Firstly I deeply enjoy your Motor Sport columns, both in the printed edition and online. Thank you, keep up the good work!
That said, why is it that English motor sport writers seemingly cannot resist referring, directly or obliquely, to the putative lack of knowledge of F1 held, or not, by those of us in the United States? After all, there were 117,000 people in attendance at Austin (per the Austin Statesman). Not all of them were from Europe, England, Mexico, or Asia. Of the people attending the race who hailed from the USA, how many were likely to have no clue of the spectacle in front of them? Is there any reason to think the fraction is any different at Silverstone, or Korea, or Abu Dhabi? Any reason why this subset is worthy of mention at all?
While the Commercial Rights Holder may not like you or your colleagues writing it, the problem with F1 in the US has not been a lack of popularity. Rather it has been an unwillingness or inability of the host circuit and/or promoter to meet the CRH’s monetary demands and still turn a profit for themselves.
Elusive American F1 Fan
Dear Elusive Fan,
I first went to the USA in 1971, to attend the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, and it’s a trip I have never forgotten – not least because it was the start of a lifelong love affair with New York City. Since then I’ve visited your country at least a couple of times every year, and always with the same enthusiasm – save perhaps the trips to Detroit and Vegas.
Thinking about it, I don’t believe I’ve ever suggested there is a lack of knowledge about F1 in the States – although I’ll admit that once in a while I’ve been stopped in my tracks. At Vegas the first time, in 1981, a fellow guest in my hotel asked me about the race, and I told him that it would settle the outcome of the World Championship. “I wouldn’t even care,” he said, “if it was to settle the American Championship…”
Another time, in Long Beach, a cab driver asked me who I thought would win the race, and I suggested either Gilles Villeneuve or Alan Jones. “Paul Newman got a chance?” came the response.
Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting these people were typical – I have many American friends, many of whom have a great knowledge of F1, and claim it to be their preferred type of motor racing. The fact remains, though, that culturally F1 is European, while in the USA the more traditional forms are NASCAR and IndyCar racing.
As well as that, it hasn’t been easy for American racing fans to get a firm grip on F1. In the days of Watkins Glen and Long Beach, the crowds were huge – and also extremely knowledgeable – but after that the link was to some degree broken. Some years there would be a Grand Prix in the US, some years not, and F1’s inability to find a permanent home didn’t help, either. You’re right to point out that Austin pulled in a crowd of 117,000 – I was there, and it was the most enjoyable Grand Prix I’ve attended in years. On the other hand, I was also at Phoenix 20 or so years ago, when the crowd was estimated – optimistically – at 15,000.
I hope sincerely – and believe – that down the years the Circuit of the Americas will be one of the most popular venues on the World Championship schedule. Everything about it is right – the track itself, the facilities, the organisation, the hospitality, everything.
For countless years I’ve believed that the USA should have at least two Grands Prix every season, and for a long time thought that Indianapolis would always be one of them. In spite of the fact that the fans were on occasion treated shamefully by F1 – notably in 2005, with the six-car fiasco – they continued to attend in numbers unequalled anywhere else. All right, the ‘F1 track’ at Indy wasn’t up to much, but still I was hugely disappointed in 2007 when Tony George, having spent a fortune on his Speedway to accommodate F1, decided he simply couldn’t continue to pay the fees demanded.
My American friends have long told me that there is simply too much competition from other sports, let alone NASCAR, for F1 ever to become a major attraction there – particularly in terms of interest from the TV companies. Of course it would help enormously if there were another Mario Andretti in F1, but at present I confess I don’t see one on the horizon. For all that, though, everyone came away from Austin in a very optimistic frame of mind, and the future of F1 in the USA seems brighter now that at any time since we left the Glen.