Trackside at F1

Big crowds and small lines for day one of the US Grand Prix

The crowd watches day one of practice for the 2012 United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas (Photo by John Anderson)

So the long-awaited/feared/hoped-for inaugural United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas has arrived, and so far all seems pretty calm. That is, except for the deafening sound of Formula One engines.

The circuit management must be breathing a sigh of relief over the first day of testing. Even though Friday is likely to be the slowest day for visitors, it was likely to be the day with the biggest traffic headaches. Instead, most people were reporting pretty average traffic – no better or worse than an average Friday in Austin. What's impressive is that the event managed to get (wait for it) 65,360 racegoers to the event and back pretty smoothly. I've seen way worse traffic on a Longhorns' home game weekend, but just to be safe, the city/county F1 Joint Information Center is recommending that the people taking their own cars out there think about SH 21 as an alternate route to SH 130 or IH 35.

Circuit management is probably feeling pretty excited about the circuit itself, and how it is standing up to its first big event. The crowd seemed big, happy and extremely international (I heard French, Italian, Spanish and German within a few feet of each other, plus a lot of Texas accents.) The A-listers are already here, including indie film makers George Lucas and Ron Howard. In fact, Howard admitted recently that it was Lucas, who directed him in American Graffiti, who took him to his first ever F1 race: Now Howard is working on his own F1 movie, Rush (read more about that here.)

And the track is exactly what project innovator Tavo Hellmund dreamed it would be. Challenging, accessible, with great sight lines. Turn one is the signature everyone thought it would be, with its long view to the Austin skyline. The big surprise may be turn 19, which has become a real challenge for drivers. Prediction: The first driver to conquer both takes the weekend. SO far, it seems to be Red Bull team in prime contention, with world championship leader Sebastian Vettel setting the top lap time in practice (1:37.718) and his teammate Mark Webber up close at 1:38.475.

Frankly, the only disappointment about this November date is that, if this were earlier in the season, some talented up-and-comer could throw the title hunt into confusion.

As the day ebbed, the visitors and the locals (yes, there were a lot there) headed to their homes, hotels and the Austin Fan Fest celebration. The feel Downtown is a mix of SXSW, early Halloween evening on Sixth, and the Pecan Street Festival. Bars were filled (some of them rented out for private events, but not many) and the streets were mostly filled with families. Frankly, the cops working Austin Fan Fest seemed a little bored.

Read more of our USGP coverage here, but in the meantime, here's some of our photos from Friday.

Team Lotus screams down the straight in day one of practice at the United States Grand Prix (Photo by John Anderson)

'Honest Abe' came with his friends from Florida to attend the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas (Photo by Richard Whittaker)

Turn one at the Circuit of the Americas proves tricky on the first day of practice for the 2012 United States Grand Prix (Photo by John Anderson)

The view from the grand stands at turn one of the Circuit of the Americas (Photo by John Anderson)

Day one of practice at the Circuit of the Americas for the 2012 United States Grand Prix (Photo by John Anderson)

Back in the paddock area, the tires are all laid out for the inaugural United States Grand Prix (Photo by John Anderson)

Lotus mechanics prepare tires in the paddock area at the Circuit of the Americas (Photo by John Anderson)

Inside the track: Turn 11 at the Circuit of the Americas on first day of practice for the 2012 United States Grand Prix (Photo by John Anderson)

Call it Hellmund Hill: The legendary view from turn one at Circuit of the Americas on first day of practice for the 2012 United States Grand Prix (Photo by John Anderson)

The media room at the Circuit of the Americas (Photo by Richard Whittaker)

A Caterham mechanic scrapes the road debris off a tire at the United States Grand Prix. Drivers are restricted on the number of tires they can use over a weekend, so each is precious cargo. (Photo by Richard Whittaker)

The grand stands at the Circuit of the Americas stand against the crisp blue November Central Texas sky (Photo by Richard Whittaker)

Red Bull driver Mark Webber sets the second best practice time for Friday (Photo by Richard Whittaker)

Sir Jackie Stewart, a true icon of Formula One, addressed the audience at the British Ambassador's cocktail reception for the United States Grand Prix (Photo by Richard Whittaker)

Downtown hums with the first night of Austin Fan Fest: Around town, Flo Rida and Aerosmith play fans (Photo by Richard Whittaker)

Introduction to speed: Competitive Hot Wheels racing for the kids at Austin Fan Fest (Photo by Richard Whittaker)
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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Circuit of the Americas, City of Austin, Formula One, F1, Practice, Paddock

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