In another interesting story ran by those magnificent bastards at Autosport, Martin Whitmarsh has spoken out on what should be done to secure an American Grand Prix. Here at F1B we’ve argued for some time that it can’t be business as usual if F1 is to succeed in the US. It takes a different approach. No one in America feels Bernie is doing them a favor for having a race here and Bernie seems to not be entirely familiar with that attitude. Bernie’s more recent model of seeking government backed payments for the privilege of hosting a race is more than likely viewed as laughable by the US government. The will not subsidize a race when NASCAR, IRL and all other forms of racing in the US are fully self-supporting.
The key, as Peter Windsor pointed out during the launch of the USGPE team, is that F1 has to have a new approach to the US market. A market that most teams in F1 would claim as their largest market or at least in the top two. Peter is correct in asserting that American fans, be it right or wrong, have been spoiled with 24/7 coverage and access to NASCAR’s inner sanctum and personalities. They expect a deeper level of access and tangible benefits of being steeped in the racing experience. They even have a cartoon now featuring a groundhog for crying out loud (hey, I said be it right or wrong). How do you get an American Gran Prix to have any hope of longevity? That’s the million dollar question.
I would suggest starting with a long-term plan that can work in conjunction with FOTA but most importantly the manufacturers as they have markets to penetrate here. FOM could help as well as the local promoter but it all starts with allowing the local track owner to make a buck on the event. Exacting a pound of flesh through a high fee for hosting the race with only the slimmest of margins for a track owner to partake in the opportunity is a business model that never took hold in America. The old adage that “it ‘ain’t worth doing unless you can make a buck” still holds true over here and while Bernie’s new model suggests that governments are salivating to have a race and will subsidize it so you can extract all profit from the race and the track owner can have a little while expected to promote a lot is nonsensical in the eyes of Americans. At best maybe a local county or state might pony up some cash for the rights but in the end, they really don’t care if they have a race or not. Also, you can’t have a ‘Roval’ course and expect real F1 fans to be enthused. Most of them skipped Indy and went to Canada because that’s a proper track. A proper road course is needed and while city races seem to be the hot thing lately, i think we could forgo that notion here. That’s not as novel in the states as it seems.
Very few foreign enterprises have just shown up, pitched a tent, collected cash from fans and the government and went home expecting a pat on the back for the grand privilege. But I think FOTA gets it…
At least I think Martin Whitmarsh gets it:
“The calendar for this year was fixed by the time we (FOTA) got going, but we want to look at where are our major investors and America is a massive challenge.
“We can’t turn our back on it, but maybe we have to have a completely different approach.
“We have got to have a new approach. Rather than who’s going to give us the most money to rock up and race, it is to go there strategically, perhaps with FOTA offering to support the race, participate, send our drivers on a promotional tour one year before, six months before, to appear on shows and make investment.
“Rather than leave it in the hands of a promoter, how do we develop the interest? How do we develop the excitement and take up of F1 in North America? Be it Ferrari, be it Daimler, or be it BMW. You look at all of the principle investors in F1; the vast majority of them would consider the US to be a significant market.”
You can read the full story here at Autosport.