Formula 1 blew into town last month and the traffic disaster that Austin feared didn’t materialize. It seemed like most of the action stayed around the purpose-built race track on the east side of town, near the airport. But F1 is a big deal and after 5 years, it’s back in the U.S. Of course, Austin always breaks out the live music performances for any kind of half-way big event downtown. This was no exception.
In Flo Rida and the other Alex Suarez, I had fun and adventure going to a downtown concert on Friday — the beginning of F1 weekend. But Austin had other F1 related festivities too. The Austin Fan Fest took over a 5 block area in the warehouse district. There were live music stages, of course as well as food vendors, knickknacks and the huge tents of commercial interests tied vaguely to cars or racing.
The big guys, Mobil1, Pirelli, Red Bull and Fiat setup shop on usually under utilized surface parking. These places shared a common theme. They usually had a fast car on display, a former F1 racer or an expensive aspirational car, like a Ferrari. Many had racing simulators of varying realism and complexity. And of course, there were attractive women working the booths.
I went on a short photowalk by myself to document Fan Fest. Let just say I was less interested in fast cars and simulators.
Though it was Sunday and passed the peak, I was surprised by how contained it was. I parked close with no problems. I didn’t see throngs of people or notice much commotion until I was within a block. South by Southwest (SXSW), the annual music, movie and interactive conference that hits Austin every March, seems more disruptive. The two share commercial and promotional similarity. The players are different — one shows off cars and the other technology — but there is no denying that they look like one giant TV commercial. A chance for big corporations to get more eyeballs imprinting on their logos.
To the Fan Fest’s credit, the place felt more inclusive and welcoming. Children’s play areas encouraged family participation, unlike SXSW where non-badge holders seemed out-of-place. I’m curious what’s going to happen next year.
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