Formula 1’s Grand Prix – considered the World Cup of motor sports – was last held in the United States in 2007, but its profile has continued to heighten on this side of the Atlantic since the announcement last spring that the 2010-2021 GPs will be held in Austin, Texas.
Some within the racing community were surprised that Austin won the honor of hosting the event, especially since the United States doesn’t even have a Formula 1 team. But no one denies that the vibrant Texas capital known for its tech companies and movie-star residents was an excellent choice – if for no other reason, because Texans were prepared to stack their money on the table to bankroll the venture. State legislators, recognizing the international cachet and income Formula 1 would likely bring to the area, pledged $250 million in taxpayer-backed funding for a purpose-built, state of the art Formula 1 track.
The track is being built on a 900-acre site in southeast Travis County, only a few miles from the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. It will be the first track anywhere in the world that was constructed specifically for the Grand Prix. Heading up the Austin Grand Prix project is former Formula 3 driver Tavo Hellmund, son of Gustavo Hellmund-Rosas, one-time president of the Mexico Grand Prix.
Organizers released an impressive draft layout of the new Austin circuit, which was designed by renowned track architect Hermann Tilke. Reportedly, Tilke’s design drew inspiration from some of the world’s top existing circuits and takes advantage of the site’s natural topography by including some dramatic elevation changes.
Turns 3 through 6 are said to be comparable to Silverstone’s high-speed Maggotts/Becketts; Turns 12 through 15 give a nod to Hockenheim's stadium section; and Turns 16 through 18 mirror the infamous multi-apex Turn 8 at Istanbul Park.
“The area has natural elevation differences, which promises a fast track with difficult corners,” Hellmund told Formula1.com recently. “But the most essential thing is that has to be a masterpiece in its suitability for fans. Spectators have to be able to see large parts of the track from wherever they are.”
The 3.4-mile circuit features 20 turns and a total elevation change of 133 feet, including a steep, uphill run into the hairpin Turn 1, which is expected to become the venue’s signature corner. In common with only three other current F1 venues – Istanbul Park, Abu Dhabi's Yas Marina Circuit and Interlagos in Brazil – Austin’s circuit will run in an anticlockwise direction.
The groundwork is solid for Formula 1’s 10-year stay in Austin. It could well be the stimulant that awakens mainstream America to the excitement and glamour of F1 racing. Former F1 champ Mario Andretti was quoted in The Wall Street Journal as saying, “There's no question F1 can be very successful [in the USA],” pointing to its well-attended previous incarnations at Watkins Glen, N.Y., and Long Beach, Calif. “When you could count on the event and look forward to it year after year, it was very popular,” Andretti said.