Formula One drivers enjoy the full Austin experience


Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo: ‘Austin is cool without trying to be.’

Mexican driver Sergio Perez: Central Texas like a second home race.

COTA springing to life as workers dive into set-up.

Formula One drivers travel to 21 countries and five continents, everywhere from Monte Carlo to Singapore, but clearly Austin remains one of their favorite stops.

The world-wide jet-setters are here this weekend for the fifth U.S. Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas, the 20-turn, 3.4-mile monster in southeast Travis County.

“The track in Austin is sick, I love it,” said Red Bull Racing driver Daniel Ricciardo, a 27-year-old Australian who is third in the points standings. “But Austin as a city is also awesome. I really like its character. It’s raw and authentic, which makes it cool without trying to be.

“The old-school bars and music venues, which are super cool, just make it work.”

Three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, who has won three of the four U.S. Grands Prix at COTA and is second to Nico Rosberg in the 2016 chase, tells reporters that “Austin is one of those places where drivers and teams like to spend a bit of extra time. It’s got a good vibe.”

Mexican driver Sergio Perez said Austin makes a great bookend with Mexico City, a race added last year and run the week after the U.S. Grand Prix.

“At first it felt like a hometown crowd for me here,” said Perez, who’s eighth in the standings for Force India. “Now it’s almost like having two hometown races. Austin has a nice culture and friendly feel to it.”

Ricciardo, who entertained water-logged fans last year with his impromptu pit lane dancing, always takes in some nightlife and samples the brisket when he’s here.

“I like live music and barbecue so I’m big on Austin,” he said. “I have to diet before I get here.

“Rainey Street has a lot of local music, and I like Pete’s Piano Bar. I want to check out Hotel Vegas this year.”

Rarin’ to go: Katja Heim, COTA’s chief operating officer, said the F1 freight, cars and equipment have arrived on cargo planes, and a small city within the 1,500-acre complex is rising.

“It’s amazing to see it all come together,” she said. “It’s hugely hectic and really exciting.

“One of the things that fascinates me is the television center, which goes from race to race, and is possibly the most advanced and equipped TV center you’ll ever see. They build it in three days.”

Did you know? COTA has about 100 full-time employees, but the number of workers jumps to about 2,000, including contractors and temps, for F1 weekend.

Changing faces: Renault has signed Nico Hulkenberg as a driver for the 2017 season. The 29-year-old German has been with Force India the past three years. He’s never achieved an F1 podium but is on pace for his fourth straight top-10 finish. He was ninth in 2016.

“Nico is one of only three drivers, with Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, to win a GP2 Series title in his first year,” Renault team principal Frederic Vasseur told reporters. “He has succeeded in everything, including winning Le Mans. He also is a real leader able to motivate the troops.”

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