MotoGP’s visit to Circuit of the Americas in Austin two weeks ago was a dramatic one, but not for the right reasons. Competitors complained about the bumpy track surface all weekend long, with Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo comparing the experience riding on it to motocross. Slow-motion footage of Joan Mir bouncing off his seat trying to wrangle his Suzuki put the problem into perspective.
Now it’s Formula 1's turn to tackle COTA’s tricky surface. And while bumps don’t pose the same danger for cars as for bikes, the recurring issue of Austin’s inconsistent asphalt is prompting some last-minute mitigation measures.
Race director Michael Masi has requested that the worst of the bumps be ground down just three days ahead of the first practice session of the weekend, according to Motorsport.com. Meanwhile, AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly has predicted that the nature of the track will make car setup a challenge:
“Having watched MotoGP a few weeks back, the bumps which were already pretty bad last time we raced there, seem even more severe now. It will require some sort of compromise on set-up, but we won’t really know until we get there. I’m not particularly worried about it, because our car is working well everywhere at the moment and we just have to avoid any problems waiting to ambush us, so that we can continue to close in on Alpine in the championship.”
Parts of COTA were resurfaced following F1's last event there, in 2019. Masi has noted that the areas that were problematic for MotoGP are not the same that were addressed two years ago. That said, if COTA wants to ensure that both series keep returning to Austin — especially MotoGP — it may have to invest in a more comprehensive resurfacing over the offseason.
It’s often said that the culprit of COTA’s tricky tarmac is the ever-shifting clay over which it’s built, but the Texas track is far from the only FIA Grade 1 circuit that lacks a favorable natural foundation. Silverstone was thought to be beset by similar problems, until that track was recently resurfaced in a manner that accounted for the properties of its soil.
Jarno Zaffelli, who owns the company that oversaw the Silverstone project, recently told Motorsport.com that such issues can be managed and essentially stamped out, if the resurfacing is done properly from the beginning and continuously monitored after the fact:
“Absolutely, it’s exactly what we did at Silverstone,” Zaffelli said when asked if a moveable surface such as the clay at COTA can be accounted for when a new surface is put down. “So, the proof is there and you can see it now. We have a monitoring with Silverstone every six months, we do a full scan of the track with local contractors.
“The fact is we are doing monitoring every six months in Silverstone and nothing is moving. If something is moving some millimetres, we go head on and try to understand with the Silverstone guys how we maintain it immediately, because we see the differences. But the bumps we saw in Austin are not millimetres, they are centimetres.”
Ultimately, Austin’s eccentricities could make for a more thrilling and unpredictable but not necessarily more dangerous F1 race, which fans will welcome. But what’s annoying for cars is downright unsafe for motorcycles, and vehicles of four and two wheels share this circuit. Masi says organizers will “do what they can within the timeframe” to stamp out the worst of it. A quick fix may fly for now, but serious efforts will be necessary unless COTA wants to face a repeat of all this next summer.