AUSTIN, Texas — It’s been a decade since Formula One first roared into Austin. Despite lingering rumors about the future of the U.S. Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas, it doesn't seem as if the event will be slowing down anytime soon.
The 2021 race reached sold-out status in record time this season, according to COTA officials, and more than 360,000 attendees are expected to visit for this year’s race and all the accompanying hoopla, which began Thursday and will continue through Sunday’s Grand Prix.
Those record-breaking numbers have COTA CEO Bobby Epstein optimistic about the race’s future in Austin, even though it is in the last year of its contract with Formula One. COTA will probably begin ticket sales for the 2022 race in April, Epstein told ESPN on Wednesday, and he hopes to wrap up negotiations with F1 over the next few months.
“We'd like to finalize it before we go on sale, although we'll put some (2022) tickets on sale this weekend," Epstein told ESPN. “I think it's going to get done. I'm highly confident that we'll get there.”
After its last race in Indianapolis in 2007, F1 spent four seasons without a stop in the U.S. COTA opened in 2012 and has since served as F1’s lone host in the U.S. That will change next season when Miami has a grand prix, probably in May. Rumors also persist about a race in Las Vegas.
But the rising popularity of F1 in the U.S. — just ask your neighbor, who’s been watching “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” on Netflix for the past few years, along with millions of other Americans — should keep COTA as an attractive option even as others arise, F1 officials said Wednesday.
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 21, 2021
Stefano Domenicali, the Formula One CEO, has told reporters that he wants to expand F1’s presence in the U.S. and hinted that any cutbacks in the schedule would occur in Europe.
But the future can wait until after this weekend, which Epstein has called “the biggest (sporting) event on the planet this year since the Olympics couldn’t have fans.”
The scale of F1 dwarfs all other sporting events in Central Texas. Thousands of tons of equipment for the competitive racing teams have poured into the more than 1,000 acres that make up COTA, which is about 14 miles southeast of downtown Austin. That amount doesn’t include all the peripheral entertainment, which ranges from concerts by classic rock stalwart Billy Joel and NBA legend and part-time rapper Shaquille O’Neal to a food festival dubbed the “COTA Culinary Experience” as well as a Spam-eating contest featuring professional eaters.
There’s even a mechanical octopus on wheels shooting flames from its eight tentacles, as well as lucha libre wrestling matches.
None of those spectacles will match Sunday’s main event, when 24-year-old Max Verstappen of shared Belgium and Netherlands citizenship tries to hold onto a slim six-point point lead over English racing giant Lewis Hamilton.
The 36-year-old Hamilton, a seven-time champion, has won four consecutive titles. Although he said Wednesday that New York City and Hawaii are his favorite haunts in the U.S., he has felt right at home in Austin. Hamilton has won five of the eight races held at COTA, with his most recent victory coming in 2017.
“It’s amazing to be back,” Hamilton said. “It’s a place of great, great memories.”
And would Hamilton favor even more time spent in the States, especially considering his track record?
“The U.S. Grand Prix is fantastic, and it’s such a huge country, having just one race here for sure isn’t enough,” he said. “They’re crazy about sports over here, and there’s never enough sports; (the fans) always want more action.”
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: F1: Formula 1's future in US looks strong as COTA hosts US Grand Prix