In Austin, Formula One finds a new home deep in the heart of Texas
The track at the Circuit Of The Americas, which appeared in a field of Central Texas cow patties seemingly overnight like some sort of racing Shangri-La, had never felt the pressure of Formula One tires. Sebastian Vettel, two-time defending F1 individual champion and the prohibitive favorite to bring home a third, was running the course in a car painted like a can of Red Bull and built by Renault engineers to perform like a high-pitched rocket to hell. It was Friday, 9 a.m. Down in the pit, 20 or so clean-cut serious men, their clothing festooned with Red Bull and Infiniti logos, kept a steady eye on equipment so high-tech, it seemed to have come out of an espionage thriller. The paddock gleamed, looking less like a garage and more like a billionaire villain's lair.
"Decent gap ahead of the Lotus if you can get it," said one of the techs.
A video monitor showed the great Vettel doing a spinout. The track still had dust on it; this was, literally, opening day. In little more than 48 hours, it would play host to a real live Grand Prix, the first in the United States since 2007. Vettel and his fellow drivers were in the process of deflowering virgin asphalt.
"Stop in your box and lay rubber," the British-accented (or was it German?) voice said. This sounded vaguely obscene, but "laying some rubber" would be important on this track, which had about as much grip as a lacquered coffee table. "The infield is slow and slippery, really slow and slippery," the transom said.
As Vettel screamed around Turn 19, we heard, "Sebastian will be coming into the white pit, stopping four clicks, and rubbering the box."
Vettel zipped his Red Bull spaceship car into the dock and whipped out just as quickly, leaving a thick black tread on the white concrete. The more he and his fellow drivers did that, the more they'd be laying hot rubber down on the track. "Rubber the box, Sebastian," I heard. "Rubber the box."
Two cappuccinos later, our media minders from Infiniti ushered us into a private dining suite, where we'd soon be meeting with Christian Horner, who runs Red Bull's racing team, the best-funded and most successful in the world. For inexplicable reasons, a beautiful woman with short black hair served us sushi, miso soup, and green tea, all on real china.