Insight: Behind-the-scenes from Formula 1's United States GP
Kimi Raikkonen visited a workshop in the countryside, Haas’ drivers dabbled in NASCAR, while everyone got rather chilly. Motorsport Week takes a look behind the scenes from Austin.
Raikkonen goes rural
On Tuesday afternoon a shed in rural Texas hosted a TV personality and a Formula 1 world champion. Jesse James’ West Coast Choppers workshop (which is a little more than just a shed) was the home for a press conference revealing the range of clothes that has been worked on in conjunction with 2007 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen. Some of the products were put on display and the attention was naturally drawn towards the ‘Leave Me Alone’ shirts! James’ facility was nothing short of astonishing, with a hot rod, Super Stadium truck, and the choppers themselves undergoing custom renovations, in a workshop that was more like mechanic heaven. “It was nice to see,” said Raikkonen, who was in attendance for several hours, rather than just hopping in and out. “It was my first time there and it was nice to see people can make a lot of things by hand, so it was cool.” The décor on one of the stools was National Rifle Association. ‘Nuff said…
Haas boys do NASCAR
Haas’ roots lie in NASCAR and finally, after almost four years, there was a crossover of sorts, with Tony Stewart bringing the No 14. Haas Automation machine to the Circuit of the Americas on Thursday. Kevin Magnussen drove Romain Grosjean before they swapped seats, carrying out a few laps of COTA. “My Dad told me every time I spoke to him on the phone for the last half year he’s been saying you have to brake at 300m so I braked at 300 and it’s not that bad,” said Magnussen. “The sound… I’ve heard these cars from the outside and it’s such an iconic sound, like the old V10, V8 F1 sound. NASCAR has such an iconic sound from the massive V8 engine, hearing that from the inside and controlling it from your own foot is such a cool experience.” And on driving with Grosjean? “When I then jumped in with him straight out of the pit box he braked exactly as late as you could into the first corner – I was sure we would go off! I was telling him [gestures a braking motion]. He definitely didn’t hold back.”
Ricciardo’s Longhorns tribute
Daniel Ricciardo has long been a fan of all things American, describing his love for Austin as “as big as their beef ribs” and for his helmet tribute this year he donned a lid to replicate the design of the Texas Longhorns’ lid. The college football team plays at the nearby University of Texas, located on the outskirts of Austin, and typically have a small presence at the US GP each year. “The first year we visited here, I fell in love with the place, the people and the atmosphere,” said Ricciardo. “The people make a city, and everyone here is so friendly. I feel like they are always very happy to have you. A bit like Mexico, they are very proud of the city they come from, and the country they come from. They are happy to host you – where are you from? Every restaurant we go to they ask where are you from and is it your first time, and suggest where you should go. They are just full of happiness. Last year I finally went to a Texas Longhorns game and it was an awesome experience so I thought this year I’d top my hat to them. I normally try and do something Austin themed here and I thought the Longhorns was a cool one with the idea to do a football helmet!”
It may not be a surprise to learn that America goes big for Hallowe’en, which took place last Thursday. People decorated their houses – with orange lights outside – while Austin’s popular 6th Street was closed off to through traffic and was filled with party-goers in elaborate outfits, some scarier than others. The streets were packed even though Austin endured its coldest Hallowe’en since 1991. While Formula 1 didn’t exactly go in for Hallowe’en there were still a few hints dotted around the paddock. A few pumpkins were placed on the corner of the press pen while inside the plant pots were a few skeleton bones and other assorted grisly items, such as a fake amputated hand and blood.
The Circuit of the Americas is a new-build venue and therefore its facilities for the media are among the best of the year. The appearance of a popcorn machine was extremely popular but another attraction was the arcade game in the media centre corridor called Golden Tee. A trackball determined the length and angle of the relevant shots across various 18-hole courses, with other game options also available. It should not come as a surprise that a few people got distracted by the virtual world across the course of the weekend, though sadly another arcade machine remained unplugged and unused. In the paddock itself there was a (real) golf challenge that had been set up by broadcasters, with Carlos Sainz Jr. taking on Juan Sebastian Munoz, while in the centre of the walkway was a Fairmont-sponsored bar that features a pool table. Unsurprisingly it wasn’t used much during the ice-cold early stages of the weekend!
F1 goes to Hollywood
Formula 1 has been striving to expand its reach in the United States where possible in recent years. A show run was held in Chicago earlier this year while attempts are continuing to bring the sport to Miami, which is already turning into a saga of soap opera proportions. On Wednesday night Mercedes, Red Bull and Renault visited Los Angeles to tear up Tinseltown, completing demonstration runs and donuts in front of spectators. “It was very special,” said Max Verstappen. “To do a show run in LA was already pretty cool, but to do it on Hollywood Boulevard was incredible. It was great, too, that so many people came out to see it. I always love coming to the US. I even came here for my summer holiday, so it’s always good to be back, and of course coming back in an F1 car makes it even better.”
Formula 1 is used to travelling to hot places so there was a definite shock when an unseasonably cold front moved into Austin on Wednesday. Temperatures barely reached double digits, there was ice on the car in the morning, while the paddock – whom had packed clothes for Mexico – raided nearby malls in favour of warm-weather clothes. The paddock resembled the start of winter testing as the woolly hats, gloves, scarves and thick coats were out in force, while broadcasters were none too keen on the exposed nature of the press pen as they huddled outside while waiting for drivers. For written press, usually shunted in favour of broadcasters, there was at least a bit of smugness. “It’s like the Monte Carlo Rally,” joked Robert Kubica as he shuffled into Williams’ hospitality unit, covered head to toe in team kit. It was even colder on Friday morning as the mercury registered just -2c prior to the first session, but fortunately it warmed up a little across the remainder of the weekend. There was also the realisation that an F1 pass handily doubles up as an ice scraper…
Try a little harder
The duration of the Rugby World Cup is such that paddock folk watched on from Singapore and Russia, had a chance to attend a match in Japan, and have continued interest from afar while in Mexico and the United States. What was the talking point through Thursday and Friday? “Where are we going to watch the rugby!?” With the England vs South Africa final kicking off at 4am, and strict licensing laws meaning bars close at 2am, there was a quandary. What to do? Fortunately McLaren stepped in and booked out a conference suite in the Doubletree by Hilton hotel, leading to the unusual sight of a smattering of team members and a throng of English journalists greeting each other in the middle of the night after varying pre-match sleep tactics. There was optimism. There was belief. But ultimately come around 5:45 there was the dispiriting taste of a deserved defeat, with the Springboks running out the clear winners. Nonetheless, there was camaraderie in losing, and a healthy grace in congratulating the South African McLaren mechanic who bravely joined the viewing party.
The curse of Netflix?
Netflix’s Drive to Survive documentary series proved incredibly popular and after some persuasive words 2018 non-participants Mercedes and Ferrari signed up to the second season, which has been filmed across 2019. Mercedes allowed the cameras in for its home event in Germany but suffered a disaster with an unwell Lewis Hamilton having an off-day, with the team’s prospects compounded by Valtteri Bottas’ crash. Mercedes nonetheless put a positive spin on events by allowing cameras back in for its Hungarian triumph, demonstrating the importance of recovering from losses. Netflix shadowed Alfa Romeo and Ferrari in Austin, on a weekend in which the team’s qualifying streak came to a close, prior to a race in which it had one car retire with shattered suspension and another finish 50 seconds off the pace. Netflix’s crew nonetheless must have been delighted by the engine allegations as it meant they were able to film an unusually punchy post-race media session!
Ton-up for the ’15-ers
There was cause for celebration in a few hospitality units on Sunday as those who joined the grid in 2015 reached the milestone of 100 grands prix. It was Honda’s century since its comeback while Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. both got to their ton of race starts on Sunday. It is quite remarkable to consider that at the age at which Verstappen was celebrating his 100th race start Lewis Hamilton had yet to make his debut in the championship! At McLaren they brought out the bunting, the orange and blue balloons, while also producing an array of cupcakes – complete with Sainz Jr.’s face on top – and an enormous ‘100 cake’ that was presented to the Spaniard while he carried out his usual pre-race interview with Movistar. Of course, a sugar-loaded fat-heavy cake is exactly what a driver wants 90 minutes before the start!