VICTORY LAP

F1 is thundering into Texas for the United States Grand Prix Formula 1 Circuit of The Americas and we can’t wait. The Race Week will put our region into the apex of the international spotlight and we look forward seeing how the Jet Set’s sport of choice adapts to its fastest lap of luxury in a new venue. Here, Wes Marshall shares an insider’s look at what we can expect to experience.

Photography Coutesy of CoTA, Sauber F1 Team, and Archival Photography

Awhile back, we only had two days in Monaco’s capital, Monte Carlo, before we had to meet some winemakers in Burgundy for a long-scheduled business meeting. Our primary purpose in the Principality was a grand lunch at Alain Ducasse’s Le Louis XV at the Hotel de Paris. And indeed, it was magnificent, everything you could hope for in a Michelin three-star restaurant. Here, all of the clocks have been stopped at 12:00 to symbolize time standing still. Any sense of time flies away the moment the incredible staff takes control of your life, immersing you in a level of luxury you wondered if still existed. Impossibly decadent yet perfectly imagined foods were accompanied by one of the world’s grandest wine lists. Adjectives fail when it comes to the staff: respectful, courteous, sophisticated, elegant, urbane, experienced, educated, genial, and chic. Those are a few that spring to mind. Our lunch took four blissful hours. We departed through the Hotel’s lobby to see what it was like and although nothing could quite match the resplendence of Le Louis XV, the Hotel de Paris was similarly opulent, if more burnished. That was when I came face to face with one of the most jaw-dropping sights of my life.

We stepped out onto the stunning Place du Casino, not realizing that the casino was attracting a phalanx of handsome men and magnificent women pulling up in cars that were even more stunningly attractive than they were. Just as I walked out there was a Giallo Modena (i.e. Yellow) Ferrari Enzo, the most beautiful car I’ve ever seen. The person who slipped out of the car was equally ravishing, though I couldn’t tell you a thing about her. I just focused on the work of automotive art sitting in front of me.

It was two days before the start of practice sessions for the Formula 1 Grand Prix De Monaco. I knew how important the F1 races were in Monte Carlo. In fact, we had been in Macau during the F3 races and the level of worldwide fan craziness for that would match our NASCAR fans. That was just F3.

I was fully aware that F1 is the playground of the richest people on earth. There’s been a lot of talk lately about the wealth of folks who manage venture capital and private equity funds. F1 followers are at a different level. They are the ones who hire the venture capitalists. What I didn’t realize is that so many of them like to take their favorite cars along with them when they go from race to race.

That’s why, as I looked around the Place, there were several drop-dead gorgeous vehicles and a steady procession were pulling up to the Casino. I talked our group into sitting at the open air Café du Place so we could watch. It has a prime location, across the Place from the Hotel de Paris and perpendicular to the Casino. The AMG Mercedes and Bentleys were for the hoi polloi. Ferrarri’s were everywhere, especially Testarossas and Berlinetta Boxers. We saw Lamborghini Diablos and Murciélagos. A prime British racing green AC Cobra drew attention for its throaty roar. Four or five cars drove up with badges I’ve never seen before, so I can’t even tell you what they were.

At this point, I would have spent anything for tickets to the F1 race. But, as my wife reminded me, I had to go drink wine in Burgundy. Maybe someday. And that someday is soon.

Flash Forward…

Please consider the following list. What do they have in common?

Melbourne, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, Bahrain, Catalunya, Monte Carlo, Montréal, Valencia, Silverstone, Hockenheim, Budapest, Spa-Francorchamps, Monza, Singapore, Suzuka, Yeongam, New Delhi, Abu Dhabi, São Paulo.

Austin and the Central Texas region.

That top group of cities are some of the world’s most exotic places. Catalunya takes you to Barcelona. Shanghai is the center of Asian capitalism. São Paulo is the heartbeat of Brazil. Singapore vies for the finest food city on earth. Austin? Well, we love it. Some of us adore it. Starting November 16, Austin will be forever changed and all those cities have something to do with it.

The answer to the question is, those are the other nineteen sites for the annual FIA Formula One World Championship. Austin is the twentieth. This time, I’ll be drinking my Burgundy right here, thank you very much, while participating in the races. Austin is the penultimate race, and if the standings stay as tight as they are now, there is every reason to believe that either Austin’s event or the final, one week later, in São Paulo, will be the deciding race.

Austin will be front and center on the world stage. The airport is building new hangers for all the private jets. The F1 crowd is, after all, the group that defines the term “jet setter.” Helicopters are being shipped in from all over the country for folks who don’t like to wait on the highways. As I write this in September, Expedia shows page after page of hotels that are completely booked. There is a Comfort Inn in a suburb that normally rents between $60 and $75 a night. At press time, they have one room left for $550 a night.

Whether or not you believe in trickledown economics, something you can be assured of – word of mouth trickles up, down and sideways. One of the reasons that Austin has gained the reputation as The Live Music Capital of the World is the musicians fall in love with the vibe and tell everyone how cool it is to live and work here (it sure isn’t because of the money they make!). Word will certainly be spreading. People from all fifty states and 37 foreign countries have purchased tickets. Almost 20,000 people will be coming from overseas just to see this race, for a total of an estimated 300,000 in for the week, according to experts.

For those of you who care more about Zanotti pumps than seamless gearboxes, know that the F1 races draw more beautifully turned out people than the New York City, London, Milan, or Paris Fashion Weeks. For those of you who might think NASCAR is the ultimate driving challenge, just remember, those are cars on steroids and they are driving in circles. F1, beyond that, is like attaching four wheels to a rocket and driving it though a labyrinth.

We Americans tend to be parochial about our sports, calling them “world” championships and assuming that things like soccer and F1 racing are quixotic pastimes followed by quaint people who refuse to enter the modern era of NFL and NASCAR. Consider this: our biggest sporting event, in the U.S. by far, is the Super Bowl. It might as well be a national holiday. Each year, 110 million people worldwide gather around the television to enjoy the championship game. That’s pretty good, right?

The average viewership for an F1 race is 600 million.

Some of these numbers started to sound a little dizzying, so I contacted Bruce Knox, the mellifluous-voiced Executive Vice-President of the Circuit of the Americas. “Oh yes, they’re all true.” He was laughing on the other end of the line, sharing my amazement. “The only sporting event with more viewers is the World Cup and that only happens every four years. But here’s what I think is really amazing. There are twelve teams and each team has two cars. They average $500 million a year to support two cars. Each team averages about 500 employees to support those two cars. Here’s what’s really amazing. Of those 500, about 150 are engineers. These cars are designed from the ground up. Some manufacturers spend as much as $250 million per year just on the engines.”

So, if you want to make a splash and have the ultimate good time, what’s your strategy? I talked with a source who is a president of one of the companies that makes a key component of a widely used engine part. “The ultimate goodie is a Paddock Pass,” he told me. “It allows you access to the same places the drivers and team members go. They are worth more than diamonds. Everyone in this business has so much money that the offer of more money just bores them, so you can’t buy one. People who are deeply involved in the business and have dreamed of getting one for decades still have never even touched a Paddock Pass. You’ll hear rumors about being able to buy them. Don’t believe it.”

The next best thing is on offer from the folks at F1. It’s called – rather confusingly – the Formula One Paddock Club. Here’s how they brand it: “At the Formula One Paddock Club, you can watch the race unfold with all the drama that Formula One delivers. Unrivalled views, unparalleled access, seamless service, the finest cuisine, and unique opportunities to meet and greet are all provided with an extraordinary attention to detail.” Price, $4600. And that’s just getting started.

Whether you want to live like a billionaire and try to keep up with some of the wealthiest people on earth, or, like me, if you just want the three-day, $159 general admission people-watching pass, this promises to be one incredible experience. As Mr. Knox pointed out, it will only get better. “This is going to have a huge economic impact on Austin. Even more important, it is going to shine an international spotlight on Austin on our city and state. But do you know what’s best of all?” he asked. “We have a ten year contract. That means we have time to build it and make it better, year after year.”

We can’t wait.

For more information on event packages for Race Week which is November 16-18, we recommend contacting MyYachtGroup.com, MonacoStarEvents.com, USStarEvents.com and IdeasUSA.com and mention The Society Diaries for special VIP offers to enjoy the excitement.

Zoom Into Action

For the F-1 Circuit of Americas that is about to descend on Austin, it is a numbers game.

  • Formula 1 race cars can go 100mph in 3.8 seconds
  • Top speeds are up to 220mph around the track
  • The largest teams spend $400million per season
  • An estimated 300,000 F1 racing fans will descend upon Austin for just one week.

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