An Inside Look at the Austin Grand Prix, According to Famed Formula 1 Drivers

Red Bull’s Sergio “Checo” Perez and Mercedes ambassador Esteban Gutiérrez talk F1 culture—and all its glamour, drama, and hard work.

Despite a storied history and devoted international fanbase, Formula 1 racing has only just recently found mainstream popularity in the US. The sport that’s become synonymous with dollar signs and danger has seen a steady spike in viewership over the past four years, with a 47% increase since 2021 alone—some of which I’m sure we can attribute to the prodigious success of drama-filled Netflix docu-series Drive to Survive.

To put it plainly, F1 is unlike anything you’ll catch in the ESPN highlight reels, and not just because of the 200 mph speeds. It’s an entire world behind velvet rope—one with a lineup of A-list spectators, luxury brand sponsorships, and celebratory Champagne showers. The latter of which you can expect with only the crème de la crème of bubbly. Formula 1 racing has earned a reputation as the world’s most glamorous sport, and one with rising prestige at that. The smell of burnt rubber and gasoline has become a status symbol. And what can we say? Everyone loves a bad boy.

The Austin Grand Prix is a pinnacle of the season—especially with its rising star power in America—and boasts peak prestige as celebrities and Formula 1 royalty alike descend upon the Lonestar State. For the athletes themselves, the Circuit of the Americas is an important stop as their season rounds the corner towards its finish. For fire-hot Red Bull racing star, Sergio “Checo” Perez, who was recently crowned Singapore Grand Prix champ, it’s about repeating his success and propelling that momentum into the remaining competitions.

Esteban Gutiérrez
Esteban Gutiérrez

“It’s obviously a very big race for us,” Checo told Thrillist. “The season is coming to an end. It’s a weekend where we all want to do well, where we all want to succeed, and do things right … The circuit is very [challenging]. It has very high-speed corners, very low-speed ones so it’s certainly a test.”

Former F1 star-turned-Mercedes ambassador and Edasi founder Esteban Gutiérrez echoes Checo’s sentiments, calling the competition one of the “most popular,” especially as it falls back-to-back with the similarly beloved Mexican GP.

“I’m looking forward to experiencing the energy of the fans at these races, as we are currently undergoing a period of change in F1 due to the increased popularity of the sport,” Gutiérrez said.

Sergio Perez
Sergio Perez

As I’m sure you guessed—remember those Champagne showers and luxury brand sponsors?—the culture of Formula 1 extends beyond the confines of a race track. But it’s more than just the opulence. The sport is a political one too, as Gutiérrez notes himself, adding that they are always “pushing boundaries and facing pressure to maximize every opportunity.” Drivers are forced to navigate the complex relationships between their own team, sponsors, other teams, and fellow competitors.

“It’s part of the sport,” Checo said. “It’s part of the competition. You want to beat them on the track, off the track, and the competition never really settles.”

And while it might seem like all glamour—after all, even Checo himself is teaming up with Cash App for a string of VIP activations across Austin and actually cash giveaways—the sport is, more so than anything, about the grind.

“Formula 1 from the outside has a lot of glamour. It’s a pinnacled sport, but once you are in it, it’s all about hard work, dedication, commitment, and making sure everyone wins. It’s a team sport,” Checo said.

One thing the pair seems to agree on? The level of talent it takes to achieve that success they’re driving for.

“It is such a high-stakes sport,” Gutiérrez concludes. “There is an abundance of fierce competition and drama. The amount of sheer innovation and science that goes into creating these machines is magnificent. Everything about it is the best in the world—the drivers to the technology.”

Megan Schaltegger is a news writer at Thrillist. She likes strong coffee, discussing celebs like they're personal friends, and her dog, Marshall. She promises not to speak about herself in third person IRL.