What a VIP Formula 1 Weekend is Really Like (Part 1)

by Michael Satterfield

Like most Americans, I had only seen Formula 1 via television, the truncated, sanitized version, suitable for broadcast, a window into the world of the jet-setting elite as they bounce around global hotspots like Monaco, Singapore, Monza, Barcelona, and Austin. Sure it is about racing, the most elite form of motorsports ever conceived, but it is also about the lifestyle, being seen, and attending the right parties.

When Pirelli asked if I would be interested in attending the United States Grand Prix (USGP) as their guest, I, of course, said yes and immediately blocked out the dates, November would be a busy month for me. For your average fan, a Formula 1 weekend may include paying $200 to sit on a grassy field, cheering on their favorite driver, but after a few emails asking me to confirm everything from my shoe size to dietary preferences, it was clear this wasn't going to be the average fan experience.

To make sure that the trip got off to a good start, I reached out to the regional rep for Alfa Romeo and arranged to have a press car for the week, after all, Alfa does have a team and since Aston Martin and Ferrari weren't offering up loaners, the new Stelvio would be just fine. Plus it would be better suited to haul all the luggage I needed which included a set of golf clubs, my camera bag, a garment bag, my trusty Zero Halliburton, and a hatbox for my Stetson.

I made my way to the local golf pro-shop, Pirelli had invited me to play in 'Grid to Green' charity golf tournament, benefiting Susan G. Komen, and I needed a suitable golf bag. I found a red, white, and blue bag that I felt was suitable for the USGP and picked up some extra golf balls as I knew I would be losing most of them. The tournament was on Thursday and hosted Fazio Canyons at Barton Creek an elite course just outside of Austin. While I am not much of a golfer, it always seems I end up playing at some really amazing courses, and Fazio Canyons was no different.

Arriving a little early at the golf course I was greeted by Stella from Pirelli and walked through the registration process, given a swag bag, and opted to go to the driving range to confirm my worst fears... my golf swing hadn't magically improved since I last played. The range was a whos-who of motorsports, Damon Hill, Johnny Herbert, Christian Horner, and many other drivers and personalities from the world of racing. An announcement was being made near the clubhouse, "Please find your assigned cart and head to your starting hole." This being a Texas Scramble each team started at a different hole. Every 6-holes a different celebrity would join our team, according to the roster, our group would be playing with Carlos Sainz Sr., Zak Brown, and Mika Hakkinen, not a bad line up. I would be sharing a cart with Joel Aeschlimann the International Sponsorship Manager for Rolex. Our foursome was short by one and I quickly realized I was with a group of serious golfers.

The cold and the wind were helpful for me, as at least everyone was struggling from the tee box, but while my driving left a lot to be desired, my short game was my redemption as all those years at Scandia Mini-Golf really paid off. I still have a long way to go to improve my driving, but Carlos Sains Sr. gave me some great pointers which helped me make at least a few decent drives. It got progressively colder as the sun set and other teams gave up and went to the post-game reception and dinner, but we persisted and played our last two holes with Mika before pulling down the flags of the last hole.

Golfing with two-time F1 Champion Mika Hakkinen

Dinner was served out by a fire pit, our team didn't bring home any awards and the female pro-team "The Jazzy Golfers" had roundly destroyed all of the mostly male teams who were playing in the tournament, they even had their own hashtag #BeatTheBoys. The event had raised thousands of dollars for the Susan G. Komen foundation, but as the wind picked up I decided to retreat to my hotel in downtown Austin. 

Friday morning, I went down to the second floor of the W Hotel, Pirelli had taken over the entire floor and I needed to pick up my daily credentials for the track. After a quick check-in, I was handed a black envelope, a puffy Pirelli vest, a new Pirelli hat, and what would be the first of several lanyards I would need for the weekend. I was given a parking pass for the Alfa Romeo and we made our way to the track.

After arriving at the track I was shown the Fitting Center where Pirelli's army of tire fitters and engineers make sure that all 1,800 tires that are used each race weekend are ready for each F1 team. The teams were out testing as the unseasonably low temperatures were cause for anxiety since each team has to make their tire selections in advance of arriving at the track. While the forecast called for warmer weather by race day, the teams and Pirelli engineers were logging data from every tire that came off the track. The data trail for a Formula 1 tire stars from day one with each tire having its own bar code that is tracked every step of the way. After a tire has been used the engineers take a series of measurements and temperature readings to ensure that every data point possible is captured from each tire. 

My next stop was the Pirelli Hot Laps garage, an exclusive experience where a professional driver takes a lucky few around the circuit in a supercar. I would be riding in Lamborghini Huracan EVO, piloted by a professional racing driver. I have been around COTA several times before, once with McLaren GT4 driver Mia Flewitt, but this was a street car fresh from the inventory at Lamborghini Austin. After picking out a helmet we are given a quick safety briefing before heading out on the track where we line up by a sign that is designated on yet another lanyard. In the fleet were AMG Mercedes, McLarens, Aston Martins, and the white Huracan EVO that I would be riding in. Each guest is assigned a number and asked to line up in order, it was going to be a very quick turn over as these drivers are getting around the track in around 2 minutes flat.

After my hot lap, I headed to the lounge for lunch while the team from Pirelli has meetings to prep for the rest of the weekend. Unlike many racing events the food was excellent, with a menu offering everything from classic Italian pasta to Texas-style BBQ. Fine dining is not something you often find at motorsports events. But Formula 1, is not your everyday NASCAR race and the standard track burger and fries weren't on the menu.

Meetings wrapped up, we headed back to the hotel with plans to meet up with the rest of the journalists and influencers that would be attending qualifying and race day with us at the track. After a short break, I headed down to the lobby where I would meet the rest of the group, which included writers from Jalopnik, the New York Times, Forbes, and YouTuber Parker Nirenstein. We would also be joined by Richard Rawlings of Gas Monkey Garage fame, but that will have to wait for Part 2.