Paddock Diary: 2023 United States Grand Prix

Formula 1

Posted on

| Written by

Once again I am grateful to have found myself back at Circuit of the Americas the true, beating heart of Formula One in the United States.

As cool as the vibe and the hospitality is in Miami, and undoubtedly will be in Las Vegas in a couple of weeks’ time (no, before anyone asks, I’ve got no plans to attend) – there’s something much more magical about seeing hundreds of thousands of spectators flock to this challenging road course just on the rural outskirts of Austin, Texas.


First came the heat shock of flying from the near-freezing autumn cold of New England to the warm confines of Austin. This was my third straight weekend of covering motorsport, for three different series: SRO’s Intercontinental GT Challenge visited Indianapolis, IMSA staged its season-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, and now it was time for the United States Grand Prix.

After getting to the track and picking up my badge, I immediately was thrust into one media roundtable after another, such is the grind of a Thursday before an F1 race weekend. Much of the interest surrounded the return of Daniel Ricciardo, back after almost two months on the sidelines due to the hand injury he suffered at Zandvoort.

There needed to be some levity in my first day at Austin. The first, came when I was invited to sit with F1 Academy Managing Director, Susie Wolff. It’s clear that she has a plan in place for what she wants the long-term future of the all-women’s racing championship to be, to learn from the mistakes that brought the W Series down, and her career as a driver and team principal gives her words weight. I just hope, for her sake, and more importantly for the sake of every young woman who comes through the series, that these ambitions become reality.

The second, at night, at a quiet get-together in downtown Austin, I met the fine people at Racing Pride, the non-profit which promotes LGBTQ+ inclusion in motorsport. It felt good to be in the company of peers. It was a reminder that, despite the best efforts of people in power within the state of Texas – or any other state where our rights to exist as we are, are constantly at risk – that there are still people down here worth standing beside and fighting for.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free


I woke up bright and early for the splendour of… Friday qualifying? This was my first sprint race weekend.

Sun cream wasn’t optional this weekend. The heat may not have been as extreme as it was last round in Qatar, but still somewhat unpleasant.

In one of the rare sights of the Formula 1 season, triple world champion Max Verstappen put enough of his car “out of bounds” on his best qualifying lap leaving him sixth on the grand prix grid. Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris who’ve now eclipsed 100 races each claimed a surprisingly Red Bull-free front row.

It was also my first proper chance to look at the cars up close – including the vastly upgraded efforts from AlphaTauri, Alfa Romeo, and Haas – who also brought a special livery to the weekend. I also appreciated some of the infrastructure improvements made since last year’s race, such as adding a second floor to each hospitality unit in the paddock.


Much as I always appreciate the coffee furnished at every race course, I had a specific craving for iced coffee which brought me through a small detour to a tiny coffee shop near my modest accommodation for the weekend, on my way to the track.

It was a light day of getting to talk to people, for most of the day – up until the finish of the sprint race itself.

That meant it was my time to take my traditional trek up the COTA tower to see all of the track and its surrounding landscape from nearly 77 metres above. If it were possible for me to watch one of these races from there, I certainly would.

Verstappen won the pole for that event with relative ease. That’s just what he does this decade as he rounds into the perfect driver, armed with the best equipment and pit wall in the sport. The feeling in the paddock was that it was a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’, he’d get to the lead in the grand prix.

But Saturday also marked a significant milestone in my five grands prix as an accredited F1 journalist on-site: They gave me the sticker to go on the grid!

Sure, it can be stressful for me to try and find a path through a sea of people – but to get a chance to be up close to the cars and crews, to give those 20 drivers their well-wishes on a safe journey – that’s a buzz that doesn’t ever go away.

Before I forget: Congratulations to Marta Garcia, the inaugural F1 Academy champion, who clinched the honour with a victory in the series’ first live televised race in the morning.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free


Grand prix day arrived, which meant an early 7am alarm, a longer race than the day before, and a more sensible 2pm start time.

Take all of the frenzy of being on the grid during the sprint and at least double it, adding in many more high-profile stars from the world of sport and pop culture. It’s exhilarating.

Marking a year since the death of founder Dietrich Mateschitz during the same race weekend, Red Bull team members were sporting his signature jeans in place of their usual attire.

In the brutal Austin heat and sunshine, I was eager to get back to the comfort of the air-conditioned media centre once it was all done.

As for the grand prix itself, the result felt inevitable, Verstappen won his 50th career Grand Prix. But it had some points of intrigue. Norris held his nerve at the front longer than many would have expected. The race turned into a tactical battle in terms of tyre strategy and pit timing. Lewis Hamilton gave it a good effort at the end, but just didn’t have enough to take the lead before the chequered flag.

During the podium prizegiving ceremonies, a chorus of boos rained down as Verstappen was handed the first place trophy by Texas Governor Greg Abbott. It seemed to me the jeering was not aimed at Verstappen, but Abbott, whose has used his power to restrict women’s rights, LGBTQIA+ rights and enact brutal anti-migrant policies.

Later on it emerged some trophies would have to change hands. The disqualifications of Hamilton and Charles Leclerc looked inevitable from the moment it was announced FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer had discovered their planks were thinner than the legal minimum.

The upshot was Logan Sargeant had become the first American Formula 1 driver to score a point in three decades. Unfortunately by the time that was known much of the crowd was gone.

I departed after taking advantage of my last opportunities to speak with the drivers, the team leaders, and my colleagues that I find myself fortunate to share a space with.

For me, it’s the end of a year that has seen travels to several crown jewels of endurance sports car racing – including Le Mans; first trips to the UK, France, and UAE, and now two Formula 1 grands prix.

And after a Monday morning stroll through the greenery and beauty of Barton Springs park, I was ready to return home to reflect on it all.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

2023 United States Grand Prix

Browse all 2023 United States Grand Prix articles

Author information

RJ O'Connell
Motorsport has been a lifelong interest for RJ, both virtual and ‘in the carbon’, since childhood. RJ picked up motorsports writing as a hobby...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

9 comments on “Paddock Diary: 2023 United States Grand Prix”

  1. Thanks for this “report”, RJ. I’m sure you were unhappy returning to the chilly New England weather. :-)

    I am sure the crowd was booing Greg Abbott. Until the people in power in Texas and Florida are no longer in power, I will not be in attendance at any of those races.

    Cheers from New Jersey.

  2. There was booing when he entered the podium, there was booing when he got the trophy but there was also booing when he got the medal. In fact, I just re-watched it because I thought I remembered wrong. True, most booing occurred when the governor handed out the trophy but at no point I would even consider the governor being the target. There were no Abbot protest signs to be seen, instead there was the chanting through the national anthem. This was not booing at the governor

    1. The chanting “Checo checo” during the anthems tells everything.

    2. I rewatched it as well. Definitely booing Verstappen.

      It’s kind of funny how people can watch one static thing and have two completely opposite reactions. The state of affairs in 2023.

      I also liked the way Verstappen reacted to boos. Instead of being whingy about it, he almost embraced the boos and let everyone know he was going away with the Number 1 Trophy. Hope he wins Mexico by 30 seconds!

  3. It would certainly not be the first time the dignitary handing out the winner’s trophy got booed by the crowd, which could easily be mistaken for booing the winner himself; at last year’s British GP the trophy was awarded by Nadine Dorries, then UK Culture Secretary, who was immensely unpopular even at that time (she left the government shortly afterwards, and has since resigned from Parliament in disgrace). Dorries got booed on the podium, but it could easily have been misinterpreted as boos for race winner Sainz.

    1. @red-andy
      I re-watched that one also (… also for the nice battle at the end after restart, good excuse) but I feel it is not similar. Just cheering when Sainz enters the podium and when he receives a trophy from Sulayem. And hardly any booing audible when she was announced for his winners trophy. No chanting through the anthem also.

  4. And as expected a new journalist could not help himself and not be a political priest.
    After all most journalists do not go to journalism give us the news but to be in a messianic mission to change the world.
    No wonder journalism is every year worse and dishonesty is rampant.

    1. Very accurate!

    2. @AlexS
      While you’re not wrong, this article is the ‘diary’ though, not a news item and therefore always an opinion piece.

Comments are closed.