You can walk the track as much as you want, lap it countless times in a simulator or watch a thousand on-board videos, but it's not until Formula 1 cars hit a new circuit in anger that it will come to life.
This means that the first hour-and-a-half of practice is always the highlight of the weekend at every new track. It's no exception for Austin's new state-of-the-art facility which, based on today's evidence, boasts possibly the best trackside viewing experience anywhere on the calendar.
For all of the talk about the spectacular climb to Turn 1, it's the Turn 3-6 sequence that shows grand prix cars at their absolute best. This section has been compared to the Maggots/Becketts section at Silverstone and it's a legitimate comparison.
It might be considered sacrilegious for a British journalist to make this claim, but Austin's version is even better than Silverstone's spectacular trademark.
For starters, like the entire track from the start/finish line to the Turn 11 hairpin that precedes the long back straight, it's never flat. A roller-coaster of rises, plunges, crests and cambers, it strains every sinew of the car.
Turns 3 through 5 © XPB
After the blast through Turn 2, the approach speed is spectacularly high and watching the best cars turn in aggressively and find the grip to perfection is a reminder of the physics-defying qualities of a grand prix car - to the naked eye at least. But this is just the start of what is a true assault on the senses.
Stand looking across from Turn 5 and you get to see not one but two high-speed changes of direction. Right at the start the cars hit a dip just as they transition from right to left, which betrays those cars that have had to run with softer suspension to find the grip. Here, the Mercedes stands out, and not for the best reasons - Nico Rosberg in particular having to deal with a lot of suspension movement that means his car lacks the crisp snap from right to left that the likes of McLaren and Red Bull can pull off effortlessly.
And while there is plenty of runoff, and therefore margin for error, any driver getting it seriously wrong could end up paying a big price, for the barriers either side of the track are not as distant as they appear to be on television.
Once through there, the track never stops turning. It gets a little slower through the final section of Turns 8 and 9, but the steep climb and fast chicane offer another good window of how the cars perform through a range of speeds. The cars with less downforce, particularly those to be found at the unfashionable end of the grid, looked a handful here, with the Caterham drivers in particular having to work hard.
The most noticeable thing was how crowded this part of the track could get. If you end up behind a backmarker at Turn 3, there's going to be a lot of time to be lost in the twists and turns before the short straight to the Turn 11 hairpin.
Turn 15 © XPB
The final section of the lap is less spectacular. After hopping onto a photographer's shuttle to blast down the access road that runs parallel to the straight - marvelling at the millions of dollars worth of motor homes that have been set up there - you arrive at Turn 12. This is the start of a tight and twisty section that is very technical, although it doesn't stir the soul anything like as much as the first part of the lap.
Turn 12 doesn't have as wide an entry as the preceding hairpin, although there's plenty of room for a move on the brakes there after a touch of DRS and KERS assistance. Turns 13 and 14 are nothing special, although the wide entry required for Turn 15 made picking the perfect braking point difficult and there were plenty of drivers making small mistakes here.
The long, multi-apex right-hander at Turns 16-18 has been likened to Turn 8 at Turkey's Istanbul Park. In reality, the slow approach after the short squirt from Turn 15 spoils it a little, although in the low grip session plenty of drivers were having to hover on the throttle in the middle. Once the track has cleaned up however, it's likely to be easy flat for the good cars.
The penultimate corner, the Turn 19 left-hander, is quick enough to be interesting and several drivers were caught out by the lack of front-end grip early on, with the uphill approach to Turn 20 making the final corner a little more interesting than its footprint suggests.
Then of course, having completed the lap, it's back to the beginning again. Any first look at the track would be wrong to gloss over Turn 1. Early in the session, when the track was hugely slick and greasy, it was seemingly impossible for anyone to get around it without scrabbling for front end grip.
The Austin circuit looks impressive from most angles © XPB
On the first lap, with the likelihood of lower tyre temperatures, that could be a recipe for disaster, as could the fact that you could easily fit half-a-dozen cars side-by side at the apex.
So the initial verdict on the new Austin track is very positive, although it is still too early to say for sure whether it really is the best of the new-generation Hermann Tilkedromes.
I defy anyone who stands in the vicinity of Turns 3-5 however to argue that there's a more dramatic and insightful spot to watch a grand prix car doing what it does best.
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