What a VIP Formula 1 Weekend is Really Like (Part 2)

Saturday morning at the W Hotel in Downtown Austin was abuzz with Formula 1 fans, mostly guests of Pirelli, some browsed the temporary F1 shop set up in the lobby, others look like they were still in recovery from the previous night's festivities. Formula 1 is a party when it comes to town and the already rowdy Austin crowed may have been too much for some of the fans visiting the city for the first time. I sat in a large purple chair in the lobby, people watching, waiting for the rest of the group, some of whom I would be meeting for the first time. Writers from the NY Times, Forbes, Jalopnik, all were part of the media group, while YouTuber Parker Nirenstein, Richard Rawlings from Gas Monkey Garage, and myself were classified as "influencers." Everyone eventually made their way to the rendezvous point. We sat and chatted for a bit while we waited for our drivers to arrive to shuttle us to Circuit of the Americas. 

After a short drive, we arrived at the track, there would be practice and qualifying, a Formula 4 race, vintage F1 cars, a garage tour, and several other scheduled events. We headed to the Paddock Club to the Pirelli Suite, there we were assigned table number five and told we had about an hour to kill. The Masters Endurance Legends Race was just wrapping up and the Formula 4 cars were prepping to grid. Richard from Gas Monkey was especially excited since Gas Monkey Energy was a sponsor of the Alliance Racing F4 team. 

The F4 race was just getting underway when we were told we had a tour of the Pirelli Tire Fitting area and the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing garage, the only problem was that Parker and I didn't have the appropriate badge to exit the Paddock Club. Unlike most events, F1 has a sophisticated system of gates that requires swiping your credentials to enter and exit different areas of the track. Each day I had no less than four different lanyards to access each portion of my track experience. Eventually, spare VIP Paddock passes were found and we joined the rest of the group. I had spent time in the Pirelli fitting area on Friday, so I hung back while the tire team explained everything to the rest of the group. 

From there we headed to Red Bull Racing paddock, they were strict on the no photos or filming while we were inside, but while there we got to see the team prepping the cars, check out an F1 steering wheel, some of the tools, and chat with some of the team members. Once out on the pit lane, we could take photos again, as well as see into some of the other garages as all the teams prepped for practice and qualifying later that afternoon. We headed back upstairs for lunch and would spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying the racing and qualifying sessions, some of us would head back to the hotel early, but others had interviews scheduled with the Pirelli team for their stories. 

Sunday morning we all gathered in the lobby again, Richard and the Gas Monkey team decided to leave and not attend the actual race, since they had to drive back to Dallas and then leave for the SEMA show. We said goodbye and jumped in our SUV and headed to the track, traffic for race day was crazy, with every empty field and driveway within a mile of the track open for parking. Fans were dressed in support of their favorite team and the track was packed. As someone who gets to cover a lot of events at Circuit of the Americas, it was amazing to see the track packed with fans for the first time.

We made our way back to the Pirelli Paddock Club suite and were immediately offered mimosas as the F4 cars were gearing up to the grid again for their second race of the weekend. Some of the group would be doing their Pirelli Hot Lap today after the F4 race so they made their way down to the garage while I enjoyed the F4 race from the suite's balcony. The stands across the way were starting to fill in and fans were staking out their favorite spots on the hill above turn 1. As the hot laps were wrapping up a member of the Pirelli team asked if Jim (writer for Forbes) and I would like to take part in the F1 Pre-Race Parade ahead of the drivers by riding along in the back of a large truck, of course, we said yes. The drivers would be riding in a series of classic cars and trucks, mostly Corvettes and as we made our way around the track the crowd would wave and cheer, they must have confused us with important people, but we smiled and waved back.

After our lap, we were free to walk pit lane, on race day the pits are filled celebrities, you might bump into Matthew McConaughey, Jeff Gorden, Trevor Noah, or any number of musicians, actors, even Olympic athletes. We cleared the pits and returned to the suite to watch the opening ceremony which included the University of Texas at Austin marching band and the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, concluded with a fighter jet flyover. I watched the start of the race outside, the sound of the Formula 1 cars launching from the grid is one of the most exciting things I have ever witnessed in person. After a few laps, I headed back into the suite where lunch was being served and then I received a call from a representative for Mission Winnow, who happened to be in the suite next door, so I headed over to see him and chat about what was new with the Ferrari team. As with nearly everywhere I went, I had to get new lanyards.

After about 30 minutes I headed back to the Pirelli suite, to rejoin my group and share the story behind my extra lanyards and swag bag, and watch the end of the race. As it came down to the final laps we made our way back out to the balcony to watch Valtteri Bottas take the checkered flag in his Mercedes-AMG, a win that was overshadowed by the fact that Lewis Hamilton had scored enough points to win the 2019 Formula 1 Championship. The crowd was excited and two celebrations broke out as the pit lane filled with crews and fans of both Bottas and Hamilton and the cameras gathered to hear congratulatory speeches and watch the victors pop carbon fiber champaign bottles. Formula 1 is in its purest expression everything motorsports should be and I can't wait to experience more!