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GP Week : Issue 195
20 GPWEEK.com // 20 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: Last year, Austin received a rapturous welcome from the F1 circus, with all and sundry proclaiming the Texan race to be the best debut of a grand prix that they could remember attending. My memory of attending races stretches back a scant four years, but according to those rather more experienced Austin was even better than Adelaide. The first race at COTA took place against the backdrop of a to-the-wire title fight, with Lewis Hamilton’s win for McLaren ensuring that Sebastian Vettel would not be leaving Austin a triple world champion. In addition to the excitements on track there was the thrill of turning up at a new race that actually seemed to want us there. America has a long racing history, after all, dating back to the birth of the motor car. And while F1’s relationship with the States has been patchy at best, you wouldn’t have known it from the enthusiastic reception we received both at the track and in the town, where fans both passionate and curious wanted to soak up as much F1 knowledge as they could. There was always the chance that the second year wouldn’t be as great a success – second album syndrome in racing form – but as far as the city of Austin is concerned, F1 has only gone from strength to strength. I arrived on the Monday before the grand prix, keen to eat as much barbecue and TexMex as I could before the action started. Austin’s tiny airport was already heaving with out of town fans wearing team kit, and billboards celebrating the race and welcoming attendees dotted the interstate as you headed downtown. On hearing my foreign accent, all and sundry wanted to know if I was here for the race, and proceeded to tell me just how excited they were about the prospect of screaming engines and wild parties. Whether or not they had any interest in Formula One as a sport, the people of Austin were enthusiastic about it as a chance to meet new people, show off their (fantastic) city, and have a good time. It’s just a shame that the same can’t be said for the circuit, which went from hero to zero in the space of 12 short months. On the face of things, little has changed at the Circuit of the Americas. The media centre is still big enough to play host to a professional football match, the track itself is still made up of challenging corners made more thrilling by the sweeping undulations of the Travis County terrain, and the paddock is still cast in perpetual shadow by the height of the pit building. But a few short minutes after arriving in the media car park it was obvious that standards had slipped. Circuit officials had elected not to run shuttles to the paddock on Thursday morning, giving photographers and broadcasters a long walk on the one day they had to schlep their heavy equipment into the track. By the evening, when the shuttles were running, all of that kit was safely stowed away in lockers. It was a small detail, but one that spoke volumes about the lack of attention to detail that had gone into planning the second race at COTA. Last year’s smiling security staff had been replaced by a surly group of officials seemingly borrowed from TSA for the weekend, such was their naked hostility at anyone who dared walk in the direction of the paddock. Passes were checked at three points before the paddock security gates, and demands to see accreditation were shouted. It was a far cry from 2012, when the circuit security staff greeted all comers with a smile and a handshake. By the Friday afternoon, we had all been on first-name terms with Paul, who stood outside the media centre and greeted every single journalist by name. This year, Paul’s replacement was more interested in shouting than she was in smiling, and her dedication to preventing any form of ingress led to a few contretemps as she attempted to block those in FIA uniform from entering the building. In 2012, Austin was the perfect package of circuit and city. In 2013, however, the city of Austin has exceeded its already high standards while COTA’s have fallen faster than an RB9 in qualifying trim. COTA DONE IT BETTER OPINION OPINION KATE WALKER Editor