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The United States Grand Prix Reminded Me Why I’m Here

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Williams’ Nicholas Latifi at the 2022 United States Grand Prix.

Williams’ Nicholas Latifi at the 2022 United States Grand Prix.
Photo: Alex Bierens de Haan for Williams Racing (Getty Images)

When a Formula 1 car is beached in a gravel trap, there’s no getting out of that situation alone. You can rev the engine and spin your wheels as much as you want, but you’re only going to dig yourself deeper into the problem until the rescue crew decides it’s time to help. It’s frustrating to see your forward momentum stutter to a halt, embarrassing to know that you contributed to your own failure in front of an audience, humbling to watch someone else pick up your pieces while you climb onto the back of a moped and putz off back to the pits, where you’ll have to give your waiting crew a full run-down of exactly how and why you fucked up before figuring out a game plan for the future.

Theoretically, I am in a pretty damn good place in my life. Theoretically, I am on an upward trajectory and appear to have my shit sorted out. But this year has been the emotional equivalent of losing control just as I have a shot to contend for the win of a race and scrabbling so hard to get myself out of a hole that I’ve done nothing but dig myself into an even more difficult situation.

Heading to cover the United States Grand Prix this year was imbued with a weight I wasn’t ready to shoulder. I’ve spent a lot of time staring at a blank Google doc and trying to summon up words from a passion that seemed to have gone into hibernation. I kept telling myself that the Circuit of the Americas — that Austin, Texas — would be the place to remind me of all the reasons I’ve become myself.

I moved to Austin in 2014 to attend the University of Texas, and I attended my first U.S. Grand Prix that fall. Back then, I thought I’d just pop out to a race and get the Formula 1 bug out of my system. Instead, I ended up realizing that motorsport was going to be The Thing that guided my direction as a very confused teenager posing as a legal adult. I say I wanted to be a writer in the vague way that other kids wanted to be astronauts or rock stars, but I think that would be patently untrue; my whole life had been geared around books and words and stories. But when I went to my first U.S. Grand Prix, it all just kind of clicked. In 2014, I went to my first race. In 2015, I went to seven races from three different series in four different countries.

So it felt like there was a lot of pressure riding on the 2022 U.S. Grand Prix. I’ve felt disenchanted for so many reasons this year, and so many race weekends have ended with me wondering if I actually really want to keep doing what I’m doing, if anything I do is valued in a way that makes it worthwhile to follow these events on my own time and on my own dime. I’ve invested thousands of dollars into building this career. I’ve given over almost all of my free time to it by working all day and spending the night writing a book. The people in my life just don’t seem to get it. Is it even worth the effort of trying? Would it just easier if I stopped giving a fuck and started phoning it in?

And then I walked in the gates of the track on Thursday.

This weekend, I attended press conferences, interviewed drivers, signed autographs in copies of the book I wrote, became an unofficial source of knowledge for a group of folks who only knew a smidge about F1, schmoozed with other incredible women staking their claim on the motorsport scene, and wrote some damn fun stories. I met countless people and held my own. I was a professional, but I still had that giddy excitement of a kid on Christmas morning that had me pinching myself every morning at the track and every evening as I walked out of the media center. If I could reach this point, I decided, then I can do just about anything.

After I covered the Miami Grand Prix, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. In so many ways, it felt like this sport I loved had suddenly left me behind, exchanging passionate fans for blasé VIPs. But the U.S. Grand Prix was a reminder that Miami is an outlier, not the norm. I can still remember being one of maybe a few thousand people at COTA on Friday to watch practice, effectively having the whole track to myself. This year, I got choked up seeing the grandstands and general admission viewing areas packing up with merch-bedecked fans four hours before an F1 car was due to leave the pit lane. I wasn’t part of that crowd, but for the first time in a long time, I felt at home. And so much of that feeling came from the people around me who showed their support or accepted me without question as one of their own.

There are, though, many days I’ll spend away from the race track, and as the off-season approaches, there are many days I won’t be writing about motorsport at all. That feeling of empowerment, though, has lasted me through this whole week. Maybe it’s not perfect. Maybe it’s going to take a while for me to continue figuring things out. But right now, I’m content to stop spinning my wheels and wait for the rescue truck. It’s about time I stopped trying to do everything myself when I know I have a whole team waiting to help me take this next step.

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