Down here in the left-leaning, hard drinking, queso-loving center of Texas, it's the most wonderful time of the year. I'm not talking about the odd game where the Longhorns might just pull off a win — I'm talking about the Formula One United States Grand Prix in Austin.
Now in its third year, this weekend is when the world's top motorsports series comes to one of the very best tracks in the entire world for the only current F1 race in the U.S. If you're an American, you should be thrilled, because it's our race and it's always a hell of a show. Last year some 250,000 people attended over the three days of racing.
More importantly, it's a great weekend to be a gearhead in Austin. If you love cars and racing and live in Austin, suddenly you find yourselves surrounded by kindred spirits. The Porsche, Ferrari, McLaren and Subaru BRZ count seems to go way, way up. Everyone falls in love with speed, or at least just pretends to because it's a great excuse to party.
Speaking of parties, there's a ton of those everywhere, because many of the folks who fly in for F1 are members of a posh, jet-setting crowd. They're not gonna be pounding Lone Stars at Barfly's on Airport Boulevard; they're swilling bottle service champagne and conversing in some fancy language. Like Italian.
Basically, F1 is an awesome event. But if you're a regular reader of Jalopnik, you know this, and you could be an avid fan. You may even be going to the race this weekend! But for those who don't get it, or who are new to watching the race or attending, I have put together this handy guide. Give it to those not in the know and watch as they become rapt in awe and forever converted to F1 fandom. It's simply that good.
And if you're going to the race, or just plan on watching it, there may be some useful stuff in it for you too. Let us know if we missed anything in the comments.
Formula One! So this is like NASCAR, right?
Unbeknownst to many Americans, there are other forms of racing besides NASCAR! F1 cars are open wheel, single-seat racers that do both left AND right turns. The series features some of the best drivers anywhere and is considered the highest level of auto racing in the world. (Besides the Grom Prix. Obviously.)
If you want to know more about how F1 works, check out Travis' guide to the sport from the inaugural Austin race in 2012. A few things have changed since that season but it's still a great resource.
What's the deal with Circuit of the Americas?
Built in majestic Elroy, Texas but now annexed to be a part of Austin, it is a 1,000 acre facility with a 3.4-mile track designed specifically with F1 in mind. It's a fantastic track, currently among the newest and best in the world. It's a complex, technical, 20-turn course with lots of hairpins, elevation changes and blind corners. I drove on it once. No one died.
In addition to the track, there's grandstands, good views of the race from any general admission seat, and fancy suites. There's also an amphitheater where they have live music. This year, Kid Rock is playing after the race ends on Sunday.
Wait, Kid Rock is playing? I thought Austin was supposed to be some paradise for music fans.
Please accept our sincerest apologies for this oversight.
What's the race schedule?
Basically, it goes down like this: practice on Friday, qualifying on Saturday, and the race on Sunday. Here's a detailed breakdown of everything.
Tell me more about these cars.
Like I said, single seat, open wheel, open cockpit race cars. They use advanced hybrid engines and do not refuel during races — pit stops are only for tire changes and things like that. The cars can do well over 200 mph.
The engines are all-new for this season. Previously, they were naturally aspirated 2.4-liter V8s, but now they run much smaller turbocharged 1.6-liter V6s. These new V6 engines sound considerably different, and not in a good way, much to the chagrin of most fans.
Oh, a V6! I know what those are. My dad has one in his Camry. It's a real sport sedan!
I don't think we can be friends.
It's a team sport, but the drivers compete against each other, right?
That's right. Each team has two drivers, but everyone is out there for himself. If a team has a second name, that refers to who built the engine; the McLaren Mercedes car, for example, is a car run by the McLaren team that uses a Mercedes engine. Engines are crazy expensive, so not every team can afford to run their own. Other engines are built by Ferrari and Renault this season.
This weekend will be interesting because there will be four fewer drivers on the grid than normal after two teams, Caterham and Marussia, are unable to race due to financial problems.
There's other races besides there just F1, right?
Yes, there are support races, like Porsche Supercup and Ferrari Challenge. Plenty of racing entertainment to go around.
Where are we at in the F1 season?
Sadly, we're almost at the end of it. After this, there's two one more in Brazil and then Abu Dhabi. If this is your first experience, consider it your gateway drug.
Which drivers should I care about?
Pick a few and see how they do! There's Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, currently in the lead for the 2014 drivers' championship. He won here back in 2012. But don't count out his teammate, Nico Rosberg, who is second to Hamilton in points.
Beyond the Mercedes leaders, I'm a fan of Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo, an extremely talented up-and-comer and someone I think will be a future champion; mumbling daredevil weirdo Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari, a perennial Jalopnik favorite; his teammate Fernando Alonso, who like Raikkonen has been trying to hold it together despite years of suckage; and Valteri Bottas, another young star who drives for Williams.
Also, all of the driver and team alignments will be up in the air next year because everything is crazy.
What if I want to watch it on TV?
In the U.S., NBC is your go-to. Practice will be live at 3 p.m. Friday on the NBC Sports network. Then on NBC itself, qualifying will be live at 1 p.m. Saturday, and the race will be live starting with the pre-show at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. (All times are Eastern.) But it's not as fun as being there!
Okay, you've won me over. I'm flying to Austin right now. What should I do there?
There's a lot to do in the capital of Texas, America's most kickass state. Great music, barbecue and Tex-Mex await you. First and foremost, you should come to our Jalopnik get together at the Hi Hat Public House tonight. No need to RSVP, just show up.
Stef put together this guide on things to do during F1 weekend and you should definitely check that out.
Where do I park at the track?
Good luck with that, parking passes are very limited and very expensive. If you do have one, here's a handy map. Your best bet may be to park downtown or at the Travis County Expo Center and take a shuttle. More details on that here.
What if I have to poop there?
Anticipating your every need, we've already put together a terrifyingly comprehensive guide to that.
Damn, you guys are good.
The best in the business.
So will the winner of the race do donuts afterward?
Got to. This is America, man.