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Austin has it all for F1 weekend: great racing, atmosphere, music and food

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In just four years, the city of Austin has quickly become one of the more popular stops on the Formula One circuit for drivers and team members.

That’s not a total surprise as the Texas city prepares to host the fifth annual United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas.

Like most tourists, F1 drivers and teams have taken a strong liking to the three main tourist attractions in Austin: great racing, great music (including at-track concerts Saturday by Taylor Swift and post-race Sunday with Usher and The Roots) and great food, particularly barbeque, chili (the hotter, the better) and plenty of beer.

It’s a win-win-win for everyone.

Here’s a sampling of how much F1 drivers and officials like coming back year after year to Austin:

Valtteri Bottas (Williams): “Austin is a great city and the people are very nice. Normally the weather is very good – except last year when it was a little bit different! Overall, as a race weekend, with the fans and everything going on it’s one of the best races to go to. It’s a special Grand Prix.”

Felipe Massa (Williams): “Of all the newer tracks COTA is the one I enjoy the most. I also really enjoy Austin itself. It’s a very nice city with good restaurants and an amazing atmosphere during the race weekend.”

F1 Grand Prix of USA - Race

Romain Grosjean (Haas): “(Last year’s event) was wonderful. We had a lot of fans and people really came to see the race. It’s a great venue and one of the best new tracks we’ve had in quite a while. The track was great, the city is nice, and it was a very nice experience. There are a lot of bars and concerts going on in the city, and people came from all over the country to see the race. It was amazing.”

Esteban Gutierrez (Haas): “It’s important to represent America around the world, but now that we get back home and go to Austin for the U.S. Grand Prix, it’s something very special because we are on American soil. That gives a special touch to our weekend. More motivation and great energy from the people to achieve a fantastic result.

“I thought (the venue) was fantastic (last year). It was the United States Grand Prix, but it was also like a Mexican Grand Prix. A lot of Mexicans went there. It’s not far away from my hometown, and that made it a very nice combination because America makes very great events and the atmosphere was very special. I could not have asked for a better experience. Now that we have a full United States Grand Prix and then a full Mexican Grand Prix, the experiences are more intense.

“I love the center of (Austin) and the vibe that’s going on around the whole weekend. In the first year I was there I was the third driver, so in the same kind of way I lived the first season of the Mexican Grand Prix, I lived the Austin Grand Prix. It was really special going around the restaurants and having all the people, everything full and a great atmosphere.”

Guenther Steiner, Haas team principal: “(Austin)’s a cool city. People like the United States and Austin is a nice place to be. I think Austin for the team members stands before Monaco and Singapore because it’s just a cool place.”

Nico Rosberg (Mercedes): “The city itself is awesome and I’m sure everyone in the paddock looks forward to this one. … Mostly I hope it stays dry for the fans: they were amazing waiting out in the rain last time, so they’re owed a nice dry weekend I think! They give us such great hospitality that they deserve an exciting show, so we’ll do our best to provide that.”

Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes): “First up, we’re back in the States – which is like a second home race for me these days. I love the country, the culture, the people and the track, so I can’t wait to get started. I’ve got some great memories from Austin, with three wins from four races and, of course, the title win last year. That was one of the highlights of my career, no doubt. It’s almost like the American fans have adopted me as their own, so I’ll try to channel all of that positive energy into this weekend.”

Kevin Magnussen (Renault): “I do love the United States and I know it well from visiting many times. The race in Austin is a great event and the circuit is really good. The fans really get behind you and I’m sure they’ll be out in force as the weather looks like it will be a lot better than all the rain we saw last year!”

Jolyon Palmer (Renault): “Austin itself is a fantastic city, the countryside in Texas is superb and the people are so welcoming. There is a lot more Formula One knowledge than I expected as you always think NASCAR or IndyCar when you think of motorsport in the US.

“My problem with the U.S. is the food; there are too many temptations! This is tough as I have to watch my weight so closely. I’d love to be tucking into ribs and burgers all the time!”

Fernando Alonso (McLaren): “The Circuit of The Americas is a big challenge for every car – each sector offers something completely different. The first section requires a lot of precision, as it’s a big climb up to the first corner, which you go into blind. The elevation changes put a lot of pressure on the car and it’s important to get good traction out of each corner. It’s a really exhilarating circuit to drive and you need to work hard at every braking point to keep good momentum around the circuit, as the rhythm is constantly changing along with the elevation as you go around the lap.”

Jenson Button (McLaren): “I’m looking forward to heading back to Austin. I’ve been spending more and more time in the States recently and Austin is a city with passionate fans that really love their racing. The atmosphere downtown is really relaxed and we usually take the opportunity to sample the famous Texan cuisine in one or two of the restaurants over the course of the weekend.”

Eric Boullier (McLaren Racing Director): “Everyone at McLaren-Honda is very pleased to be returning to Austin for the United States Grand Prix. It’s fast becoming a classic racetrack, there’s a great atmosphere, and the fans’ love of racing is palpable throughout the weekend. We always receive a very warm welcome from the Austinites and the U.S. is a very important market for us to bring our show to every season.”

Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso): “I always lose a kilo of weight on purpose before this race to be able to regain it there and eat loads of meat – some ribs with some delicious barbecue sauce! I’m also staying and not flying to the next race until Tuesday afternoon – I will eat more ribs! (Laughs). Austin is small but… very cute! There are a few nice things to do there. I like going shopping to some of the few shopping centers there when we have a bit of spare time.”

Carlos Sainz Jr. (Toro Rosso): ““Another thing we can’t forget about Texas are the barbecues! Last year I arrived there a day earlier just to be able to go and have a barbecue! Everyone was talking about it, so I had to try!

“The city is actually quite small. There’s a very big, long avenue where all the action takes place, with plenty of music – it’s somewhere we might go on Sunday night, but not during the rest of the weekend. I like it there. After the race I’m staying in Austin for a couple of days with some friends, it will be fun!”

Nico Hulkenberg (Force India): “The weekend in Austin is one of the coolest of the whole year. It’s an event that ticks all the boxes: the track is fun, the city is interesting and the people are great. There’s a brilliant atmosphere, which you can feel as soon as you land in the city, and I really enjoy going there.”

F1 Grand Prix of USA - Race

Sergio Perez (Force India): “Before Mexico joined the calendar, Austin felt like a home race for me so I am always happy to go there, to be close to home and to be able to spend a bit of time with my family and friends at the circuit. I always have guests with me and there are so many fans who make the trip from Mexico to see the race in Austin.

“The city is really nice and you’re never short of things to do. The whole place comes alive at night and there are so many bars and restaurants to enjoy. Of course, being there to race means we do not really get the chance to go out much, but even going for a walk gives you an opportunity to enjoy the atmosphere and see all the fans. It’s a young city, with many students, and that gives it a nice vibe.”

Esteban Ocon (Manor): “It looks pretty amazing. It’s the Live Music Capital of the World, so I’m hoping to experience that a little bit before the hard work starts for the weekend. And the Texas BBQ looks good too. I’ll give that a try, for sure!”

Max Verstappen (Red Bull):I had a good look around Austin last year and really liked it. I love America in general, the people are so friendly and I always feel comfortable and relaxed there. Burgers and meat, it is so good there. I will probably have to be a bit careful to watch my weight as you can eat so well in Austin. I am sure I will find time for a nice steak though.”

Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull): “The track in Austin is sick, I love it. … Austin city is also awesome, I really like its character. It’s raw and authentic which makes it cool without trying to be. The old school bars and music venues which are super cool just makes it work. Pete’s Piano bar and Rainey Street has a lot of local music which is a really nice vibe and I want to check out Hotel Vegas this year.”

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Why it’s important for Fernando Alonso to be in the Indianapolis 500

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It seemed so natural, so logical that Fernando Alonso would be part of McLaren in the 104thIndianapolis 500, it likely could have been announced last August.

NBCSports.com gave all the reasons why an Alonso reunion with McLaren at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway made the most sense last week.

Tuesday afternoon, it became official.

Arrow McLaren SP announced the two-time Formula One champion as its third driver for the Indy 500. He joins full-time NTT IndyCar Series drivers, rookies Oliver Askew and Pato O’Ward, on the Chevrolet team.

In a world where social media allows everyone to voice an opinion, there have been some who have asked, “Why is it so important that Fernando Alonso compete in the Indianapolis 500?”

To back up their point, the 33-driver starting lineup already includes many legendary names of the NTT IndyCar Series. From five-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon to three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, to Indy 500 winners Alexander Rossi, Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay to two-time IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden, the lineup is full of big names.

On the grand scale of international motorsports, however, Alonso has the charisma and star power that transcend into the mainstream of popularity.

“Having Fernando in the Indy 500 is going to be great for IndyCar, for the Indy 500 and for the fans,” Arrow McLaren SP co-owner Sam Schmidt said. “I can’t wait to see that get started.

“On behalf of Ric (Peterson, another co-owner of the team) and myself, Fernando needs to be in the 500, he needs to have an opportunity to win and that would be mega for IndyCar. For all of those reasons, we kept our foot on the gas and tried to position our team as the team of choice. Although we haven’t won, we have shown pace there and ran at the front. Now that we are with Chevrolet, we feel that we can get it done.

“Our team of guys is fantastic. We have been preparing for this for a long time, and we are poised to get it done. Ric and I are very excited about this.”

McLaren CEO Zak Brown has a long and close relationship with Alonso. Brown was in charge of Alonso’s Formula One program. Last year when Alonso did not compete in F1, he remained under contract as a McLaren “Ambassador.”

His contract with McLaren ended on Dec. 31, 2019. He officially rejoined the team with Tuesday’s Indy 500 announcement.

“He creates a tremendous amount of attention wherever he goes,” Brown said of Alonso. “When we did the first test at Indy in 2017, the live digital feed got over a couple million followers. Fernando will draw a lot of global attention to Indianapolis, to IndyCar, to our partners and to the sport as a whole.

“He is a great addition. He is an ambassador to the sport. He very much enjoys the way he is embraced in Indianapolis.”


With so many obstacles in the way of Alonso competing for any other team at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it just made sense that his best (and essentially his only) option come with the McLaren-backed operation.

But it was certainly a long, strange trip to get there.

“Clearly, Fernando was deep in conversations with Michael Andretti,” Brown said in a response to a question from NBCSports.com in a Tuesday teleconference. “Short of Roger Penske’s team, he believes Michael’s team is the most successful team at Indianapolis, certainly in most recent times.

“If you are Fernando Alonso, and you want to win Indianapolis, then Andretti is clearly on your short list.

“We had a strong desire to run him. Fernando didn’t want to take a decision until after (the Dakar Rally) because he wanted to be very focused on that event. had two good opportunities. We kept him informed of some of the offseason moves we made. We secured Craig Hampson (as technical director after a successful term as Sebastien Bourdais’ engineer). When he was ready to make his decision, we had all of our pieces in place.

“He chose to move forward with us.”

Alonso’s best days at Indianapolis Motor Speedway came in an Andretti Autosport-prepared Honda in 2017. He got up to speed quickly, qualifying fifth and leading 27 laps before his Honda failed with 21 laps remaining.

Alonso’s worst days at Indianapolis Motor Speedway came in a McLaren-prepared Chevrolet. That was last year when one mistake after another showed how unprepared the McLaren operation was to take on the Indy 500 on its own. The list of faux pas was so long and legendary, there is no reason to recount them.

It all added up to one of the biggest names in international motorsports getting bumped out of the 33-car starting lineup by unheralded Kyle Kaiser of Juncos Racing.

McLaren officials knew the best way to succeed at Indianapolis was to join forces with a full-time IndyCar Series team. The main obstacle was Honda teams were ordered by corporate headquarters in Japan that the company’s days of doing business with McLaren were over because of disparaging and critical comments about its engine by Alonso and the team.

Under no circumstances would American Honda and Honda Performance Development be allowed to make a deal with McLaren.

Brown found a partner at what then was known as Arrow Schmidt Peterson, but that was a Honda team. To make the deal work, the team had to break the final year of its contract with Honda and switch to Chevrolet.

When the Arrow McLaren SP deal was announced on Aug. 9, 2019, Alonso still was attempting to negotiate an Indy 500 deal with Andretti Autosport, and the team was willing to make it happen. Sponsors were signed, and decisions were made leading to an expected announcement of an Alonso-Andretti combination for the Indy 500.

Honda Japan said no and held firm against doing business with Alonso for the same reasons as with McLaren.

Alonso would have to find a Chevrolet team for the Indy 500. Team Penske wasn’t interested in increasing to five cars at Indy. Ed Carpenter Racing also said no to expanding to four entries.

All paths led back to Arrow McLaren SP.

“It’s a great day in the history of our team,” co-owner Sam Schmidt said. “We’ve had a lot of changes recently. Arrow McLaren SP is a fantastic cooperation of the future of our company. This just raises the bar.

“Fernando Alonso, two world championships, two WEC’s, Le Mans and the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. He has made it perfectly clear the Indy 500 is the missing link there. We all know how competitive he was previously.

“For our team, we want to tap into his experience. We have two exciting rookies with Oliver Askew and Pato O’Ward. We really think being around him for the month of May will help them raise their game and understand what it takes to be a true, top-level, world-renowned driver.”


Though it appeared this deal was put together quickly, Brown and Schmidt emphasized they had been wooing Alonso for several months.

The addition of Hampson, who oversaw a car Bourdais qualified for the Fast Nine in the past two Indy 500s, and a solid test at COTA helped make the case.

“These were things as Fernando made his final decision helped get him over the hump,” Brown said. “There was speculation he would go elsewhere with parallel conversations that were going on.”

Said Schmidt: “It seems like a bit of a whirlwind announcement, but we have been talking since November. We’ve always run a third car at Indy. This will be a very, very well-prepared, thought-out deal.”

In a separate interview with Leigh Diffey of NBC Sports, Alonso admitted he had several teams to consider and McLaren was always in that group.

“We had some conversations,” Alonso said. “I already said last year I wanted to explore more options. I’d been talking with Andretti as well and some other teams. Andretti and McLaren are the ones I feel in my heart are like family. At the end, it was the natural choice to go with McLaren, especially after last year and give the fans something back after the disappointment of last year.”

Alonso has long dreamed of winning the international “Triple Crown” of motorsports — the Grand Prix of Monaco, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500.

Alonso behind the wheel of the famed Marmon Wasp, the first winning car in the 1911 Indianapolis 500 — INDYCAR Photo

Having conquered Monaco and Le Mans, Indy remains the final event to master for the Spaniard.

“The Indy 500 completes the big three races in motorsports, and three completely different disciplines,” Alonso explained. “It makes you quite a complete driver. That’s what I’m looking for in this stage of my career. The Indy 500 is probably the biggest priority for me now.

“Oval racing is unique, but the Indianapolis Motor Speedway even more. It’s a huge place. There are four corners but all very different. The traffic, the slipstream, the strategy, the tire degradation. The downforce you run differently from practice. The race, you are adjusting downforce. Even if it seems a simple way to drive, over 200 laps, you never repeat the same line or speed in any laps. It’s quite difficult to adjust the minimum settings in the car.”

The key to completing the deal was Michael Andretti allowing mortgage firm Ruoff to follow Alonso as his Indy 500 sponsor to Arrow McLaren SP after the deal with Andretti Autosport fell through.

“Ruoff is a partner of Michael’s, he’s a good friend of mine and a partner in Australia,” Brown said, referring to the Virgin Australia Supercars team. “As he was having his conversations with Fernando, Ruoff was looking for something with big impact and exposure. When Michael and Fernando were unable to get their deal together, Ruoff asked Michael if he would mind going where Fernando goes. Michael gave his blessing, he cut a deal with Ruoff, and we are excited to have them.”

Alonso is just as excited to return at Indy despite last year’s disappointment, gleefully describing the Brickyard’s appeal in his interview with Diffey.

“Definitely. once you experience the Indy 500, it’ll remain always in your heart,” Alonso said. “I think the Indy 500 is on top of all the events I’ve ever participated. The atmosphere, the adrenaline, the traditions all the celebrations before the race. Even the milk! It arrives in a fridge Sunday morning and goes to the Pagoda.

“There are things as a driver you understand the importance of the moment and how big that race is worldwide.”

And that is why it is important that drivers such as Alonso compete in the Indianapolis 500. It’s an event that is bigger than the sport itself.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500