For the next three days, Austin is an alternate sports universe. While the rest of the state (and country) will be be focused on Baylor vs. top-ranked Kansas State or the Texans’ and the Cowboys’ games, a worldwide audience will watch the United States Grand Prix–an estimated 120,000 in person and millions more on TV. It is the first-ever Formula 1 race to take place at the Circuit of Americas, just 15 miles south westeast of Austin. Here are some things you want to know about the F1 scene.
1. THERE’S ACTUALLY A RACE
For two years, most of the F1 coverage was about money … and lawsuits over money, and state-provided money, and the sport’s well-monied clientele.
Organizers have suggested that the USGP is a plum for host cities that’s on par with the Super Bowl, and as with the NFL’s big game, it seems to be a high-dollar party ( 24-karat gold champagne!) and networking bonanza first, and a sporting event second.
But the football game still matters, and so will the auto race. F1’s season title is still very much at stake; the USGP is the second-to-last race of the year, with Germany’s Sebastian Vettel currently leading Spain’s Fernando Alonso in the standings by 10 points (a topic we’ll revisit later).
So what’s the racing itself like? Eric Mores of ESPN the Magazine sums it up:
If Nascar is the NFL of motorsports in the United States, Formula One is more like soccer. While Americans prefer the knock-the-other-guy-into-next-week sport, the rest of the world goes crazy for a nuanced game in which minuscule differences in strategy and execution decide the outcome.
Mores notes that new rules have made F1 more “wheel-to-wheel” like NASCAR, while also introducing greater parity, with eight different first-place finishers so far this season (last year there were only four at this point in the schedule).
2. THE CARS ALSO TURN RIGHT
That’s the biggest difference between F1 and other types of racing, as Matt Hardigree of Jalopnik told me for a New York Times/Texas Monthly story way back in July of 2011.
That article continued:
Unlike NASCAR’s oval, F1 tracks have turns and elevation changes, but less passing and less crashing. Like Indy, F1 is open-wheel racing, not the more popular stock car action. But F1 is a Mac compared to Indycar’s PC—more proprietary technology, more speed, more money.
“The great thing about Formula One that I think Texans will love is that it is really fast, really loud racing,” Hardigree said. “I think that what they won’t be used to is the fact that Americans suck at it.” (Phil Hill, in the