The lowdown on Austin

The lowdown on Austin 01

What’s Austin like to watch?

It’s taken a while for the United States Grand Prix to find a home – six different venues have hosted the race since it joined the Formula 1 world championship in 1959 – but in Austin, Texas it seems to have found just that.

Opened 10 years ago to bring Formula 1 back to the States, the Circuit of the Americas was instantly popular with drivers and fans alike. More than 100,000 spectators watched that first race in 2012, and with Formula 1 only growing in popularity in the US since then, an excellent atmosphere is nowadays guaranteed – complete with the sort of pomp and ceremony that American sports events do best.

The circuit has also put on some great races over the years. Elevation change was a central part of the track design and nowhere is that more obvious than the steep climb up to the first corner. That, combined with the width of the track at this point and the numerous different lines that are possible, creates an incredible spectacle for the fans in the grandstand and television viewers at the start of every race. This track is a thriller.

What’s Austin like to drive?

The layout at ‘COTA’ has drawn plaudits as one of the more interesting and challenging among modern Formula 1 venues.

Once drivers have chosen their line into Turn 1 and passed the apex, the circuit drops away again into a sequence of fast corners which was made to resemble Silverstone’s famous Maggotts-Becketts complex. There’s no chance to go three or four cars wide here. Like at Silverstone, the entry is especially quick before things get slightly more complex later on, so being precise with the pedal and steering inputs is important.

The elevation change rears its head again on the exit of this section, and the otherwise simple-looking Turn 10 has proven to be surprisingly tricky for some drivers over the years where it drops away on the exit over its blind brow.

What follows is a long back straight and another overtaking opportunity, before a far more technical ‘stadium’ complex which has also been the scene for some good wheel-to-wheel action. More commitment is needed soon afterwards as the speeds ramp back up through Turns 16 to 18, quick right-handers that mirror the multi-apex Turn 8 of Istanbul Park, before a pair of tighter left-handers complete the lap. It’s a breathless amalgam of some of the greatest circuits in the world.

What’s Austin like to visit?

With a slogan like ‘Keep Austin Weird’, do you really have to ask? No doubt attracted by the reputation, everyone heads towards 6th Street, which is intriguingly nicknamed ‘dirty sixth’. There’s certainly no shortage of bars, restaurants, and clubs in the area, and while everything seems pretty clean, it’s definitely raucous: Texans know how to have a good time. Austin is famous for its music scene, especially country music, and Pete’s duelling piano bar on 6th street (which says it’s ‘part concert, part bar, always a party’) is a perennial favourite of the Formula 1 crowd. The other huge influence on Austin life comes from south of the border, with Tex-Mex food being the staple diet: along with barbecued meat. There are so many good places to choose from that it’s hard to select just one, but the Tamale House (also on 6th street) never disappoints – and neither do the margaritas, which are served by the pitcher. If you didn't think that Austin was the best city in the world before getting your hands on one of those, you will afterwards…

Another favourite activity in Austin is shopping. There are several malls featuring the big designer names at good prices just outside the city (Barton Creek is recommended) but for quirky shopping in Austin itself, head down to the happening South Congress area for all sorts of hipster boutiques offering the crazy, wonderful, and exceptional – from cowboy boots to lumberjack shirts to T-shirts that you’ll need to be brave to wear in public. Let’s keep Austin weird. It’s much more interesting that way.

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