A decade ago, the Circuit of The Americas (COTA) was new and exciting and unknown. Today, for our 11th visit, COTA is familiar, and understood and… still very exciting.
The United States Grand Prix is a real highlight of the calendar. A huge event, with a vast audience, plus marching bands, cheerleaders, rock concerts and all against the backdrop of a city that knows how to have a good time. It'd be a great place to come as a spectator – but there's the small matter of a race to contest, so much of this passes a team by. COTA is brutal to the cars and tough on the drivers, and this year it's complicated: we have a Sprint.
There's lots for Team Principal Mike Krack to talk about as we head into the first part of a transcontinental triple-header.
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This is Mike on…
"This is our first triple-header of the season – should be our second – and it's going to be relentless. And that's good! It's good because we've got three races that always have enormous, passionate audiences – but we don't pretend it isn't tough.
"We've got different time zones, heat, altitude, everyone is away from home and family, living on the road in each-others' pockets for three weeks, under huge pressure to perform at their very best towards the end of a very long season. There is some psychological preparation involved: as senior managers we have to keep things under control – but generally the team is self-motivating. No-one's forcing us to be here – it's a genuine privilege."
The welcome from Texas
"It was good to get out of the heat and humidity of Qatar, everyone was suffering a bit out in the desert, but we've had chance to cool down before heading out here, where again it's very hot… but it's a dry heat! It's just a really nice atmosphere at COTA and downtown in Austin. You feel very welcome – and that's important – and the town is buzzing about the race.
"Years ago, when the United States Grand Prix was in Indianapolis, I didn't get that same feeling and sometimes it felt the city wasn’t really in tune with the race. This is very different. There's a real sense that Austin wants to be the home of the United States Grand Prix and we're very, very happy that it does."
"We've got an upgrade package on the car this weekend. It's a very positive thing that we can manage this while the bulk of our attention is clearly already on the 2024 car; it wouldn't be possible without all the hard work and dedication of everyone in the team. Even in this late stage of the season, the energy and enthusiasm are second to none. It's been tight to get this upgrade package ready in time: the second floor wasn't finished at the factory until Tuesday, went straight out of the door, fitted to the car here in the garage and ready to go by Thursday.
"How's it going to go? We're confident it's going to help us, make the car better, make it easier to drive and, from that, deliver better performance. There are a few more small bits to come after this, but this will be the final major upgrade: floor, wings, bodywork.
"We're embroiled in a really good championship battle, but looking at the bigger picture, I think the important thing with this upgrade is to see a turnaround in car behaviour. Great if that leads to good results to end the season – and we'll be pushing as hard as we possibly can – but a turnaround would mean that we have understood the car we have and have a really solid foundation on which to build for 2024. That's the real prize."
The challenge of COTA '23
"We've probably picked the worst possible weekend for an upgrade! We're doing it because we don't want to waste a moment – but COTA is a difficult circuit, and having a Sprint weekend really compounds that.
"Track first: it's buffeted by strong winds, and this year it's going to be very hot. You have huge kerbs, different grades of asphalt, plenty of bumps. It's demanding for the drivers and harsh to the cars – parts fail here that you never see fail anywhere else. It's an extreme challenge.
"And, because this is a Sprint weekend, we only have one practice session before fixing the cars in their final specification, as parc fermé rules begin the moment they leave the garage in Qualifying. The only way to approach an upgrade under these conditions is to really commit to it. You can't run the old versus the new spec, you don't have that sort of time. You have to put the new spec on both cars, run them and learn all you can.
"This is F1 in the style of roulette! You have the perfect recipe to fail – and to avoid that we really need to concentrate, set out our priorities correctly and work through those and nothing else. We have to be clear with two or three targets to learn and get that job done."
"I'm hoping Lance has a good weekend in Texas because he had a very frustrating time in Qatar – which obviously boiled over. His frustration comes from believing that he delivered below his own expectations and below his own ambitions. He puts himself under a lot of pressure. Within a team, you see it and have context – but he's judged by public opinion, when public opinion is sitting at home watching on TV with a cold beer. I've mentioned this topic a few times already this year but indulge me one more time: these athletes perform in a very difficult environment. We want to see them display emotion, but they get criticised when they do.
"I can't quite put myself in their position, because I'm running with much less adrenaline on the pitwall but even so, it's a lot. I review my own performances, when I've gone straight from the pitwall to a microphone, and honestly, I don't recognise my own voice. You're excited, you're pumped up. If you're doing that an hour later, you're much calmer – but the drivers aren't doing it an hour later. They jump out of the car and are bombarded. I have huge admiration for when the drivers are able to calmly deliver the message under those circumstances."
Focusing on the fans
"On the subject of entertainment, let's talk about I / AM A FAN in Austin. We’re doing a lot this week with our fans in and around the city, shining the spotlight on them and rewarding their support, and it's going to be a lot of fun.
"Austin is a different audience to Miami, a different audience to Montréal – but together, they're a completely different audience to what we have in Europe. Entertainment is much more to the fore here, and F1 needs to be receptive to this. We have to adapt to the audience, rather than demanding the audience adapt to us."
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