What a difference a year makes.
This time last year, the racing surface at Circuit of the Americas created some problems for several drivers because of its lack of grip.
The race was the first major event at the 3.4-mile circuit, and the asphalt had not had a chance to “rubber in” — a term for when the rubber laid down by the tires provides a sticky surface.
Turn 19, a sharp left-hander, was particularly troublesome on Friday last year, and many cars slid off the track as though marbles had been thrown down.
The surface has seen a full year of racing in advance of Formula One’s return, and on Friday it got praise from McLaren’s Jenson Button, who last year said it was like driving on glass.
“Practice One was extremely grippy,” Button said. “This afternoon was actually slower, the circuit. I think that’s because it was windy. … I feel very good. Very enjoyable to drive.”
Fans connect with drivers in forum: One of the knocks on Formula One concerns the limited chances for fans to interact with the drivers and teams.
Unlike in NASCAR, the garages and paddock area are restricted to most ticket-holders during F1, and driver autograph sessions can be tightly controlled.
But fans were able to engage with and speak to some of the drivers Wednesday night at the Formula One Teams Association’s Fan Forum.
The forum, held at the Cedar Street Courtyard downtown, featured drivers Esteban Gutierrez, Sergio Perez, Adrian Sutil and American Alexander Rossi.
A microphone was passed around among the crowd, giving people a chance to ask anything they wanted. Meanwhile, organizers were throwing team T-shirts, caps and other items into the crowd, adding to the festive atmosphere.
Perez got the loudest applause from the fans, a couple of days after it was announced that McLaren would not re-sign him in 2014 after only one year with the struggling team.
Perez said he intends to be back: “I will definitely try to find the best possible seat available.”
Oliver Weingarten, chairman of the teams association, said he was working on having the forum again next year.
“More events like this would certainly help connect fans with the sport,” Weingarten said. “We made sure the drivers walked throughout the crowd so they could interact, they could sign autographs and take pictures. The fans could literally touch the drivers on stage, they were that close. It was a really raucous atmosphere that I think sent a good message for fan engagement for the sport.”
Andretti says Vettel won’t let up: Mario Andretti knows a thing or two about winning championships, and on Friday the 1978 Formula One title-holder had nothing but praise for Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel.
Andretti won his F1 championship at the U.S. Grand Prix with two races remaining in the season. Last month, Vettel won his fourth straight F1 championship in India, with three races to go.
Andretti said he did not foresee Vettel letting up in the final two races of 2013.
“Winning is really the objective,” Andretti, 79, said. “Every time you get into that race car, the opportunity is there. Championship or no championship, you’re not thinking of that when you’re in the car.”