I’m following the American-owned Haas F1 Team through its weekend at the only Formula One race in America: The United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas in Austin. This post is the second in a series.
At precisely 4 p.m. on Thursday — everything is precise in Formula One — members of the Haas F1 Team set out on their weekly track walk.
Drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, along with a team of engineers, walked out of their garage stall and onto the pit lane, past the onlookers who paid big bucks for the privilege to set foot in sacred territory before cars hit the track, and up the steep hill into Turn 1.
This was part of the ritual every driver and team undergoes in F1, which is a crucial part of the weekend. I got invited to tag along, and it was extremely cool to walk the 3.43-mile circuit — which is only five years old and thus a very beautiful and modern facility.
But I didn’t understand why we were doing it.
So I asked Santino Ferrucci, the Connecticut teenager who is a Haas development driver. He explained the drivers and teams look for changes to the track since their last visit, as well as visual markers that will serve as braking points. They examine any unusual curbing and get a better feel for the line into the corners.
OK, but isn’t that kind of late? I mean, it was less than 24 hours before they hit the track. Shouldn’t they already know the layout?
Ferrucci explained in this type of racing, absolute perfection is required. Where NASCAR drivers can go by feel, F1 drivers have to be extremely detailed about their line. So as the drivers walk the track, the team takes notes to record the feedback.
Grosjean even brought his drone — operated by a team member — to shadow the group as we walked the circuit. Although I’m not sure how much of that was for studying purposes and how much was because the aerial photos are pretty sweet.
— Romain Grosjean (@RGrosjean) October 19, 2017
Anyway, all of this is done before cars ever hit the track on Friday. The team spent the entire day Thursday prepping the car and essentially worked until it was ready.
In F1, there are no “garage hours” like in NASCAR. Instead, there is a curfew. For example: The curfew — where teams had to stop working on the cars and be out of the paddock — was 11 p.m. on Thursday night and ended at 7 a.m. Friday morning. But Friday’s curfew doesn’t begin until midnight, which means teams often eat all three meals at the track.
The one bit of respite came on Wednesday night, after everyone had arrived in Austin.
Haas F1 Team held its annual team dinner to kick off its home track weekend, with a group of 70 or so people gathering in an upstairs room of Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que.
As country music played and those in attendance sipped Shiner Bock in between bites of meat, you would have thought it was a room full of Americans if not for the accents making it sound like a British pub.
With everyone in street clothes, Grosjean and Magnussen blended right in with their team members. There was nothing formal about the evening until team principal Guenther Steiner hopped up on a stage at the front of the room to address the group, telling everyone to have a good weekend.
The team, of course, already knew what was on the line. All races are important, but it would be special for the team to have a double points showing (only the top 10 finishers score points in F1) as it did in Japan during the most recent grand prix.
Steiner told reporters about an upgrade to the car on Thursday — a modification to something called the bargeboard, which honestly is beyond my technical understanding — but it could potentially help the team stay competitive.
Of course, no one really knows until the cars hit the track for the first practice session — FP1, they call it — later Friday morning.
Related: Thursday diary on media day