If Sebastian Vettel, on the eve of his fourth consecutive F1 world title, can tell the world 'I sh*t myself', so can I...
The German, now on the verge of becoming one of the most successful grand prix drivers of all time, was talking about the first time he sat in an F1 car, reflecting on just how far he had come in the intervening years. I, on the other hand, am about to swap my humble Mini Cooper Clubman for a McLaren…
Admittedly, it isn't an MP4-28 - or even the MP4-26 sitting idly in the garage at the Circuit of the Americas
– that I am talking about, but the Woking company's 12C still represents a significant step up in performance.
The opportunity, which defines 'once in a lifetime', comes courtesy of Mobil1, McLaren's official fuel and lubricant partner, which has arranged a fleet of the sleek sportscars with which to ferry the media around the USA's latest F1 circuit. Well, that was the initial offer carried in the invitation to attend... By the time I was boarding my Delta Airlines flight and heading to Austin – appropriately, perhaps, via the original 'Motor City' - the offer was upped to get behind the wheel myself.
The Circuit of the Americas
is, at first glance, an unassuming place. Set back from the freeway, you might pass by without noticing it if you weren't going there, but, once inside, it is clearly an impressive feat of engineering. Everything, of course, is purpose-built, designed to give the F1 world the facilities it now demands as the sport attempts, once again, to establish a footing in the US. Various hosts have come and gone - from 'real' circuits like Watkins Glen and Indianapolis to the generally detested street (and car park) layouts of Phoenix, Las Vegas and, a couple of hundred miles up the road, Dallas – so the importance being placed on Austin's success is obvious.
“I think it was really important,” circuit designer Christian Epp claims, “There was a lot of pressure on us and the promoter, to get it right, to make it happen. Last year's race showed that it worked really well and we really hope that F1 finds its home at this circuit. That was our objective, our goal, and it's promising. From everything that happened last year, it seems to be working in the right direction.”
Epp is well aware of the challenges faced by the Circuit of the Americas. Employed by Tilke Engineers & Architects, F1's circuit designer of choice in an age where half the world seemingly wants to find a place on the calendar, he was handed the responsibility of constructing a venue from scratch on the outskirts of the Texas state capital.
Encouragingly, he was given carte blanche
with a brown-field site, able to choose which section of a vast swathe of land would provide the best base for realising former racer Tavo Hellmund's dream of bringing F1 to the Lone Star State.
Presented with a rolling landscape, Epps says he immediately envisaged CotA's signature first turn, while the remainder of the 20-corner layout formed gradually, combining the desires of Hellmund and former 500cc bike champion Kevin Schwantz to replicate some of the world's most famous curves with the natural challenge presented by Texas itself.
“We picked a nice piece of land, with topography that we could play with,” he explains, “It is something that we felt would appeal to drivers, to work in a 3D experience - a track is not a two-dimensional object and you want to experience it with elevation change.