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 fourth in a series.
Inside a van with Haas F1 Team drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen and development driver Santino Ferrucci, one of them has a discovery.
Whoever was in the van before them left an iPhone in the backseat.
Immediately, the drivers start trying to figure out if they can discover the owner. The phone isn’t password protected, so they learn the language is set to Spanish.
Another piece of evidence: It also has an image of Fernando Alonso on the lock screen — and Alonso is on the stage at the Saturday afternoon Fan Forum where they’re currently headed.
So it must be Alonso’s phone, Grosjean decides.
“It’s in Spanish, so there are not too many it could be,” Grosjean says. “Carlos (Sainz) or Fernando.”
“I don’t think Carlos has a picture of Fernando on his phone,” Ferrucci says with a laugh.
“You have a picture of me on your phone,” Grosjean cracks back.
Thinking he could prank his veteran F1 colleague, Grosjean begins to snap a series of obnoxious selfies with Magnussen and Ferrucci for Alonso to discover later.
The van pulls up to the backstage area of the amphitheater where the Fan Forum is being held, and Alonso is just finishing up. He walks toward the Haas drivers on the way to his vehicle.
But…it’s not his phone. It belongs to one of the women who work for McLaren, not the driver himself.
“Oops,” Grosjean says with a laugh, realizing he left a bunch of selfies on a stranger’s phone. “Enjoy.”
At the Fan Forum, the drivers — along with team owner Gene Haas and team principal Guenther Steiner — emerge onstage to loud cheers. They are America’s only Formula One team — the first in decades — so this is their chance to soak up some of the hometown love.
But that warm welcome turns out to be nothing compared to what’s waiting for them a few minutes later at a place called Haas Hill.
The vans, now with a police escort, pull up to an open fan area overlooking Turn 19. It’s the primary gathering spot for Haas F1 Team fans, and it literally has #HaasHill painted on the grass.
The drivers walk through a large crowd of people who are very happy to see them and step into a gazebo area with fans gathered on all sides. As fans wave flags, hold up Haas F1 Team scarves (some while chanting like at a soccer game) and yell out things like “THANK YOU, GENE,” the drivers and team executives sign autographs and pose for pictures.
Haas himself gets as big of an autograph crowd as the drivers, with the fans seemingly thrilled to get an up-close interaction with the man who gave American fans a home team to cheer for after so many years.
It’s odd to see Haas in this environment. At a NASCAR track, he’s just another team owner — even despite owning the cars of popular drivers at Stewart-Haas Racing.
But here? He practically gets the rock star treatment from fans.
Then came the coolest part of the day for the drivers — who otherwise aren’t having a very enjoyable weekend on the track (they’ve combined for three spins and neither made it past the second round of qualifying).
As police cleared a path, the drivers walked down the grass to the bottom of Haas Hill for a pre-publicized photo opp. Think of it as one big team photo — with fans included as the team.
With a photographer on an elevated lift giving the OK, fans cheered loudly as they showed their support for the second-year team.
Personally, I was blown away and hadn’t expected to see that many people. I thought there might be a couple dozen Haas fans to greet the drivers, but there were hundreds.
Clearly, American F1 fans are all-in on the team — it’s just that outside F1, the team still hasn’t made much of a dent in the consciousness of the mainstream sports fan. Heck, they’re not even on the radar of many NASCAR fans — which seems to be a shame, given the American pride associated with NASCAR.
— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) October 21, 2017
Back in the van, Ferrucci has a discovery: Another phone left behind by someone. This time, Grosjean can’t solve the mystery; it has British settings, so it could be anyone.
Ferrucci proceeds to take selfies anyway, having learned from his senior teammate.
As it turns out, the owner is eventually found: A staff member with the Mercedes team that is currently dominating Formula One with Lewis Hamilton.
Given the Mercedes cars qualified first and third in advance of Sunday’s United States Grand Prix, perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea for the Haas drivers to give the phone back.
A ransom in exchange for technical information might have been a better idea.