If the cowboy hats donned on the heads of the drivers atop the podium after Sunday's United States Grand Prix were any indication, Formula 1 enjoyed its stay in the Lone Star state this weekend.
The world's most prominent racing series was back in the states for the first time since the 2007 USGP at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And from the early returns; the enthusiasm, the crowd (an announced 80,000+ attended qualifying on Saturday), and the lack of traffic problems, this inaugural race at the Circuit of the Americas just outside Austin was a success. And it'll be the most-watched race of the entire weekend.
Yeah, that's including the Sprint Cup season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
On the American scene, the date choice for the first Circuit of the Americas United States Grand Prix seemed a curious one. It was up against the NFL's early games and scheduled to end during the opening segment of the Ford 400. (The University of Texas football team was off on Saturday.) Did Bernie Ecclestone and F1 want to steal some of NASCAR's thunder? Did they want to directly compete with the Cowboys and Texans? Heck, does the sanctioning body even care enough about those U.S. factors to even consider them?
After all, this is Formula 1, the land of seemingly budgetless racing.
Mario Andretti was at the U.S. Grand Prix and said to the Austin American-Statesman, said that the two races shouldn't have been run on the same day. The man would seem to be a pretty good resource on the subject; after all, he's run in both series.
"You do have a crossover of fans," Andretti said Friday. "I know, personally, some people who are down there and would've been here. And maybe even vise versa."
The Circuit of the Americas is a 3.427 mile track just southeast of Austin-Bergstrom Airport and many drivers were worried about the track's tricky approach to turn one, especially on the first lap. The run up to the almost 180 degree turn featured a steep hill into the braking zone and into the apex, which, because of the incline, seemed like it almost came out of nowhere to the drivers.
But the first lap of the race was clean, and polesitter and points leader Sebastian Vettel sprinted out to a substantial lead over teammate Mark Webber, who took second from Lewis Hamilton on the start.
However, Hamilton dispatched Webber (who ended up retiring from an engine failure) and eventually reeled in Vettel, taking the lead after the polesitter led the first 41 laps. Hamilton held on to win by six tenths of a second. (Side note: During a mid-race pit stop, Hamilton's pit crew changed all four tires on his car in an astonishing 2.4 seconds.)
That, along with Fernando Alonso's fourth place finish, meant that Vettel wasn't able to clinch the points championship at Austin and will carry a 13 point lead over Alonso into the season's final race in Sao Paulo, Brazil next weekend.