could you imagine, as a ridiculous yet terrifying example, if Mark Webber decides to take his rented Chrysler Sebring and head from the Four Seasons up to The Draught House for a pint? The scandal! All it takes is one car trip to MoPac, and they might as well have entered the Parisian catacombs without a light. MoPac/Loop 1? And if you're south coming from the airport and need to get onto MoPac, especially going south, how do you begin to explain the route without having them end up in Albuquerque? Loop 360/Capital of Texas Highway? Highway 183/Research Boulevard? Or My God! What if they wander up to 290/Koenig Lane/Northland Drive/2222??? The naming alone is an Abbott and Costello bit.
Then there's the elephant in the room. I'm looking at you, Austin drivers. Glass houses and black kettles and everything, but come on. This is just getting ridiculous. My wife and I have a game, more of a contest really, called How Many Times Were You Almost Killed on the Way Home Today? It's a lot of fun, for the whole family even! Points are based on the agreed upon ineptitude of the driver who almost offs you (wandering across lanes, reaching for a dropped cell phone, sleeping are obvious and oft cited circumstances), compounded by the speed involved (double points for combined speed as a result of near head-on collisions) and the number of other vehicles, property and/or pedestrians also nearly snuffed out in the blink of an eye. You do lose points, however, if the nearly-an-explosion was the result of someone deciding within the last 100 feet that, "Oh, THERE'S my exit!" and cutting across four lanes of traffic at a near 90-degree angle while doing 70+ MPH. Because really, you'd only end up with scores more like arena football, and that just gets boring.
Griping about traffic on an F1 blog? Trite and useless, but in terms of bridging that gap between fans and the city? We need a plan NOW. Austin traffic sucks.
OK, so did you know there's a race this weekend? And suddenly my incessant, "Don't count out Button this year" diatribes don't seem so fanboyish, now do they? This season is potentially low hanging fruit for a driver like Button. Yes, even my grandma knows he's renowned for his smooth driving, but in a year when it's decided tires specifically designed to suck should be used, he's poised to capitalize on the situation better than most other drivers, save maybe Webber. Vettel, Hamilton and Alonso, all superior competitors to Button, are also far more aggressive. I've seen those guys eat tires like Homer eats donuts. I (and everyone else, honestly) foresee the pits being a lot busier, at least until they can adapt, and Button staying out longer while turning in consistent lap times. Toss in the moveable rear wing and KERS, and slower traffic becomes less of an issue than it has in the past. He could really create some gaps out there. The final practice session in Australia seems to also bear out the fact McLaren didn't know how good their cars were until they decided to stop trying to be too clever for their own good and slap a more conventional exhaust on them. Lo and behold. Never count out Whitmarsh.
Also never count out Ross Brawn. The Merc team's Rosberg and Schumacher didn't shred in practice, but they were both fast and probably good enough for Q3, with a bit of luck. Because the other half of the stuff that isn't as exciting as the actual racing drama is that pit and race strategy will play a much larger role in outcomes than in the past. Between tire and wing and KERS management, drivers are going to have a lot to do in addition to driving perfect lines and not getting killed. Smart team bosses, and Brawn is truly the Ozymandias of F1, will be calling those shots from on high. Same as they've always done really, but it just seems the more complicated the cars get and the more aspects of the race the drivers are expected to control, the teams that will do the best are the teams with a General Patton in control, who understands every individual action the entire team performs, from the pit member who holds the fresh tires to the driver in the cockpit, and can visualize the entire clockwork mechanism in motion. This year is going to be a chess match, and probably as interesting from a management perspective as it will undoubtedly be on the circuit. I think it'll be a surprisingly good year for Mercedes, but I'm not going to say better for Schumacher or Rosberg. Yet.
Strap in. Formula 1 2011, here we go.