Cars & motorsport

Race Report: Experiencing The 2018 United States Grand Prix With IWC, Including Interview With F1 Star Valtteri Bottas

Would this be the race that clinches the championship for four-time world champion Lewis Hamilton? An inside look courtesy of IWC.

By Josh Shanks

Formula One weekends are the stuff of legend. In just four days, ten teams descend on a designated track, each building a small city’s worth of hospitality tents, garages, and begin the arduous task of re-assembling their F1 cars from a handful of pre-packaged DHL crates. Seeing this process firsthand was mind-blowing. Thanks to IWC, Watchonista had behind-the-scenes access during last Sunday’s United States Grand Prix, hosted at Austin, Texas’ Circuit of the Americas.

The Logistics Behind Mercedes AMG F1

Before every F1 season, Mercedes builds a designated chassis to compete in that year's Formula One World Championship. Because of changing manufacture regulations along with a bevy of new engine tire specifications, teams are mandated to bring a new concept to the track each year. For 2018, Mercedes AMG F1 built the W09 EQ Power+ a 1.6L V6 hybrid-powered car composed almost entirely of ultralightweight materials such as carbon fiber, aluminum, and honeycomb structures.

For each race, Mercedes brings three cars to the track. Two primary cars for its drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, along with a backup car which can be used by either driver in case of equipment failure or crash. While the vehicles themselves are quite impressive, the logistics behind getting them to the 21 Grand Prix scheduled around the globe for the 2018 scene is even more extraordinary.

At any given time, the team has five individual equipment haulers crisscrossing the globe transporting various pieces of hardware. With races taking place in America, Asia, Europe, South America, and Australia during a nine-month season, this is no easy task. Unlike other series, teams use the same cars for multiple races, and with current regulations, very few changes are allowed to be made to the cars once they leave Mercedes' factory in Brackley, United Kingdom. Items such as engines are gearboxes are tightly controlled, and changes to these components can result in grid penalties.

Experiencing the USGP

In the modern era (post-2000) the United States Grand Prix has been hosted in two locations. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway (home of the Indy 500) played hosted from 2000-2007, whereas Austin's purpose-built Circuit Of Americas has hosted the USGP since 2012. Remarkably, Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton has won the race an astonishing five times!

Since 2013, IWC Schaffhausen has been the official engineering partner of Mercedes AMG Petronas F1. This partnership has resulted in a plethora of on and off-track exposure for the brand. Any given race day, you can spot an IWC watch printed on the wrist of the racing gloves used by Mercedes drivers. For the USGP, IWC kindly lent me an IWC Big Pilot ‘Petit Prince’, which features a vibrant blue dial that changes colors at every angle. At 46.2mm the Big Pilot dealt a commanding presence on my 7.5” wrists, but still attracted attention in the Mercedes garage.

On a typical weekend, a pre-race media day occurs the day before first practice. For Austin, that day happened to be a Thursday. While walking down the garage access lane, I spotted numerous F1 personalities and team owners. Media day was indeed a somewhat relaxed affair which allowed a level of access seldom seen before a rigorous race weekend.

In the Mercedes garage, we were able to witness the team re-assembling the cars of Hamilton and Bottas. While photography wasn't permitted within the three walls of the garage, there was a red line of demarcation right outside the garage which we were allowed to photograph from. Due to the fierce competition between teams, even the smallest proprietary button on a steering wheel can make the difference between winning or losing a race.

An exciting finish

The USGP is known for its exhilarating speeds and amount of overtaking (passing). The 2018 edition was no exception. Lewis Hamilton captured pole position on Saturday with a blistering pace of one minute and 32.237 seconds, a new track record. On race day, Hamilton seemed poised to win his 5th world championship. But a first turn pass by Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen halted Hamilton’s title hopes for the time being. After a fierce battle between Mercedes, Ferrari, and Red Bull, the final three laps saw Räikkönen, Max Verstappen, and Hamilton fighting for the lead. In the end, Räikkönen captured the win and the top stop of the Austin podium.

Interview With Valtteri Bottas

During Thursday’s media day. Watchonista had the opportunity to sit down with Mercedes AMG F1 driver Valtteri Bottas. As my first ever interview with an F1 driver, I was decidedly nervous, but I kept my composure and managed to capture the moment below:

Josh Shanks: Valtteri, thanks for taking the time to meet with us today, what are you most looking forward to at Austin?

Valtteri Bottas: Trying to win it. It's the same thing always. But at this race, what I like about it is that it's just overall a really nice Grand Prix weekend. I like the city of Austin, and I like the track, it's one of the best tracks with the way it’s very fast going. Also, the fan support here from the locals is very nice, very pure, and I like it. Overall, a great Grand Prix weekend.

JS: When you arrived at Mercedes, you came into a great partnership with IWC. For you, what is so special about the team’s relationship with IWC

VB: (joking) Because they’re the best watches in the world. It’s a great watch brand, very known, great quality. Personally, I like high technology. Being able to see inside what goes into of designing and making the watches. It's just a fine product, and what’s inside is very exciting.

JS: Racing and timekeeping are so intrinsically linked. What role do watches play in your life? Any good stories from the garage?

VB: Everything I do, I’ve always worn a watch. Whether it’s good or bad things on the track. It’s always been a part of my life. I can’t really say any other stories there sorry.

JS: While much of the talk of F1 has been about increasing the level of competition, coming from your former Williams team (now a middle of the pack team). How do you see the future of F1?

VB: The future is good. F1 has been gaining popularity these last few years, which is a good sign. I think it was a little bit tough four or five years ago. Maybe the growth wasn't there. Now it seems more and more popular from my standpoint. Seeing more fans attend races and all the events we do. I think it's headed in the right direction. Formula 1 is big, but I think it can be even bigger and I think that's where it's heading. (Liberty Media) Is trying to improve the pure racing and making it more entertaining for us as drivers and subsequently the fans. There's going to be maybe new locations where we are racing, and that's a good thing. It's all ultimately going to grow the fan base.

JS: I asked the same question to Lewis, and I'm intrigued to know your answer, is there any other racing series that interest you? IndyCar, LeMans, even our crazy American NASCAR series? What series do you watch when you're not racing?

VB: For sure, I like all forms of racing. I’ve been racing cars all my life, so any type of racing is interesting. I have to say, and I don't follow other sports that closely. F1 is so time-consuming that I try to put all of my energy into this sport.

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