F1 in Hickville: The United States Grand Prix

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 11/18/2012 07:32:00 AM
Yee-haw! Y'all jus' be wonderin' 'bout how F1 landed in Texus thus weekund! The news agency Reuters is usually very reliable--especially when it comes to financial news. However, I take immense exception to this feature entitled "Motor racing-U.S. goes from F1 wasteland to land of promise" as the Austin Grand Prix is underway. You see, after years of absence, F1 is back in America, this time with a purpose-built race track. Most American racing series alike NASCAR just feature oval racing, so road courses appropriate for F1 have not been plentiful stateside. Again, F1 coming to America is being lauded as a breakthrough. (The same way soccer is always said to be on the brink of becoming a mainstream pro sport in the US.) However, the sad reality as F1 promoters should be aware of is that this is but the latest effort to hold a race there after years and years of failed attempts, Further on in the article it gets more honest:
Unable to find a permanent home, F1 has barnstormed its way around the U.S. with Austin becoming the 10th city to host the series after Sebring (Florida), Riverside (California), Watkins Glen (New York), Phoenix (Arizona), Dallas (Texas), Detroit (Michigan), Las Vegas (Nevada), Long Beach (California) and Indianapolis (Indiana).
Part of the problem stems from there being no top-class American driver in F1. Indeed, there hasn't been one since the legendary Mario Andretti won the F1 championship in 1978--a long time ago in a race series popular far, far, away from American shores. Just as Fernando Alonso brought an F1 craze to Spain and races to boot, so have they been looking for an American champion without success.

That said, F1 sponsors are keen on an event in America since some of if not their biggest markets are stateside:
Teams would not be against three stops in the U.S., which is the biggest market for many outfits, including Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes Benz. "It's crucial for Formula One to be a true world championship you've got to have a race in America, said Red Bull team boss Christian Horner. "For the first time ever we've got a circuit that's been specially made to bring out the best and showcase Formula One cars. "It's a crucial race for Red Bull. America is Red Bull's biggest market."
Even the ever-optimistic F1 ringleader Mr. Ecclestone does admit though that F1 is very, very low on the American pecking order of spectator sports:
Ecclestone admits he does not know why F1 is so popular in some countries yet virtually ignored by others, including the U.S. "It's a strange thing I don't no, no idea," said Ecclestone. "When I arrived here the guy at customs said, he had not heard of Formula One." In Texas, NASCAR is king and it is likely more eyeballs and television remotes will be focused on Homestead, Florida where the Chase championship will also be decided on Sunday.
Dear billionaire Bernie, I'll tell you why F1 is lame in America: there is no marquee American racing car driver. If you really want to break into this market, try paying more attention to American-born drivers coming up the ranks in various driving academies. In the meantime, you will get clobbered by the archetypal Jurassic race series, NASCAR, where the American primitives only adopted fuel injection at the start of 2012 [!!!] This when most passenger cars have had them for, what, a quarter of a century? Being outmoded has resulted in several NASCAR race fatalities, too, so I have to question why a slick, international product must be dumbed down--hicked and domesticated to meet American tastes.

Lastly, another reason Bernie Ecclestone should contemplate is that race time is non-standard for large TV audiences in Europe (and Asia more and more). I know, I know--many events in Asia and North America also have this issue, but at least they have much local drawing power locally as well as having the aforementioned growing TV audience in Asia. The same cannot be said for F1 in America, so I remain pessimistic about F1's chances of survival this time around.

UPDATE: Christian Sylt of Autoweek has the lowdown on the wacky political economy that brought this race to Texas. Its future apparently hinges on the state's willingness to keep forking over a hefty annual fee to Bernie and Co.