Let’s get something straight: Formula One needs America. The likes of Ferrari, Mercedes, Renault (Infiniti) and even McLaren have products that they want to sell in the good old US of A. The problem is that America just doesn’t ‘get’ F1. It could be said that, in general, it never has. How many US drivers have made a name in the sport? A handful, at best, and the most famous of those – Mario Andretti – has his roots in Italy. The many faux pas that F1 has committed in the USA could make a book.
The infamous 2005 race at Indianapolis, in which Michelin could not guarantee a safe tyre, was typical of how the F1 world holds itself in esteem far beyond its worth. There were solutions to the problem that could have been implemented – we shall not go into details here – that would have allowed for a proper race. Instead, the fans – having paid for expensive tickets – were treated to six cars, four of them from the bottom half of the grid, in what was a major farce. The race has been called the ‘nadir of modern F1’, and with good reason.
The 1991 Phoenix Grand Prix, one of many attempts to create a ‘Monaco in the USA’ (which, in fact, had been successfully done at Long Beach, California), was famously ill attended, with a local ostrich race drawing greater crowds. Such stories are typical of F1’s continued attempts to tackle the US market, but it is to be hoped that – especially in the light of the apparent collapse of the proposed New Jersey race – Austin, Texas, provides the spectacle required to convince an American audience. The circuit certainly looks the part with some excellent graduation changes and challenging turns, but the problems are deeper than that.
Take a look at the 2012 F1 field and consider the national flags of each driver. You will not find the Stars and Stripes anywhere among them. Why should we expect an American audience to pay any interest to a sport that provides practically no US involvement? Yet the powerbrokers continue to believe they have a product that is going to wow the Yanks; they are, unfortunately, wrong.
Take a trip to a NASCAR race, any NASCAR race, and you will be part of a packed house. Granted, it’s a different type of racing altogether, but there are reasons why it is popular. NASCAR is well-priced, offers close racing and entertainment, and is aimed at the younger generations. F1 needs to change its business model if it is to succeed in the USA. I wish Austin well, and recognise the need for a race in the USA, but until a high-profile US driver is established in the sport the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso will remain B-list players in a hard-fought market.