Watching the Formula 1 party get Texas-sized in Austin
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.
My Yacht Club pops up when F1 does around the world. It has a legitimate connection to the sport’s history; the guy who started it is the son of the founder of Car, the ultimate British magazine for motoring enthusiasts. At every race for a few nights, it transforms a random urban location into a high-end nightlife spot worthy of a scene from Entourage, complete with bottle service, dancing girls, and enough hair gel to lubricate a Renault engine for a whole season.
— My Yacht Group (@MyYachtGroup) November 17, 2013
The “club,” such as it was, comprised three areas. First, an entry hall, where several women behind a desk battled off a small army of people saying, “my friend said they were leaving a pass for me.” Then, once you cleared that gantlet, you got access to a bright room with a lot of stand-up tables illuminated by lamps made out of Patron tequila bottles. The room washed away in tequila, being poured in all manner of configurations — in shots, in margaritas, and also available via spouts in a wall installation. One of them was the “Spicy Austin Sipper,” featuring Patron Silver, apple cider, maple syrup, and cinnamon, obviously created by a 10-year-old mixologist from Canada. Black-and-white photos of F1’s presumed golden era — mostly the '60s and '70s, when men were men and died horribly in their cars —were projected onto the upper walls of this white room, serving in stark contrast to what was going on them below, in color, where hot women wearing black cowboy hats garishly posed for photos against a Patron backdrop while an enormous floor fan blew up their hair and their skirts.