Stateside fans rejoice! Formula 1 makes it return to the United States in 2012, with a brand new rack facility in the rolling hills outside Austin, Texas. (Okay, this is no news flash to F1 fans, so consider this an update of sorts.) It seems an ironic choice, given that Austin is the largest city in the country without a single major league franchise, but is about to join an elite list of cities around the world that play host to the premier racing events each year.
The Dallas-based architectural firm HKS has collaborated with Tilke GmbH to design a ground-up facility. HKS brings 50 years of experience in sports venue design and its international portfolio includes several projects in Mexico and Brazil. Domestically, the firm designed the new state-of-the-art Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas as well as multiple collegiate stadiums around the country.
Tilke GmbH, a global leader in in track design, has been responsible for such projects as Bahrain International Circuit, Turkey's Instanbul Park, Abu Dhabi's Yas Marina Circuit, and the Shanghai International Circuit. The German design firm was instructed to create a fast track reminiscent of the races from the 1960's. Turn sections have been borrowed from Silverstone, Hockenheim, and Istanbul, but turn one, an uphill hairpin, will be this track's signature turn.
The natural landscape set the stage for the 3.5 mile track to feature a maximum 133 feet of elevation change and, through a strategic combination of more than 20 turns, creates a course that should thrill drivers and spectators alike. As for construction progress, the gradients have been created, revealing the topography that will provide those exciting climbs and drops.
All parties involved are adamant about the location, which shares close proximity to three of the largest markets in the U.S.: Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston. The central location between Canada and South America is a benefit as well, providing convenient to Austin from both regions, and Europe shares the same easy access. Plus, the city of Austin is cool. The capital of Texas is also the live music capital of the world, with a wide variety of music styles as well as venues, and hosts the world-renowned South By Southwest (SXSW) music and film festival. A screening of a documentary film about the life of Aryton Senna, both on and off the track, will be held at the Paramount Theater in Austin at this year's event.
In an era of soak-the-taxpayer stadium projects around the U.S., the USGP group has opted to privately fund the construction of the state-of-the-art $250 million facility, which will also feature a kart track, driving/riding experience, seminar building, and a welcome center.
The dismal 2007 U.S. Grand Prix left such a negative image of F1 in the U.S. collective memory that selling F1 to the American public will be the greatest challenge facing the USGP group. In keeping with the high-calibre talent of the group, the advertising firm Exopolis was hired to promote the U.S. Grand Prix and with clients such as Apple, Inc., Coca-Cola, Nokia, Disney Co., Microsoft, and Nike, the firm certainly has the experience necessary.
The fact that the US has no F1 team has not been overlooked. Indeed, last year's US Team debacle has added to the concern, so promoters have begun efforts to overcome the negative press. Alexander Rossi, the only American with an F1 Superlicense, was invited to visit the site, in an effort to promote F1's return to the U.S.
I look forward to attending my first F1 race in Austin next year, and while my dream race is Monte Carlo on the terrace overlooking the hairpin turn, I'll be quite content with my stadium seating and Hill Country view for now.