The problem of F1 and America

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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

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SpeedRead

Agree across the board. Unfortunately, if Ford won’t take on GM in Indycar, I can’t see it green-lighting F1 again. I think WEC is its international program, and it’ll be satisfied with NASCAR stateside. But I’m not saying anything we don’t already know.

And best line in this: “The bigger question might be, would European race fans want or even like that much of an American footprint on their sport?” I think not.

Angela

And best line in this: “The bigger question might be, would European race fans want or even like that much of an American footprint on their sport?” I think not. Speaking as a European, I want to see a formula one season with good close racing and honestly I don’t care where the races are held geographically. My friends that I have just asked this question to are of the same opinion. As to how we will feel about a large American footprint, you need to get one before it can be discussed and I don’t see that happening in… Read more »

Negative Camber

There’s certainly some truth in that but it may slightly harsh on what Americans feel compelled to compete in or why. We have adopted a large football (soccer) following in the States and we play and lose on the world stage so it’s not losing we can’t handle. It’s more to do with what appeals to us and the attention spans we have given the amount of sports we can watch. You will find that sports that really cater to and put big efforts behind reaching out to Americans does better than those who feel they are above such things… Read more »

SpeedRead

You said it so much better :)

Imaginos

Perhaps I’m showing my newness as a fan (WRC refugee, homeless for years before seeking shelter in 2013…but only because of JB’s interview on Top Gear), but it feels like the playing of the anthem and denoting the driver’s flag in the coverage is there out of momentum and tradition rather than being a defining feature of the sport. I don’t see a lot of cars rolling around in national racing color in any contemporary series, and it might be surprising to do a passport check among the Senna, Schumacher, Vettle, and Alonso fans. Consider what the sport would look… Read more »

Angela

It wasn’t my intention to be harsh Todd, perhaps I don’t articulate as well as you do. You come across as being much more polite than I do and for that I do apologise. My comments and observations are very general and when a person generalises, there will obviously be areas where you are wrong but if in the main you are right, then it is a reasonable generalisation. Also the perceptions of the residents of America are very likely different to us outsiders looking in. I take you point about football but please bear in mind that most of… Read more »

Negative Camber

No need for apologies. :) As for adoption rates, we may have been later to the dance with football but we’re there. Also, there was a real motorsport and sports car culture in the late 60’s that saw Phil Hill and Dan Gurney in F1 and we were very in to F1 back then. Through Mario too of course. I think America moved on and now stick and ball sports are all the rage. NASCAR was huge in the 90’s and early 2000’s. It ebbs and flows. Not every Brit I meet loves motor sport or F1 so it’s the… Read more »

Tom Firth

Back in the 60’s, most Austin-Healeys got exported to the USA… No offence to anyone that does at all but I just can’t imagine americans driving Austin-Healeys today.

I guess that shows the culture change … by the way, not every brit likes football either, in case we had that stereotype.

MichaelB

I think you just hit on part of the issue – Indy was big in the 60s and into the early 70s, and it had ties to F1. Even if it wasn’t officially part of the series, the event had enough cache to attract F1 drivers and teams to participate. Somewhere (that somebody who know more about motorsports than I do will know the where and why) Indy lost that cache internationally in particular, but also to some extent domestically as well. As F1 moved away from Indy and grew outside of the US – the US moved on to… Read more »

SpeedRead

I agree with what you are saying. I think the majority of Americans do feel that anything “American” is superior and that anything “foreign” is dangerous. I think there is a view that if there isn’t a lot of passing on a oval it “ain’t racin.'” I think it is one of the reasons a vast swath of the American public goes out of its way to hate soccer. Not only can it end in a tie, it can be a 0-0 tie! I think there is a philosophy here that we all have to be winners, and because of… Read more »

xorpheous

There are a couple of challenges here. First and foremost is are the TV numbers. They’re not great in the US. In fact, they’re on par with IndyCar, and that’s not a good thing. Over the season, the F1 ratings in the US averaged a meager 521,000 viewers. For the enormous expense of hosting and promoting a Formula 1 Grand Prix, the juice just doesn’t seem to be worth the squeeze. It would be nice to think that a competitive American team or an American driver would move the needle a little, but I don’t think it would be enough… Read more »

Joseph Simmons

2 Headlines from Wall Street Journal; “U.S. new-car sales accelerated through December as auto makers remained poised to report their highest annual sales ever, shattering the record set in 2000. Car sales are on track for their best-selling month of the year and their best December ever.”Global stocks kicked off 2016 with a stumble, as a disappointing report on China’s economy rekindled concerns over slowing global growth and tempered hopes for a better year.” One of the old racing adages to paraphrase was win races on Sundays means sales on Monday. Without a strong F1 presence in the US, the… Read more »

Junipero Mariano

I have a bonkers idea. But it would make for a classic America vs The World scenario. I was listening to the Season review podcast and heard Todd’s disdain for the roa-vals. I never did understand the reason for going to Indianapolis if you aren’t going to drive the full oval. I understand it has the road course, but if you’re only going once a year, do it for the classic layout. Certainly if F1 is the pinnacle of turning left and right, they can handle only going left for one race a year at the quintessential American track. Which… Read more »

MIE

While an F1 car is capable of turning left, it isn’t built for racing on an oval. If you get the chance to see an F1 and IndyCar sided by side the difference in the structure is apparent. The IndyCar is so much bigger and more robust (impacting a wall at well over 220 mph is not something expected of a Formula 1 car). While they are capable of those speeds, it is at points on a track where there is sufficient run off to allow the car to slow significantly before any impact with a barrier. On an avalanche,… Read more »

Junipero Mariano

Cool! Thank you for the information. I guess the must also use the same car for both oval and road course, just different aero kits.

Alianora La Canta

Also, Pirelli would have to build special tyres just for Indianapolis – if Michelin’s tyres couldn’t handle Indy’s Turn 13 (which was mostly Turn 1 of the oval backwards), then there is no way Pirelli’s more fragile tyres could handle four such corners without the benefit of those slow corners in between. If the technical challenges could be made to work, having an oval on the calendar would be fantastic, and where better than Indy? I just don’t see an appetite for this to happen given that F1 seems to think blancmange tyres and push-button passing is how to attract… Read more »

MIE

Look for the race of two worlds held at Monza in the late ’50s, using the oval and the road course. It is the closest F1 and Indy have ever come.

unwindout

‘Sigh.’ Let me have another try at impressing, upon my foreign friends, samples of deeply rooted barriers which Formula 1 has to overcome in order to win hearts and minds in The Land of the Free. Below is a speech I’ve made verbally a time or two. The American mind can’t grasp or believe in Formula 1, any more than it can believe in unicorns. It’s worse than that, really, because my fellow Americans can at least mentally picture a narwhal’s tooth growing out of a horse’s forehead. But Formula 1 is a paradoxical combination of characteristics which the American… Read more »

Negative Camber

Uh…I’m American and fully “get it” and have since I was a child in 1972. not sure an over the top caricature of NASCAR fan-isms is the same target audience or demographic that F1 would appeal to. You may be overlooking the incredibly strong motorsport and sports car culture of the late 60’s in America that saw Dan Gurney race his own car in F1 and Phil Hill win the world title or many others who clearly understood European motor racing. Reading Jimmy Clark’s statement that dan Gurney was one of the few men he ever worried about is a… Read more »

unwindout

I’d love to continue the debate over these bitter pills, but…. Maybe we can in private, I don’t want to use up your blog space. But I stand by all my words, maybe with a negligibly small quantitative qualifier. I think you know that, if you entered your typical U.S. sports bar and tried talking racing, everything I wrote about would inundate you like a tsunami. And, F1 adapted to U.S. tastes would not be F1 as we have known it. Over and out, Good Buddy!

Johnpierre Rivera

That was a very excellent post Todd….

zke007

Ford is going the WEC way, enough said.
F1 is dead anyway if they don’t change themselves.
Money is killing F1. Ford understand this,
For under $ 100 Million (USD) Ford can go racing in WEC and get TV time to sell cars.
For $ 100 Million USD, Ford gets what in F1, Zip….
If I was the CEO of Ford I won’t go to F1 either, no ROI.

Rafael Vieira

Simple like that Zke007, great catch. My hope is that Bernie lives not more than 10 years and sells F1 rights in next 5 years, so, if someone reasonable assumes that, rethink event fees, maybe F1 comes back. Anyway, FIA, FIFA, all these guys are nuts, they need to change their rules. If middle east countries have money to build that unrealistic circuits, fine, but it is not that F1 fans are looking for, mainly in US.

MichaelB

If F1 truly wants to build it’s American audience – then it needs to actually make an effort to come to America… The truth is, 1 race in the US a year and 4 races out of a 18 to 20 race season that are aired during daytime hours with the rest either overnight or early morning isn’t going to attract any significant audience. Especially when there is nobody (and nothing) in the sport for an American to relate to short of maybe Red Bull. F1 truly is at the very least a European based sport with a global focus,… Read more »

Tom Firth

Using Ford as an example, with american companies as it’s sponsors is credible. American investment would be welcomed back to F1, after all, nine of the top 30 Fortune 500 companies have had one of their brands involved, or its parent brand involved in F1 at some point since 2000, and no one found it an issue. As for whether or not Europe would like that much of an american footprint on the sport. I imagine if it was Ford, yes because Ford of Europe is very much integrated in european culture, as much as it is in american culture,… Read more »

John The Race Fan

The locales for a quality Formula One race (i.e. a FiA Grade One faiclity) are nearly non-existent in the US. There is one: CotA. Any other permanent circuit (Road America, Watkins Glen, Laguna Seca, Charsley’s Office) would require substantial upgrades to bring them to FiA Grade One certification. Those circuits that host NASCAR, VICS, PWC, IMSA or other events don’t have a need for an F1 race to keep the facility operating, hence no need to invest in the facility upgrades. That leaves a street circuit. And we know that street circuits by and large suck, especially the racing. The… Read more »

228929292AABBB

You know I have come to the conclusion lately that it might be okay that some versions of sports are US and others are, what does Porsche call it, all-other-markets? I’m not sure it’s so terrible. I look at soccer, and how it incenses the rest of the world that we don’t think it’s the best thing ever. Likewise the NFL keeps running games in Mexico and London, trying to fight the mirror image of soccer’s imaginary windmill. Why not accept it, that Americans would prefer their players use their hands on the ball and kill each other? Let’s not… Read more »

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