Breath-Stopping Surprises, Texas-Sized Triumph at the U.S. Grand Prix

Eric Gay/Associated PressFormula One cars jostle for position on Turn 1 at the start of the United States Grand Prix at Austin on Sunday.

AUSTIN, Texas — It was a weekend full of happy surprises as the U.S. Grand Prix at Austin went far beyond expectations in just about every area — but, especially, in the racing.

How many times are Formula One Grand Prix races won by a driver who overtakes the leader on the track the way Lewis Hamilton overtook Sebastian Vettel with just 14 laps left in the race? And that was only one of a 56-lap festival of overtaking up and down the pack, the most important one being by Fernando Alonso at the start of the race, when he moved from seventh on the grid to fourth immediately.

Fans who hoped to prolong the battle for the drivers’ championship between Vettel of Red Bull and Alonso of Ferrari have the circuit itself to thank for their wish being granted. The Circuit of the Americas was a slippery, but wide and well-crafted affair that allowed for overtaking in a way that the drivers themselves had not all predicted before the race.

“The result,” as I write in my news story about the race, “was a spectacular race of passing and competition, more akin to Nascar than to the processional Formula One racing of the past that could never seduce American fans.”

The wide first corner at Austin that formed a hairpin at the top of a steep hill was a focal point of the action, and a beauty to look at. In fact, it looked pretty much as if the spectators who had the expensive seats overlooking the pit lane and main straight had all migrated up the hill to stand by the fence to get a good look at that corner.

If Austin provided the nightlife, fan festival and copious entertainment with musical shows and support-series races, it was the circuit itself that provided the best reward in the kind of tight racing that Americans did not get to see at the U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis from 2000 to 2007.

There was a potential for scandal…

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