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A whoopin' and a hollerin'

Chris Medland November 19, 2013
The FOTA fans forum took place between two bars in downtown Austin © Sutton Images
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Let's face it; the United States Grand Prix was not a classic. You could sum the race up pretty quickly: Vettel led from pole, Sutil crashed, Webber passed Hamilton, Bottas pulled a great move on Gutierrez, Webber couldn't pass Grosjean, Button got Ricciardo and then Vettel won.

Fortunately, matters off-track were a lot more entertaining for both the media and the fans. First impressions count for a lot, and as I hadn't been at last year's race I had a different perspective on the event in Austin.

Flying in to Austin-Bergstrom airport, it was encouraging to see advertisements in place, race dates on walls and signs on the back of taxis. The city had a race and it wanted people to know about it.

It was at the FOTA Fans Forum on Wednesday night that the buzz really became clear. Held in an open courtyard area between two downtown bars, the crowd was boisterous. Loud cheers went up for questions calling Red Bull "boring" or confident answers from the drivers, and their enthusiasm was rewarded with team merchandise thrown out to those in the crowd quizzing the drivers.

Last year, only the British Grand Prix drew a larger crowd than the race in Austin, but - no offence to FOTA - the UK Fans Forum was held in a corporate central London building, 70 miles from the circuit. It wasn't the right venue for hardcore racing fans at the start of a grand prix weekend. A downtown Austin bar was.

The forum was taking place on 4th Street, which was shut down and hosting a fan zone, as were other streets in the city. A big college football game taking place in Austin on the same weekend might have made hotel accommodation expensive, but come Saturday evening it just resulted in a party atmosphere as the city celebrated the two sporting events.

Another plus for the forum was that it came the day Sergio Perez's departure from McLaren was announced, providing early insight into his feelings and how the situation had arisen. The rest of the weekend was spent with a focus on who's going where next year and who could miss out. Or in the case of Pastor Maldonado it was spent trying to burn bridges at Williams.

Granted, the weekend wasn't perfect. The medical helicopter incident at the start of FP1 was embarrassing, but the opening practice session of a weekend is never likely to attract the interest of floating fans. It could even be argued that a red flag for an explained safety reason was less likely to confuse anyone than 40 minutes of empty track as we usually see.

Far from having to establish itself, Austin is now showing the rest of America how to make a success of a race. Get it near a town or city that is going to embrace the F1 roadshow and in turn showcase that part of the country. Don't try to shoehorn it into an existing track that wasn't built specifically with F1 in mind.

Last year's inaugural grand prix at Circuit of the Americas was boosted by a title fight that was going down to the wire, but this year Austin displayed how to put on a great event in the face of a tedious on-track end to the season. This is a race that is here to stay, and any other prospective hosts would do well to learn from it.