All eyes are on Austin this morning, as the world awaits the start of the 2012 Formula 1 United States Grand Prix. Since inception, the concept of having Formula 1 back in the U.S. has sparked global conversation about the future of the sport in America. Today, American motorsport will be redefined as the highest class of racing takes to the track for the first F1 Grand Prix in the U.S. since 2007.
On May 25, 2010, Formula 1 announced Austin would be the host city for the USGP. Shocking many who expected New York to be the host, Austin was not met with open arms by the paddock or fans worldwide. As details of the track surfaced, the man behind the vision, Tavo Helmund, stepped forward to explain the concept. From the first inking with his long-time friend and MotoGP champion Kevin Schwantz, the circuit’s design has always been a driver’s circuit. The elevation and complex turn sequences were designed to be a challenge to drivers and sure to make some great racing action.
Over two and half years later, the project has reached its day of reckoning. Hurdles to full support from the State of Texas and Austin City Council were early challenges to the project. As construction continued, in the background an internal struggle over the project was brewing. Disagreements arose between Tavo and the expanding executive team; eventually, Tavo would leave the project.
In November 2011, with just one year to go until the scheduled race, contract disputes between COTA, Tavo and F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone meant the race might not happen in 2012. For several weeks, construction stopped and the sentiment was a 2012 USGP was not going to happen. Finally, on December 7, negotiations concluded and Circuit of The Americas had secured the USGP again: November 18, 2012 was race day.
Construction blasted forward and the structures grew at amazing pace. By April, the circuit started to look like a proper grand prix facility and the potential for a great race was in sight. When fall came around and FIA’s Charlie Whiting announced inspection was all clear, the project became the talk of the paddock as Austin was the next major hurdle to clear to finish out the season.
When the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix finished just two weeks ago, the teams, drivers and media started to anticipate the upcoming race in Austin. A new, untested facility was bound to present challenges and shake up the championship competition between Vettel and Alonso. Whoever could grab the win in Austin might have a chance to secure the 2012 Driver’s title, making the inaugural event in Austin that much more special.
Now, after years of anticipation, race day is here. The day is crisp and cool, the smell of gasoline (petrol is you prefer) and rubber fill the air, and energy is abounds as the event is unfolding before our eyes. This weekend’s practice and qualifying sessions have proven the circuit is what is was designed to be, a true driver’s circuit.
The action today should be spectacular. The spectators will not be disappointed. From the paddock, the word this weekend is Austin has something really special, between the Circuit and the city, this event has not met a single round of criticism, something everyone including fans, Tavo, COTA and Bernie should be quite proud of.