The event is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a sell-out, with the last tickets long gone. The weekend is expected to be a smashing success.
Miami is here and Las Vegas is coming, but Austin is the race that sparked F1’s popularity in the US long before that Drive to survive came together – bigger and better than ever, with the biggest crowd expected this weekend.
“This is easily our biggest event,” Epstein tells Autosport. “I think it’s more exciting than the first year because we know a lot of things we’re doing right and we know we’ve added a lot more to it. I feel like people are going to have the most incredible time.
“We have more bleachers, more villages for people to walk through, we also have more food stalls and more shade. We have more programs and more entertainment.
“Ed Sheeran is the biggest artist in the world right now. We were lucky that we ordered it over a year ago, and our music consultants, I think, had good foresight. This is my middle daughter who said you should get Ed Sheeran!
“We work all year, train and prepare for the logistics of just serving a lot of people. And I think this year we’re more prepared than ever.”
This isn’t the first time COTA has turned people away, but tickets have never sold out as quickly as they did this year.
“We sold out last year, but not as quickly,” says Epstein. “I think last year it was really strong, but this year it was just amazing.
“We probably moved another 10,000 into the stands from general admission. The general crowd is a little less predictable as to where they’ll all be, and sometimes they’ll all end up in one place, feeling very crowded.
Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin AMR22
Photo: Mark Sutton / Images of motor sports
“One thing we’ve found is that they’re everywhere there’s a big TV screen, so we’ve just added more screens all around. Now we’ve got a whole village on the infield. We’ve got a shopping village and the famous Hollywood stunt cars on display, and another area has historic Ferraris. We’re just adding new stuff.”
So what about the new developments in the US? COTA lost a lot of Mexican fans when the country got its own race, but Epstein is adamant that Austin will continue to thrive even if Vegas takes place at the same end of the season in 2023.
“Miami in the spring brings more visibility and conversation around Formula 1, where it used to be largely silent in the US,” says Epstein. “I think it’s very good for the sport.
“I am very excited to go to the race in Vegas. It’s going to be a lot of fun and it’s so uniquely different from ours. It may come close to appealing to two different audiences and with significant overlap, but both will be unique.”
Epstein is confident that street racing in Nevada will have its own character.
“Obviously Las Vegas is a big part of the attraction. And here, the track and the festival are a big part of the attraction. And you get about 40 hours of entertainment and programs with the ticket.
“It’s very different to the schedule you’ll see in Vegas, where there’s a lot of Vegas and then the highlight of the F1 weekend is the races.
“I don’t think they have a race to support. I think I should take my seat at 10 o’clock, watch the show and then go back to the casino! It will be like a theater…”
Epstein believes F1’s growing fan base in the US could easily support three races in the coming years.
“What’s so great is that it hasn’t been picked up by the traditional historical F1 audience of the last decade, but more by the F1 audience that probably followed it in the 60s and 70s in Europe. And I think we’re also seeing young people just really passionate about the sport and playing it.
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75
Photo: Mark Sutton / Images of motor sports
“People say there’s more racing in the United States than any other country right now, can they handle it? The size and population of the United States compared to Europe continues to show that as our fan base grows, which there is room for, the number of races increases can be easily supported.”
Could there even be a fourth?
“As the pie continues to grow, you may well see a fourth, I just don’t want our piece of the pie to get any smaller.”
Drive to survive played a huge role, but Epstein rightly points out that Austen was doing well before the series began to make an impact.
“In our case, I think we’re on our own at the moment,” he says. “I think we have a tradition, and tradition is something you can’t buy, and people make it part of their annual schedule.
“There are a lot of races every weekend, but only a few people say I should be at them. And I think we’re becoming a can’t-miss event.
“And when you have some history and tradition behind you, when you keep doing things right, it’s harder to beat. I think the popularity of Formula 1 only helps. But I don’t think it’s just Netflix for us right now.”
The next step will be a US driver. Colton Herta missed Alpha Tauri drive, but Logan Sargeant, who took part in FP1 in Austin, is in line for the future Williams seat
“I’m disappointed with Hertha, but if Logan succeeds in Formula 1, we will soon be rid of any regrets,” says Epstein.
“It’s great to have Logan here. And even better if he starts winning. Because I think that’s the next step for the U.S., because if you want to go from three races to five, the broad appeal with a proper American rider is definitely going to make it possible.”
Logan Sargeant, Williams FW44
Photo: Zak Mauger / Images of motor sports
All F1 venues, even the traditional tracks in Europe, are being asked to up their games. COTA isn’t standing still, and work has already begun on a full-scale theme park next to the track—indeed, the plans are on the desk in Epstein’s office.
It’s an inspired idea because, given the infrastructure already in place, it will be much cheaper to build than to build from scratch, and it will be operational and profitable for the venue throughout the year.
“Our biggest roller coaster will be called Circuit Breaker,” says Epstein. “It’s a Dutch production and their working name on all documents is ‘Max’!
“We invested more in infrastructure and entertainment. I think the competition is great for the fans.
“The things that we do all year round to make the business sustainable outside of Formula 1, I don’t think we could have until the last few years because we probably didn’t have a business that was profitable all year round .
“And now I think we can have a year independent of F1, and F1 just makes it a good year.”