The city of Austin approached last year’s inaugural Grand Prix at the Circuit Of The Americas like a royal wedding coming to town, with lots of gaw-shucks boosterism and gaze-at-the-helicopters wonder. This year’s F1 event, on the other hand, was just another mega-event to a town now used to absorbing foreign invaders like a well-fortified immune system.
The crowds were large, the sausages $10 per, the traffic nearly unbearable. Sebastian Vettel dominated the race weekend, winning an unprecedented eighth grand prix in a row with such cool record-setting blandness that it took all the fun out. Everyone looked forward to 2014, when F1 will force teams to run with a V-6 turbocharged engine and will cut the amount of fuel they’re allowed to use per race by a third. Formula One, from now on, I was told at a private briefing with Shell executives (who will be providing that fuel for Ferrari), will now be about “fuel efficiency.” That’s like saying the NFL is about “mental health care,” but it should be interesting to watch for fans of a sport whose results are more or less decided by tire-changing speed (another record set at Austin, when Red Bull did a 1.9-second pit stop)
The other story of Formula One’s invasion of Texas, though, is one of class stratification. I’ve been around Austin long enough to remember when a big Saturday night meant a burger at Casino El Camino and a Riverboat Gamblers show at Emo’s. You could get out alive for 20 bucks or fewer. But for F1 this year, the most exclusive party involved a $300 minimum buy-in. I slinked in to have a look for free, based on my charm and connections.Read More »from Watching the Formula 1 party get Texas-sized in Austin