United States GP Paddock Notebook – Saturday

AP
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AUSTIN, Texas – Let’s face it, today was bad. You can’t really sugarcoat it or attempt to make sense of the situation. It’s just one of those days you’d like to forget very quickly.

A free practice session happened with only a smattering of fans who’d made it in before news came down that Circuit of The Americas spectator gates would be closed until noon local time.

Then a three-hour delay occurred for what was supposed to be qualifying before a decision was announced to push qualifying through to 9:00 a.m. CT and local time (10:00 a.m. ET) on Sunday morning, LIVE on CNBC and NBC Sports Live Extra.

As you’d expect, there’s not too much to recap:

SESSION REPORTS

PADDOCK NEWS AND FEATURES 

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK*

Weathering the storm

The asterisk in the lead-in to this section denotes the fact that I opted not to go to the track today. Reasoning? With persistent and continuously extending flash flood warnings, late information close to the start of sessions as to when the sessions would run, the ability to work and follow sessions remotely via both NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra and a not-too-far-but-still-somewhat-far potential drive from my hotel to the track, I decided against going. This marks the first day in 10 years since I started my career in 2006 that I’ve been on site for a weekend, yet stayed back at a hotel. Simply put, the risk wasn’t worth it to drive.

U.S. fans rock

A handful of fans made it in before Circuit of The Americas revealed before 9 a.m. CT and local time that the gates would be closed for safety reasons. Those already present could seek shelter in the main grandstand.

If you were stuck either on a bus or in a parking lot before getting in, the agony would have to be palpable.

If you’re a fan… you have every reason to be a bit, or more than a bit aggrieved at how things transpired.

The surreal experience was that at 10 a.m., seemingly against all common sense or logic, FP3 was running and there were not that many fans there to see it. By the time fans were let in by noon, they were treated to a several-hour delay, and no cars on track. It was at best disappointing, at worst, farcical – something U.S. fans have been through before.

The bright side – if any – came from the teams doing their best to entertain in the absence of running. The blog site WTF1.co.uk has a pretty good synopsis of the hilarity that took place up and down the pit lane in the rain delay.

And then both F1 and COTA came good with this bit of news that has come down in the last hour:

Hopefully it’s not a case of too little, too late, but it’s a fantastic – and deserved – gesture to witness.

F1 fans in the U.S. do care, and the ones that have journeyed to Austin this time around are a dedicated lot. It’s easy to forget at times, but they are the reason this whole thing exists – in my opinion, even more than the sponsors and the manufacturers.

F1’s human side becomes present

For the talk that F1 drivers and teams are corporate automatons, devoid of personality, that notion can be squashed as the emotional and human side of F1 shone through brightly today on a day when there was almost no light.

From Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat’s dancing exhibition, to Lewis Hamilton’s pit lane wave to the crowd, to the surprise emergence of Carlos Sainz and Jos Verstappen matching their sons in Toro Rosso firesuits, to the various races up and down to the pit lane, and all the cheekiness and brilliance coming from all the team and driver Twitter accounts, it was plain to see everyone give their best performance. There wasn’t the standard sponsor plugs, cliches and non-answers. There was proper humanity on display.

A busy day now set for Sunday

Qualifying, a race, and a potential World Championship to be decided all in one day. And yet more rain, although mercifully, not as much as we’ve seen the last day or too. Sunday promises to be a long, crazy and potentially historic day.

***

Qualifying coverage is at 10 a.m. ET (9 a.m. CT) on CNBC, with race coverage starting at 2:30 p.m. ET (1:30 p.m. CT) on NBC and lights out at 3 p.m. ET, 2 p.m. CT, on Sunday.