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Human Power Takes on COTA

Participants take off towards Turn 1 through the fog at COTA's first event, Formula Run

// Formula Run

Early Saturday morning amidst a thick fog and heavy traffic, the first official race to be held at Circuit of The Americas was nearing start. Organized by RunTex founder Paul Carozza and the RunTex Foundation, the Formula Run event drew about five thousand avid runners and race enthusiasts to COTA.

The participants, a mix of Austin's running-regulars and race fans, all lined up on the starting grid, ready to complete a lap of the 3.4 mile circuit. As traffic delays caused many to arrive later than expected, Chairman Bobby Epstein and RunTex founder Paul Carozza welcomed participants to the track. Echoing the visions of COTA from early on, Epstein declared his praise that such an event was the first to be held at the circuit, solidify its partnership as a venue for all types of events, motor-powered and human powered.

Vintage by Definition

The summer holidays are upon us and the Grand Prix circus is taking its customary mid-season vacation before recommencing racing duties in late-August, at Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium. Iain Robertson perceives this as a chance to review what has been and what is to come, from what he calls a ‘vintage year’ in the F1 scene.

Qualifying Preview: Hungary

Lewis Hamilton has stepped up his game and shown great pace in Friday's sessions in Hungary (photo by HOCH ZWEI)
The last race weekend before the summer break kicked off with Lewis Hamilton commanding the field in both Friday practices, being the only driver to set a sub-1:22 time in a shortened wet-dry practice 2.  His teammate, Jenson Button, also showed his grit turning in the 2nd and 6th fastest times of the two sessions, just .1 seconds behind Hamilton in P1.  Championship points leader Fernando Alonso, who has been one with his car as of late, was fast enough for 3rd and 5th.  2007 Champion Kimi Raikkonen has yet to win a race since his return to F1 this year, but demonstrated he has the pace to reach the top step of the podium by finishing 2nd in practice 2, just .185 seconds behind Hamilton.

For Saturday’s qualifying session, look for arguably the most consistent driver of the field in Alonso to challenge for a third straight pole with a streaky Hamilton nipping at his heels.  Don’t count out Button though for pole though – while he may be all but out of championship contention, he drove a brilliant race in Germany to take 2nd from Sebastian Vettel and is among the fastest when his car is healthy.  Vettel’s teammate Mark Webber has been driving consistent enough to find himself in second place in the championship race, and arguably would have landed on the podium in Germany had he not been the victim of a 5-place grid penalty for an unexpected gearbox change before.  Look for him to make a qualifying statement to Alonso along the lines of “down but not out.”

Could we see another new race winner Sunday?  With 10 grands prix left in the season, the fans are sure to be delighted this weekend with a spirited battle for momentum into Belgium in one month.

Would You Tolerate a 'Day of Rage' To See A Race?

While last Friday's announcement of the 2012 schedule caught everyone by surprise, we reacted quickly by focusing on the 2012 Formula 1 United States Grand Prix and the June 17th date for the race.  Since the news has settled down a bit and I've had some time to go back and look a little closer, I think the issue of the 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix needs to be explained a bit.

Citizens rally in protest of the Kingdom of Bahrain. Source LA Times

'A Day of Rage'

With the announcement the Bahrain Grand Prix being reinstated on the 2011 calendar (it was canceled earlier this year), protesters and human rights groups in Bahrain are calling for a 'Day of Rage' to counter the decision by the Kingdom of Bahrain and the FIA. 

As the FIA World Motor Sports Council announced on Friday, the 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix is now back on the calendar this year and set for October 30th.  In order to make room, the Indian Grand Prix has now been pushed back to December 11th following the Brazilian Grand Prix over the U.S. Thanksgiving weekend.  Not only does that leave a short 13 weeks break period between the 2011 and 2012 season, it also means that Bahrain will be 19 weeks apart from its 2012 position at the beginning of the next race season.

According to the press release, FIA Vice President Carlos Gracia spent May 31st in Bahrain to assess the situation and visit with officials from various Ministries, Circuit officials and a representative from the National Institute of Human Rights.   All of these reassurances however, are not enough to truly shed some honest light on the situation.

One Day On-Site Inspection Enough?

Bernie Eccelstone talks with Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, who was the main advocate for building the Bahrain International Circuit to host Formula 1. Source Yahoo NewsFirst, I have to question the thoroughness of such an on-site visit.  Could this on-site visit that lasted just one day really be enough to determine the appropriateness of the race?  An F1 race is no small impact on a city, on the contrary, officials from FIA and Bahrain proclaim that the impact to the economy is nearly $500 million dollars.  With over 100,000 people attending the race, the presence of F1 will be nearly impossible to ignore, and for the citizens of Bahrain, an easy target of criticism and anger as their brothers and sisters are standing up for their rights against the oppressive regime.

Now it would be a mistake to assume that politics and F1 are independent.  After all, business and politics are closely intertwined with F1.  A similar problem faced Formula 1 for the 1985 South Afrian Grand Prix, when several teams protested the GP due to the existence of apartheid in that country.  Following this race, F1 did not return until 1992 following the end of of the policy in 1991.  But the remains of the discussion and lingering attitude of the ignorant Formula 1 policy still tarnishes the return of Formula 1 to South Africa.

Reactions From Citizens, Drivers and Teams

Since the announcement, several people have come out and declared their disapproval of the decision.  F1 has been warned by Nabeel Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, that protesters are calling for a 'Day of Rage' to protest the reinstated grand prix (see Planet F1). 

Red Bull Racing Team Driver Mark WebberFrom the driver's perspective, one of the most vocal advocates for a more sensitive approach to Bahrain has been Red Bull Driver Mark Webber, and with a tweet-heard-around-the-world from his official twitter account @aussiegrit, he said "When people in a country are being hurt, the issues are bigger than sport. Let's hope the right decision is made..."  Clearly, Mark has a good point...

Red Bull Racing released a statement on their website saying "We will go through the correct channels and discuss this decision within the appropriate forum with the other F1 teams and our fellow FOTA members."  It's expected that the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) will be meeting again soon to discuss their position on the decision to return to Bahrain.  This may be the early warnings of a possible rebellious decision to not participate, similar to the threats by Ligier and Renault preceding the 1985 South African Grand Prix.  One of the major concerns that a team would likely endure is the ability to get insurance to take the team and it's assets and employees to the race.  This would likely be extremely expensive given the current situation and could prohibit the teams, especially lower budget teams, to travel to Bahrain.

Fans and non-fans are speaking their mind as well.  Even before the announcement of the schedule by the FIA, the online petition giant was well underway to expanding their plee to help stop F1 going back to Bahrain.  Their petition has reached nearly 450,000 signatures in just 72 hours, and continues to grow steadily.  This kind of pressure is hard to ignore and if it continues, will be a highly effective tool at reaching the world's media.

Keeping It In Perspective

Is a human life worth the sponsorship money and global exposure of the sport?  Clearly not; this is the extreme case but the sensitivity of the situation should be handled with extreme care.  Formula 1 does not want to have blood on it's hands should protests about the sport turn violent and result in more bloodshed.  This would forever tarnish the relationship of the sport with Bahrain, and potentially interfere with Middle-East relations with Western Countries  (the last thing anyone wants right now).

No different than the earlier season decision to postpone the race until later in 2011, it's still too early to hold another race in Bahrain.  Formula One should respectfully decline the invitation to return.  If the teams are unwilling to spend the money to travel to Bahrain and see the race, are regular citizens going to risk getting caught up in civil unrest to attend the emotionally-charged and debated race?  We need to keep things in perspective; this is, after all, a sport. It's not our place to get between the citizens of Bahrain and their Government.

Descending Upon The Austin Grand Prix - Site Visit Part I

On Friday, November 13, I hopped on yet another friendly Southwest Air flight from Chicago to Austin, but first made a few stops in Kansas City and Dallas.  This time the stops were welcomed because they allowed me to change seats (while waiting on new passengers to board the plane) and grill my Pilot on how we would be flying into Austin.  I texted Kevin to find out exactly where the future F1US site was located geographically in relation to the airport.  He quickly responded and then I pulled the pilot aside for a rather abnormal question:

“So, I have a really technical question.  Say I wanted to look out the window on our descent into Austin and see a parcel of land located about a mile and a half southeast of the airport.  What side of the plane should I be sitting on?” <insert smile and charm>

The pilot thought for about 2.5 seconds and then responded, very matter-of-factly, yet somewhat puzzled, “On the right side.”

I thanked him and took my seat in 1F – the window seat on the right side of the plane.  When we were taking off from Dallas we passed over the oldDallas Cowboys football stadium – the one that has a retractable roof.  Legend has it that Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys team owner) wanted the roof to open so that "God could watch his team play."

Cowboy's Stadium in Dallas, by HKS ArchitectsThat’s how American football works in Texas – kids start playing at age 9 and don’t stop until college or later if they’re lucky. 

It’s interesting to note that HKS Architects designed the new Cowboys stadium and they’re the architects joining Herman Tilkke for design of the Austin track and site.

Here is a promo video of the new Cowboys stadium.  Although it is really poor quality, you can start to get a feel for HKS Architect's work.  How do you think they will incorporate their work with Hermann Tilke? 


(IMHO HKS has a better high quality flash video on their company website:  HKS Sports)


Though about 200 miles south of Dallas, the flight to Austin Downtown Austin from above Elroy, TXis a quick one, and about thirty five minutes later we were making our descent into Austin Bergstrom International Airport.  We swung out to the southeast and then made a sharp hairpin turn to enter the airport headed north.   My seat on the right side of the plane allowed me to look out the window, an east-facig view, and setup for the perfect shot of the site and future track location; a view no one has shared with fans until now.  I was so excited about the idea of getting a closer look that I started snapping pictures as we got closer to the airport and to my surprise, the flight path gave me a perfect view of the site.  It's safe to say that future passengers flying into Austin from the south will pass above the track and have a perfect view of this new Austin icon.  Pretty cool, eh?

The following diagram shows the flight path we took while approaching Austin and the direction of my camera for each of the track site images.  In total, four of the images I took give a perfect view of the site and should help you understand the terrain and location a bit better (more images in the Gallery).

 Diagram of Flight Path and Images, by Kevin Olsen

Image 01

Image 02

Image 03

Image 04

Call to Action! - Support Formula 1 in Austin Zoning and Platting Commision Meeting

Loyal Formula 1 fans and Austin Grand Prix readers, we need your support for the Formula 1 United States Grand PrixTM in the next meeting with the City of Austin!  On Tuesday, November 16th, there will be a meeting for the Zoning and Platting Commission to discuss proposed changes necessary for the event.  

We need anyone and everyone to do two things to help this happen:

1. Email the Zoning and Platting Commission members at **Email address updated 11/16/10


Below is a draft email that you may use. Feel free to edit as you see fit.


Dear Zoning and Platting Commissioners: 

 As a strong advocate for bringing Formula 1 racing to Austin, Texas, I urge you to approve item #4 on the agenda for November 16, the cut and fill variance along with the slope variance for the United States Grand Prix site. City staff and the Environmental Board have recommended these two variances for the project.  And the variance requests are consistent with past requests made throughout Austin.  In addition, this project will serve as a catalyst in the City of Austin’s Desired Development Zone that has long been needed.

 Supporting these variances will bring this project a step further to becoming a reality. I am eager for the arrival of Formula 1 in Austin, Texas, and urge you to support these matters.


 Supporter of the Formula 1 United States Grand PrixTM in Austin, Texas


2. Attending the ZAP Commission meeting Tuesday, November 16 at 6:00pm.  The meeting will be held in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 301 W. 2nd Street.   Please plan to arrive by 5:45 in order to sign up in favor of item #4. You may also sign up to speak in favor at this time. Garage parking tickets can be validated inside City Hall.


Politics is fun, right?  We are hoping for a big turnout and lots of supporters willing to talk about the future facilities and the positive impact felt by having this event in Austin.  Don't forget, wear your Come And Race ItTM shirt to the meeting as well and show your support to everyone!