While Haas F1 is getting ready to start its first full season in Formula 1, the US Grand Prix has a dark cloud over it from the money and sanctioning fees side of the equation and some fans still feel slightly miffed as to why an American driver won’t be racing in 2016.
All of this adds to the circling confusion as to why F`1 isn’t penetrating the US market like many fans would like it to. According to Ryan Hunter-Reay, F1 needs more races and not simply a race team.
“It is so hard to crack the sporting market in the United States because it is so saturated. We have football, basketball, baseball – there are so many options you have to capture the fans’ attention,” Hunter-Reay told Sky Sports.
“I think Formula 1 racing in general can do it, but it is going to take more of a presence in the United States other than just a team that calls itself ‘USF1’ even though it is based in the UK, which it has to be I think.”
The challenge here is that as F1 lacks a serious foothold in the US, few race promoters and circuit owners are willing to invest in the infrastructure and sanctioning fees to host a race.
The debate over F1’s ability to find purchase in an already crowded marketplace for sports-minded fans attention continue when you throw in a team, a race(s) and an American driver. Which of these or what combination of the three does it require to magically switch the F1 light on in the heads of the dullards in the US?
The simple answer is none of them on their own but given the right investment and same state of integrity, an American driver in an American team that is fighting for podiums and an American race would certainly go a long way to getting F1 back in the minds of the US motorsport fans.
Many recant the tale of Mario Andretti and how having an American driver would magically set the F1 fan base alight in the US. What we forget here is that Mario was fighting for championships, not running in the back in a Marussia. If simply having an American driver was the tonic, Scott Speed would have saved F1 for the US but that didn’t register the smallest blip on the F1 Richter scale in the US.
I also applaud Lewis Hamilton for his press junket lately at his own expense to promote not only his brand but F1 vicariously. That helps a lot and the more other teams and drivers do that, the better.
Ryan Hunter-Reay reckons the issue of an American driver really could be tied to the recent woes of Indycar as it ceased to be a ladder system for F1:
“Once upon a time there was a road to Formula 1 through IndyCar success and I just think that after a few weak years by IndyCar that kind of went away. Now IndyCar’s championship is as strong as ever, I think it is the best and most competitive it has ever been, and I’m not just saying that because I am in it. We demonstrate that week in, week out with the product on track.”
There is something to that because it’s difficult for a young driver to pack a bag and leave for Europe in the hopes of finding a ride. The US is a big country and if Indycar was a more competitive series with more road course and a better commercial structure and driver development program, they could be a great launching pad for F1 talent but as it is, they are having trouble getting out of their own way.
The challenge is that Haas F1 is entering F1 for brand building in Europe and around the world. I haven’t heard Gene Haas talk about his aspirations to win races and challenge for titles. That’s not an indictment as it takes time to consider even getting close to that level of competitiveness in F1. Having said that, his main goal is to brand Haas Engineering.
In my mind, the single biggest way to get F1 back in the spotlight in America is to have Ford or GM start a works team with an American driver and seriously well-funded operation to take the fight to F1’s European power base. An all-out war and assault by an American company like Ford did in the late 60’s with Ferrari at Le Mans. They would need to have one goal…win titles.
If Ford assembled the brightest engineers and racing professionals for Ford F1 and hired Alexander Rossi and Josef Newgarden to drive for them and used their Essex location in the UK as a base of operations and staging, I think people would take notice. Ford could bring in Jay Leno and other US car nuts to promote their efforts and get the general public thinking Ford versus the world.
Also, Bernie Ecclestone would need to make a few concessions with Ford and also other possible race locations in order to get two races in the US profitable, not just existent. As much as I suggest that America (Ford) needs to make a significant investment in F1, so too does F1 need to make a serious investment in America. It has to be reciprocal or it won’t work.
What also needs to happen is that JMI’s Zac Brown needs to get a marketing package prepared for US companies to get behind the Ford F1 team and local races and he needs to work with FOM on how those marketing dollars are split with promoters, team and F1. Zac can do it, he’s a professional but the package has to be replete with fan-sensitive promotional opportunities such as paddock access and more when the series is in the US.
If A US contingent of Ford, major corporations and race promoters come to Mr. E with a billion dollar budget and serious long-term commitment to F1, they will get his attention and can perhaps build a serious footprint in F1. The bigger question might be, would European race fans want or even like that much of an American footprint on their sport?
Hat Tip: Sky Sports F1