In just three years, why have Austin and COTA become favorites for F1?

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Formula 1’s growth in the United States of the past three years has been unprecedented. Since the return of the grand prix in Austin, Texas, the sport has enjoyed a boom in interest, with fans flocking to the city each year for the race.

As with any new grand prix, there was a certain amount of novelty at first, but it appears to be more sustained than that. The problematic American market may not have been totally cracked yet, but the event has gone a long way to helping make this happen.

So why have Austin and COTA become such firm favorites of the sport in such a short space of time?

Let’s start with the city: Austin. The slogan is “Keep Austin Weird”, and it a great hive of activity and interest around the grand prix weekend. For some races, there is zero marketing or even acknowledgement of the race beyond the circuit. In Austin, from the moment that you step off the plane, the adverts, posters and checkered flags are there to see. The event is embraced by the city.

The very fact that it is a city does go a long way to helping make it a firm fixture on the calendar. The big problem with the Korean Grand Prix in Mokpo was that it was located a four-hour train journey away from Seoul. Originally, the plan was to build a city around the race and the track, but this ultimately fell flat, resulting in its removal from the calendar for the 2014 season.

Austin is a well-connected and buzzing city, meaning that fans can get in from pretty much anywhere – not least Mexico, which is an enormous market for the sport to tap into.

And this was clear at the COTA Forum last night, which saw Felipe Massa, Esteban Gutierrez and Sergio Perez face questions from fans before signing merchandise and posing for pictures. In the case of the two Mexican drivers, Gutierrez and Perez, there was an enormous amount of support from their native fans who had made the journey to the race. For both drivers, this is part of the appeal of Austin.

Gutierrez was asked what the best part of the US GP weekend was, and he answer: “To have the Mexican support!” before the fans broke out into cheers.

“I would say the same,” Perez said. “We wait so long to have a race in Mexico, and this is the closest we can get to one. Definitely the support we get here is fantastic.”

“Hand on heart, this is probably the date on the calendar I look forward to the most,” said Daniel Ricciardo ahead of the weekend. “I’ve loved every minute of being in Austin: when they picked this place for the US Grand Prix, they absolutely nailed it.

“The city is awesome. I love listening to live music and this is a great place for that, plus Texas feels like real America, and that’s something I’ve really enjoyed just sinking into the last two seasons.”

Austin is a place that the entire F1 community relishes visiting. Much like the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal, the whole weekend is enjoyable both at the track and away from the circuit.

The Circuit of the Americas itself is another reason why the return of the United States Grand Prix has been so successful. It is widely acknowledged as being one of the better circuits designed by Hermann Tilke (renowned for his ‘Tilkedromes’), featuring a number of the great corners from other circuits such as Silverstone, Hockenheim and Suzuka.

“The Circuit of the Americas, in my opinion, is the best of the new breed of circuits,” Ricciardo said. “The nature of the corners is interesting. It’s also a very busy track where you don’t get much respite.

“The first sector is very special and that first turn, blind up the big hill is like nothing else in F1. It’s also a good example of the excitement a late-apex can create: you can have a really good lunge there. They’ve done a very good job.”

Speaking at the COTA Forum, Perez and Gutierrez agreed that the iconic first sector, featuring the uphill run to the first corner and the fast-flowing esses right the way through to turn 11 – over half the circuit without a chance to relax.

“The first sector is definitely my favorite,” Gutierrez said. “The fast corners, the esses, yes, very nice. The last sector is pretty challenging, you have the triple apex, it’s a very quick corner.”

“I think the first sector is amazing,” Perez said in agreement. “It’s really fast and fluid. When you get into a couple of corners like turn one, you really cannot see the apex, which makes it really difficult to get it right. It’s one of the more difficult parts of the track to get the corner right lap after lap.”

It’s a circuit that both can both punish and reward drivers, though. “When you start the high-speed corners, if you start wrong or not in the right line, you destroy everything,” explained Massa. “If you start well there, I think it’ll destroy your lap.”

Year three will be the true test for many, with the race going up against NASCAR in Dallas/Fort Worth on the same weekend. However, attendance figures are unlikely to plummet given the different fanbases on display here, with only those holding an interest in both being left with a tricky decision to make.

The United States Grand Prix continues to be a booming success, though, giving the fans, drivers and entire F1 community a fine weekend to look forward to.

A great circuit with a poor location doesn’t work for a grand prix. Similarly, a great location with a poor track is difficult to get in the sky as a good grand prix. Austin, however, combines all of the needed factors. Throw in droves of passionate and excited fans, and you have the ingredients for a very successful and popular grand prix indeed.

NBC/NBCSN SCHEDULE FROM UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”