Chip Thomson: Formula 1 Grand Prix Racing - It's the Good Life... And There's a Race, Too

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If you thought a Formula 1 Grand Prix race was just about racing, think again. Austin, Texas experienced its first event, at what the experts claim to be the world's most advanced auto race facility and at a cost of nearly $400,000,000 COTA (Circuit of the Americas) is getting high praise across the board from fans, teams, and drivers.


Mario Andretti was quoted describing COTA: "It's a beautiful thing, the turns and elevation changes make it one of the most technical tracks in the world." 


Months of build up, weeks of hype, fashion shows, car shows, practically the entire W Hotel turned into a Studio 54 and entertainment fuelled by testosterone levels higher than Willie Nelson on a cross country bus tour.


Entertainment event Producer extraordinaire, the UK's own Ian Weightman, with the help of Ginger Leigh, knows how to throw a party and the W was the place to be for four days. But this isn't your typical party and Ian and Ginger aren't your typical organizers. But in typical British fashion, Ian, who seemed to get about 3 hours of sleep a night the last 6 months, preparing this Texas-sized party for the world, took it all in stride, telling me the goal is for everyone to have the time of their lives and to take something home they won't forget. 


It's an event that puts Austin on the map with Monaco, Melbourne, Shanghai, Barcelona, and others. Are you kidding? Austin? a cow-town only 15 years ago, now trendy enough to be mentioned in the same sentence with some of the most sparkling cities in the world? Austinites don't get it yet. Americans, in general, don't get it yet. But they will. Like the World Cup. They will!


This show provides it all: stunningly gorgeous women, fashionably smooth men, both looking like they were sculpted, rather than born, and wealth beyond comprehension. Check your dictionary under "over-the-top" and you'll see a picture of a Formula 1 event and its fans. The clothes, the glamour, the beautiful, long-legged models. And tall - all of them, tall. At 5'9" I'm nearly in traction from trying to look some of the world's most beautiful people in the eye for three weeks. 


Acclaimed Fashion Designer, Linda Asaf (, who's staff provided much of the fashion-power for the event and dressed many of the models and personalities for three weeks, puts it like this, "'Last June, I told Austinites to hang on because we were in for a wild ride with Formula 1 coming to town!  I had no idea how much of a wild ride it would be for me personally...Six fashion shows, parties, receptions, a ride on the track with a professional race car driver, tv appearances, a spectacular race and after race parties that lasted nearly 'til dawn. The Formula 1 cars weren't the only things going 200mph!" 


The cars are flown into the event on 747s with better seats than most CEOs and this is where it becomes difficult to fathom: Over $1,000,000 for an F1 engine (and you can guess how quickly these land-jets go through them) and teams with an average annual cost of $138,000,000. Just to put that in perspective, that's about the annual payroll of the New York Mets. Each car's final cost is almost 1/2 billion dollars and, get this: the cost to increase the speed of your car 1/10 of a second around the track? A staggering $100,000,000! 


You're kidding, right? These people look down at the Forbes top 100 wealth list the way Ferrari looks down at Kia. President Obama wants to increase the tax on the top 1%? These teams and fans make the top 1% look like the poverty level. 


Roll the Super Bowl, The World Series, and the NBA Playoffs into one and you have a Formula 1. And by "the event", it's not the race. It's $400 per plate lunches, $1,000 per plate dinners, $10,000 per table nightclub seating, helicopters to and from the event from all over town, and more celebrities than the Oscars. It's about the wealth, the extravagance, the excitement, the closing of 21 streets in downtown Austin. It's the W, staying open until 4AM and people begging for another hour. It's the streets filled with people at 3AM, and not just everyday people - we're talking about people who could buy the hotels, not just stay in them for $3,000/night. 


Times are tough, financially? Really? Spend a week in a F1 city during race-week, then decide if it looks like the economy is suffering. Doormen, concierges, and parking valets are hiring Morgan Stanley to handle their retirement plans. Listen to Frank Sinatra sing "It's the Good Life". He was referring to Formula 1, he just didn't know it at the time. But now Austin can, "Kiss the good life good-bye" - at least until next year, when, trust me, the event will be even bigger. 


Oh, almost forgot. Lewis Hamilton, of the McLaren-Mercedes team, took the checkered flag.