Everything is bigger in Texas, so they say, and that was indeed the case during the recent US Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin when Liberty Media ramped up the pre-race razzmatazz to a degree that met with mixed approval.
For the first time, Formula 1 went big on introducing the drivers to the crowd, with a carefully choreographed build-up that included big-screen images, followed by dry ice and confetti, and the individuals in question walking out in twos from the corridor between the Red Bull and Mercedes garages, to a voice-over provided by famed boxing figure Michael Buffer.
First came Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson; Stoffel Vandoorne and Fernando Alonso; Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz. Then Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean; Daniil Kvyat and Brendon Hartley; Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll; Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon. Then Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen; Daniel Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas. Finally, the title contenders, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. In a nice touch, the champion’s trophy stood between them.
Hamilton loved it, and spoke warmly of the excitement of awaiting his turn: “I think it was amazing. There was a little bit of waiting in the hallway, for everyone to go out. That part felt a little bit long, but I think they just ‘made the Super Bowl here’, they made the race. I think the entertainment was the best we’ve seen, with the drum line, the whole band. Yeah, I think the whole setup. It was great to see something different. For many years, the whole 10 years, it’s been the same old boring thing on the grid, except for now you have the national anthem, but that’s not really too exciting.
“I think this one was just much more like an NFL game, which is exciting, with the fireworks and everything, so I think they did a really great job and I think they will learn and grow from this.”
Vettel, a quieter character (at least, out of the cockpit!) was less enthused: “I think for the people it might be nice if they like it and obviously it’s a nice idea. For me, I don’t really care to be honest. I like jumping in the car and racing. I’m not a big showman.”
Kimi Raikkonen actually said something funny: “I think it’s something different, but everybody knows my option, what I would take.”
Some observers were bemused, others outraged. Some saw it as far too WWF or UFC: “In the blue corner, weighing in at 100 lb dripping wet, Fightin’ Felipe Mah-sah!”
It reminded me a little of the grand prix at Indianapolis in the days after 9/11, and the huge emotional wave everybody felt as the Star-Spangled Banner was sung and we joined our American brothers with our right fist over our heart and a massive lump in our throats.
I’d suggest that the drivers need to appear more energized and perhaps less self-conscious, and I’m not sure it would go down so well in China, or even Monaco, so maybe it’s a case of horses for courses. But personally, I thought it worked pretty well in the American environment, and applauded the experiment. I like the way that Liberty is willing to give things a try, and the music, barbecue and games at one end of the paddock are a welcome addition. They give guests something to do, and if all this makes spectators feel as if they have been to an event when they come to a grand prix, then I’m all for it.
If you’ve ever been to the Indianapolis 500, you’ll know what I mean. The build-up to that truly is awesome, to use that horribly overworked adjective.
In Austin, the use of Usain Bolt was also inspired (even if he’s about 750mph short of being the fastest man on Earth as he was continually and irritatingly being touted by those who have never heard of Mr Supersonic, Andy Green, who really is The Fastest Man on Earth and deserves the capitals), as he waved the cars away on the grid lap and later made a valiant stab at the podium ceremonies.
Bill Clinton, too, was an important part of it all – when was the last time a US president was seen at a GP? I loved the reception he got as he walked back into the pitlane to cries of “One more term, one more term!”
Submitted by PMW Columnist, David Tremayne