Updated: Nov 6
The Drivers' and Constructors' Championships for the 2023 Formula 1 season are already decided, but being one of the lucky few permitted to walk down pit lane at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas before the Lenovo U.S. Grand Prix still delivers unimaginable thrills to the motorsports fan.
On the Thursday immediately prior to race weekend every year, COTA allows invited fans to walk down pit lane and interact with their favorite drivers and teams.
I received the following email explaining the particulars of the special event - the most important details being the free parking in lot A from 3pm onward and the actual track walk itself from 4-5pm.
Only the luckiest fans get to experience what it is like to be on track level.
Formula 1 first came to Austin in 2012, and before the inaugural race, I ran on the 3.4 mile track in the Formula Run. Only by being out on the track do you realize the steepness of the incline towards Turn One.
I have also been on the track more recently after the checkered flag on Sunday to watch the trophy presentation for the “fan invasion.”
However, I have never been part of this Thursday special activity.
Upon arrival at 3.15pm, we headed from the Main Grandstand towards Turn One and found a lengthy line at the tunnel approaching the track entrance.
While many of the F&B vendors had not yet opened for the weekend, merchandise stores and the zip line were open for business.
Fans had come from all over the map - we were sandwiched between two couples who had traveled from Florida for the race and also saw fans from Mexico and The United Kingdom.
At exactly 4pm, the queue began to move.
One enters pit lane by the Paddock Club, where luxury cars flanked the entrance to the F1 team garages.
In the past I had visited the Paddock complex, and I even watched Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs play a pickup match with F1 drivers back in the day.
The ten team garages in pit lane are in order of their standings in last year’s Constructors’ championship, meaning that last year’s champion Red Bull Racing was at the far end of the paddock.
Thursdays of Austin F1 race weekend are all about pit stop practice and preparations for Friday’s qualifying, and team pit crews were assembled at each garage.
We started at the Williams Racing garage and moved past AlphaTauri and Aston Martin.
TV cameras filmed actress and talk show host Drew Barrymore (under Team Principal Christian Horner’s supervision) changing the front right tires in the Red Bull Racing Area much to the assembled crowd’s delight.
At Ferrari, Charles Leclerc stepped out to wave to fans as his #16 car was used for practice.
Here is my popular TikTok with the pit stop practices from Ferrari, Haas and Red Bull.
Over at the Alpha Romeo garage, Chinese driver Zhou Guanyu greeted fans by signing autographs and taking selfies with fans.
I would estimate approximately 500-1,000 people attended the Thursday Pit Lane Walk this year, and I highly recommend checking it out if you are a racing fan.
If you are a F1 fan like me, read my review of the 2023 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix, available on the Social Musings by Austin website here.