F1 Return to US Draws Big Crowds at Austin
Over 65,000 spectators turned out for Friday free practice as Formula One made its return to the US after a five year absence, according to official figures from race organizers.
Official numbers from the Circuit of the Americas clocked Friday attendance at 65,360 spectators. The 3.4 mile long circuit is designed to accommodate a maximum of 120,000 fans.
In comparison, the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi has a maximum capacity of 50,000.
Speaking to the Telegraph, F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone hailed the Circuit of the Americas as “absolutely fantastic.”
“Everything we’ve asked for they’ve done and is unbelievable,” said Ecclestone. “ They’ve done a super job, I couldn’t ask for anything better. It’s absolutely fantastic.
“Everybody seems happy, although I had a complaint about the weather with it not being as hot as they’d hoped, but otherwise everything’s good, no complaints.”
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh echoed Ecclestone’s praises of the circuit during the Friday press conference, and was impressed with the massive Friday turnout.
“I think we have to congratulate everyone, Bernie and the organisers, for putting together not only a great circuit with great facilities and also it’s great to see how many people were here on a Friday.”
Whitmarsh was adamant in reiterating America’s pivotal role in Formula One’s success for the future.
“We’ve got to make sure that as Formula One as a whole, we put on a show this weekend; that we reach out over the coming year and we build this into a fantastic event. Clearly, the foundations are here to be able to provide that.
“I think it’s for us now to work as hard as we can to create the interest here.”
Jalopnik editor and first time grand prix attendee Matt Hardigree was impressed with what he saw today.
“For a first race I thought everything was handled quite well,” said Hardigree. “Given the speed with which this was put together, it’s great. Traffic was reasonable, shuttles were packed but easy to find.”
Hardigree noted the concessions within the circuit underestimated the size of the crowds, which led to some vendors running out of food.
“A few vendor issues, as to be expected, but everyone having a great time. They just need to stock the concessions to meet Texas appetites.”
Red Bull team Principal Christian Horner addressed the proliferation and popularity of stock car racing in America, and hinted that taking on the NASCAR juggernaut remains a herculean task for Formula One.
“We’ve got a very different product from NASCAR,” said Horner. “Obviously NASCAR reaches an exciting finale this weekend, which is an unfortunate coincidence, but I think we’ve got to work very hard to be as commercially smart as NASCAR and compete.”
The United States Grand Prix continues tomorrow with the final free practice session of the weekend, followed by knock-out Qualfying at 12pm local time.
Peter is a freelance journalist and graphics editor at Richland F1. His work has been featured in the Australian Formula 3 Series, A1GP and the Champ Car World Series. A contributor to E-Racing Magazine, Peter has appeared on BBC World & AOL's Autoblog Podcast as guest F1 correspondent. He can be found musing about all manner of things motorsport under his nom de plume on Twitter @BaronVonClutch.