It’s an honor to be the first American Formula 1 driver to race at Circuit of The Americas, and a responsibility I don’t take lightly. After eight solid days of media work before even arriving on track at COTA, it’s given me a perspective and helped me reflect on the road I have traveled these past 15 years.
Since Russia, it’s been a whirlwind! I arrived back home in London last Monday with the week full of diverse media commitments along with my training program. These past couple of days I’ve been in New York with back-to-back media commitments and interviews before arriving in Austin on Tuesday evening.
It’s been great to see how positively the US fan base is responding to my race drive in F1. I also have the full support of Manor Marussia F1 Team, on and off track as we prepare for the upcoming rounds and my plans to race for them in 2016.
Manor Marussia F1 Team and the support around me is fantastic! Everyone is working for the same goal, and both my opening races in Singapore and Japan were very good for me. I’m grateful to have had these races before the US Grand Prix this weekend, as they helped me understand the procedures at Manor and some new systems within the team this year. Many of the team members are the same as last year and there are even some familiar faces from Caterham so it’s a great environment to be in.
For the weekend, it‘s likely it will rain a bit. If so, this definitely presents a great opportunity for us to do something memorable. I like racing in the wet! This is something that is always hard to explain to someone who doesn’t race cars for a living. The rain gives smaller teams a chance to capitalize on what happens ahead, and inside the cockpit it’s just another environment you drive in.
Yes, it’s obviously trickier to control a car with the power-to-weight ratio of a modern F1 car, but at the same time the speeds are much slower so you adapt your driving style. Either way, wet or dry I’m confident about the weekend program that the team and I will plan and work through. I cannot wait to get to work on Thursday.
Part of me hopes it rains, but the F1 fan in me hopes it’s sunny. It’s just turning to autumn in Austin and the temperatures are awesome. The heat of the summer has started to go and if I was going to a race anywhere in the world, Austin would be right up there as one of my top destinations. You have a city with amazing food, music and the weather now means you can run in the mornings, and then sit in the grandstands for the race without suffering from the intense Texas summer heat.
COTA does a great job of making sure the fans that come to town have a great experience, both at the circuit and in the city itself. This year COTA have Elton John playing after the race, and if I wasn’t heading straight out to California on Sunday night for Monday and Tuesday sponsor events, I’d want to catch that.
Downtown COTA puts on an awesome FanFest from Thursday to Saturday night. Montreal does a similar thing, shutting down streets to put on entertainment for the fans. Having having taken part in a few activities there and in Austin in previous years, I know how much it means to race-goers that the circuits go above and beyond to give them a really memorable experience.
This year I’ll be taking part in a Fan Forum at COTA’s FanFest on Thursday evening with a few other drivers and senior F1 people and I’m confident there will be a lot of people who work in the F1 paddock heading down to the FanFest on Thursday and Saturday night to see the bands they have playing. Why not Friday? Simple, that’s usually the latest night of the whole race weekend for F1 teams (assuming we haven’t had any major issues on Thursday or Saturday) as the cars are prepared after Friday’s two practice sessions.
Whether we’re in Austin, Montreal, Singapore or Silverstone, Friday is always a similar schedule. We do the two practice sessions, then the mechanics strip down the cars while the engineers plan how they’ll be set up for Saturday and Sunday. The drivers all have a meeting on Friday afternoon, first with Charlie Whiting to talk about anything that needs discussing from the previous race or anything about the weekend ahead. From there the Grand Prix Drivers Association (GPDA) meet and then it’s straight back to work with engineers to review FP1 and FP2.
We pretty much always have dinner on track with the crew on Friday night and then back to working late with the engineers, where we go through every single bit of information they’ve developed from the cars, not just using people on track but also back at the team bases in Europe. Then all the data is used to optimize the setup for qualifying and the race.
Friday for the drivers and the teams is the longest day of the weekend. I try to return to my hotel room by 9pm to rest and then put in an early gym session on Saturday morning before heading to the track. In Austin the schedules are earlier than quite a few of the races, so it’s an even earlier start than normal on Saturday before FP3 and qualifying.
After qualifying, preparing for the race is mostly strategy versus car set-up. There is very little change you can do to the car after qualifying, so Saturday evening is usually a good time to train, have dinner and get a good night’s rest.
In F1, there are many responsibilities outside the car so it’s quite important to be able to switch on and off from these duties before and during the race weekend. One thing about being a race driver that’s unanimous among us is that we are at our best in the car, engine fired up and ready to go to work.
The US GP is only a few days away and I look forward to seeing you in Austin.