Signs of F1’s evolution present as COTA enjoys solid 2017 weekend

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Proof of the United States of America being a true melting pot of diversity was evident in the buildup to Sunday’s United States Grand Prix.

How on Earth would you expect to fathom seeing former President Bill Clinton, Olympic hero Usain Bolt and quintessentially American pre-event host Michael Buffer to all be present in the same place at the same time?

You wouldn’t, but that’s the power of Formula 1, and the uniqueness of America on its calendar – a race that for the first time in Circuit of The Americas’ six-year history hosting the event, had something of a “normal” weekend in that the only abnormal weekend content was the weekend schedule, not debates or concerns about the race’s future itself.

The first event in 2012, of course, had all the buzz of being an inaugural event. A mild sophomore slump followed in 2013. The yo-yo continued with new cars in 2014 that lacked the same sound, and a reduced 18-car field as both Manor and Caterham were no-shows, then the rain-drenched 2015 debacle saved only by a dramatic race, and finally a big bounce back weekend for the event last year that featured Taylor Swift and Usher concerts.

For once, the 2017 edition of the USGP at COTA didn’t have questions about the race’s future itself as it enters the second five-year run of its initial 10-year plan. It did, however, feature the latest examples of new owner Liberty Media’s plans to shake up the format.

COTA again pulled in a big concert draw with Justin Timberlake performing on Saturday (and then Stevie Wonder on Sunday), but Timberlake’s set (recapped here by Austin American-Statesman) was scheduled sooner after qualifying finished.

Sure, there were complaints from the teams about qualifying running two hours later than normal – and the media who were left waiting longer to cover the session both during and afterwards – but that was small sacrifice to ensure the paying customers didn’t have as much lag time between that ending and the concert starting.

Call this a trial balloon to see if it’s something that can be utilized on other weekends, and as Liberty’s Ross Brawn said by helping COTA, this helped the overall weekend draw.

“Here we moved the qualifying back two hours to 4pm, and [circuit boss] Bobby Epstein told me this morning that he had 20,000 more spectators for qualifying than he’s ever had before,” Brawn said, via Eurosport.

“So we’re very receptive with how we work with the promoters, and I promise you that was not the case in the past.”

Where the race weekend turned quintessentially American though was in the extended pre-race buildup, featuring 30 Texas bands, marching bands from Prairie View A&M and Texas State, the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders and, of course, the Michael Buffer driver introductions. What this served to do was make the drivers seem like humans, for once, rather than the focused metronomes we rarely get to see outside of the car.

The fact it was Buffer, a renowned showman, uttering the words “Dany ‘The Torpedo’ Kvyat” in real life amplified this was truly the U.S. round of the series – what other country would allow the damning nickname of the now dumped Russian, again, to be publicized in this manner right before he raced? Kvyat promptly then turned in his best drive of the season, as if to blow aside the nickname and the controversy over some races in his past.

AUSTIN, TX – OCTOBER 22: Boxing announcer Michael Buffer on the grid before the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2017 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Daniel Ricciardo clearly got into it, the usually ebullient Australian who’s never made a secret of his love for the U.S. and Austin then hopping out and jumping with his usual enthusiasm. You didn’t even need the sound on to see how happy he was.

Last out, Lewis Hamilton continued his love affair with the U.S. crowd and then was staged next to title rival Sebastian Vettel for the final display before the drivers moved to their cars. It’s a shame, of course, the points gap is such that there is little to no chance Hamilton will lose this year’s title but the optics of the two drivers that will have won eight of the last 10 World Championships between them set as prize fighters made proper sense.

“I think it was amazing,” Hamilton said post-race. “There was a little bit of waiting in the hallway, waiting for everyone to go out. That part felt a little bit long but I think they just made the Super Bowl here, they made the race, I think the entertainment was the best I think we’ve seen, with the drum line, the whole band.

“Yeah, I think the whole set-up. It was great to see something different. For many many years, the whole ten years, it’s been the same old boring thing on the grid except for now you have the national anthem but not really too exciting.

“I think this one was just much more like an NFL game which is exciting, with the fireworks and everything so I think they did a really great job and I think even from this they will learn and grow from that but we also had such a great turnout today.”

As for the race, Hamilton dominated although he still needed a pair of passes to ensure his latest U.S. win – his sixth in seven attempts, fifth in six COTA races and fourth consecutive at this circuit. The post-race drama centered over Max Verstappen’s pass of Kimi Raikkonen for third, negated when Verstappen got docked a five-second time penalty for gaining an advantage by leaving the track.

That was the sour note but not something that, in the grand scheme of things, was the F1-centric portion of the event.

The event-specific elements of cool were that you had Clinton giving out the trophies on the podium, and Bolt conducting the podium interviews.

We all know Clinton has his detractors but there is still something special about a past head of state handing out the hardware; interestingly, it might have made more sense if possible to have native Texan George W. Bush handing out the trophies on home soil had he been there.

As for Bolt, when greatness recognizes greatness, it just amplifies the greatness quotient for everyone. We’ve marveled at Bolt’s heroics in Beijing, London and Rio the last nine years over three Olympic games. He is in the discussion for being the greatest athlete on Earth at the moment, even as he’s retired.

So seeing him in F1’s world, there with Hamilton, doing a hot lap with him pre-race and then handling the podium interviews was a special moment. F1’s had actors and paddock insiders primarily do the podium interviews since the format was changed to ditch the TV unilaterals from inside the press conference room a few years ago, but rarely do they have athletes from other disciplines. In that respect, having Bolt do so was a coup, and the payoff moment came when Hamilton learned to do “the Bolt” once the interviews were complete.

Of course, not everyone was a fan of the proceedings. Vettel downplayed the extra showy pre-race festivities. Raikkonen was peak Kimi, by contrast, saying it can work if done properly, even if he would prefer it wasn’t done at all!

“I really don’t mind it as long as it’s done at the right time in the right place but it doesn’t make everything a big hassle because usually we have to run around quite a bit on Sunday and it’s far from ideal but I don’t mind these things as long as they are done well and actually if it works out it’s nice.

“I think it’s something different but everybody knows my option, what I would take.”

Raikkonen is one of the last links to F1’s “old guard” of drivers – he, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa all debuted in either 2001 or 2002, the earliest years of action for drivers still on the 2017 grid.

The “new guard” though is coming both in the field itself, and in the presentation leading up to it.

“Easily the best U.S. Grand Prix,” track chairman Bobby Epstein told the Austin American-Statesman post-race.

If COTA was a sign of the future and a test case for other countries to add country-specific amplified events that snap F1 out of its state of normality, it was hard to disagree with him.

President Bill Clinton with Lewis Hamilton during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2017 in Austin, Texas. Photo: Getty Images

Supercross 2023: Results and points after Houston


Eli Tomac led all 23 laps of the Monster Energy Supercross race at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas and the results show he now has three wins in the season and is one shy of tying Ricky Carmichael’s 48 for third on the all-time list. With this win, he takes a seven point lead in the standings with 12 rounds remaining.

For Tomac at Houston, it was literally a tale of two races. Both his heat and the main started the same with Tomac grabbing the holeshot, but he was passed quickly by Chase Sexton in the heat. Tomac faded quickly after getting passed and was trailing by almost eight seconds at the checkered flag, which caused him to retreat to the hauler and reassess his lines. Without making any adjustments to the bike, Tomac entered the Main with a new attitude, and simply rode better.

Supercross Results Houston
Chase Sexton played it safe in the sand, but he was aggressive in every other turn. – Feld Motor Sports

Sexton had so great a lead in his heat that one could not even use the cliche that he left Tomac in his dust. By the time the rider with the No. 1 plate crossed the same real estate as the No. 23, the dust was well settled. Sexton had a modest start on the initial gate drop and ended Lap 1 in fourth. He worked his way past Aaron Plessinger on Lap 3 and got around Jason Anderson three laps later. Sexton was able to catch Tomac and pressure him, but he picked a safe, i.e. slow line through the sand section and could never get alongside his rival.

RESULTS: Click here for 450 Results; Click here for full 250 East Main Results

After starting the season with back-to-back seventh-place finishes, Anderson now has a pair of podiums. He won his heat and was easily one of the top three riders in the field, ultimately finishing behind the riders who finished 1-2 in the other preliminary. Anderson was subdued on the podium – happy he was there, but disappointed he has not yet found a way around the riders he is chasing in the points.

In the early stages of the race, Plessinger appeared to have a bike capable of winning. He pressured Tomac on the first two laps and was setting up the pass just as a red flag waved for an injury to Dylan Ferrandis that brought out a red flag. He lost second to Anderson on the restart and eventually slipped to fourth to score his first top-five of the season.

Click here for 450 Heat 1 | Heat 2 | Last Chance Qualifier

Cooper Webb rounded out the top five. Along with Sexton, he is now one of just two riders with a sweep of that mark in 2023, but with Tomac’s three wins, he is beginning to slip in the points. Webb sits third in the standings, 12 points behind the leader.

Ken Roczen entered the race as the third rider with a sweep of the top five and progressively better results in the first three races of 2023. Had the pattern held, he would have finished at least second, but he struggled for most of the night, finishing fifth in his heat and eighth in the Main. There may have been extenuating circumstances, however. Ferrandis’ injury was suffered when he landed on the back of Roczen’s bike and potentially damaged the No. 94 Suzuki.

Click here for 450 Main results | Rider Points | Manufacturer Points | Lap Chart

The 250 East division made their 2023 debut in Houston, but the name atop the board was familiar. Hunter Lawrence joined his brother Jett Lawrence as the early points’ leader in their respective divisions, but it didn’t come without a little anxiety.

Riding behind Supercross newbie Tom Vialle on the second lap, Lawrence was forced to take evasive action when the leader pitched his bike sideways to scrub speed over a jump. Lawrence veered left and landed off course, but he cleared the Tuff Blox and kept his bike straight. Lawrence made the pass for the lead on Lap 18 and never relinquished it.

Click here for 250 Heat 1 | Heat 2 | Last Chance Qualifier

In his first attempt on a 250, Max Anstie ascended to the podium. – Feld Motor Sports

England’s Max Anstie made the move from 450s to 250s this year after scoring a best result of 11th on the big bike at Anaheim 2 last year. It didn’t take anytime at all to find the front for Anstie, who finished second in both his heat and main.

It has been a while since Jordon Smith stood on the podium: February 23, 2019 to be exact when he finished that well in Detroit. A series of injuries kept him off the bike for much of 2020 and 2021, but he’s proving to be a factor when he’s healthy.

Click here for 250 Main results | 250 East Rider Points | Combined Rider Points | Lap Chart

There was a lot of hype surrounding the debut of Haiden Deegan in the 250 class and he proved it was merited. He finished fourth in his heat and main. He was as far down as ninth at one point in the feature before slowly picking off riders on his way to the front.

Jeremy Martin finished fifth and now has a streak of three consecutive top-fives to his credit stretching back to last year. Unfortunately, his pair of strong runs in 2022 were interrupted by injury.

Making impressive debuts in the 250 division, Vialle recovered from a fall to finish seventh, Chance Hymas finished eighth, and Talon Hawkins just missed the top 10 with an 11th.

2023 Results

Race 3: Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen win
Race 2: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence win
Round 1: Tomac, Lawrence win

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings

Week 3: Ken Roczen takes the top spot
Week 2: Roczen moves up; Chase Sexton falls
Week 1: Eli Tomac tops 450s; Jett Lawrence 250s