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More on Formula 1 and Long Beach

My blog in this space two weeks ago – about the possibility of Bernie Ecclestone and some partners making a bid to buy the Long Beach GP – evinced denials from owners Kevin Kalkhoven and Jerry Forsythe. Long Beach boss Jim Michaelian, who was particularly aggrieved, grumbled to me about dragging up old news. But from all I’m told there’s no doubt that Ecclestone, Zak Brown and Chris Pook are going to make a bid to buy the race in 2015 with plans to install F1 back in Southern California in 2016.

indycar f1  More on Formula 1 and Long Beach

It’s been reported that Long Beach mayor Bob Foster will fly to the Canadian GP in June to meet with Ecclestone to begin discussions about Bernie’s sales pitch. If that happens, it will be clear the game is on and you can be sure that Ecclestone’s pitch will be lucrative for Long Beach while the global exposure figures the city would receive from a contemporary F1 race would dwarf today’s tepid IndyCar numbers.

This year’s race drew 375,000 viewers on NBC Sports Network in the United States, down 20% from 468,000 last year. Through this year’s first three IndyCar races NBCSN is averaging 343,000 viewers, 10 times smaller than a typical NASCAR race. Twenty years ago, when Nigel Mansell was racing for Newman/Haas in CART’s IndyCar World Series, the domestic TV audience for CART equalled NASCAR, but those days are long gone.

Similarily, the media centres at Long Beach and most other IndyCar races these days are quiet, almost deserted, unlike the raucous crowds from the Mansell days that continued through Alex Zanardi’s three years in Indycars with Ganassi’s team a few years later. But today, IndyCar is almost entirely absent from the mainstream media across the United States. Outside the city of Indianapolis, the series has little or no identity and sadly has become one of America’s smallest, most irrelevant sports. A big part of Bernie’s sales pitch to Long Beach will be the transformation in the global media exposure F1 would bring the race.

indycar f1  More on Formula 1 and Long Beach

Of course, the return of F1 to Southern California would bring a similar transformation to the race’s current comfortable ambience and accessibility. Like all modern F1 races it would become much more restricted, segregated and expensive for all.

It will also be expensive for Ecclestone and his partners. They will have to spend a lot of money to upgrade the track and pitlane and it might be a challenge to find the room and suitable location for today’s spacious F1-spec media centre.

Without doubt, the loss of Long Beach would be a blow for IndyCar. The race is by far IndyCar’s biggest and best street race and the series’ second most important race behind only the Indy 500, so Kalkhoven and Forsythe will be reluctant to cede control of the race.

One day at Long Beach this year I chatted with Stefan Johansson about the possibility of F1’s return. Stefan has lived in LA for the past 20 or so years and is as active as ever. He manages Scott Dixon, manufactures and sells his own large format watches and continues to race a few times each year in LMP cars.

indycar f1  More on Formula 1 and Long Beach

“It would be fabulous!” Stefan grinned about recreating Long Beach with F1. “They’d have to spend a lot of money, but they could make it the race. It would be great for F1 and great for motor racing in America.”

It’ll be intriguing to see how the battle for Long Beach plays out over the next few years.

For more from Gordon Kirby, click here.

indycar f1  More on Formula 1 and Long Beach

Add your comments

34 comments on More on Formula 1 and Long Beach

  1. Steve Hopkinson, 29 April 2013 09:39

    That shot of Scheckter on three-wheels is spectacular – any chance of a higher-resolution version?

  2. David, 29 April 2013 10:01

    What I don’t get about Indycar being a total flop is, does nobody in the US want to watch single seater racing? It literally makes no sense. I don’t buy the oft trod out line that they simply have too much choice. How, then, would anything become popular?

  3. Terry Jacob, 29 April 2013 10:44

    If I lived in the States I think I’d very easily forget that I grew up with road racing , thinking F1 was the ultimate . I am sure I could live quite happily on a diet of sprint cars on dirt , tempered with the occasional piece of supermodified racing , on pavement , from somewhere like Oswego .

  4. IM, 29 April 2013 13:55

    If I am anything like the typical racing fan, the drop-off in popularity of ChampCar – or whatever you want to call it – is easy to explain: crappy spec cars. I used to watch every race religiously but now don’t bother at all.

  5. Tom, 29 April 2013 15:16

    Just do it Bernie!! I hate having those ugly, underpowered IRL specboxes running around Long Beach. I’d be back in a heartbeat if F1 came back to SoCal.

  6. Dick Richards, 29 April 2013 15:22

    The decline of Indy Cars popularity was easily predicted and stemmed from one man’s obsession with controlling the series, to the extent that he started a rival circuit. Over 10 years of internecine warfare allowed NASCAR to grow and solidify as America’s premium series. The interest in open wheel racing existed in the mid 90s, crowds at Indy and other circuits attested to that, IndyCar racing was arguably close to F1 in terms of talent and spectacle. All that is past now and is unlikely to return. As for the cars themselves, they have to rank with the ugliest ever seen. NASCAR will not easily be dislodged.

  7. Andre, 29 April 2013 16:02

    David: Why had the USA pretty well given up on open-wheel racing? The IRL/CART split did a huge amount of damage. One series had the premier event but none of the name teams but only one recognizable driver (Arie Luyendyk). The other had the recognizable teams and drivers but had lost its premier event and even its image because IndyCar was the brand name people knew. Politics and bickering, not competition, dominated the coverage of both series. This went on long enough that everyone except rabid fans gave up.

    Reunification, when if finally occurred, was too little too late. Also, saying that the management has underperformed since then would be the understatement of the century. IndyCar’s owners have proved repeatedly that things are run by family politics rather than business sense. The outside guy they brought in to solve that problem was fired in spectacularly amateurish fashion. And all of this doesn’t even begin to talk about the spec cars.

    If it weren’t for the name recognition of the Indy 500, the series would be dead by now. But that name recognition isn’t enough to sustain a series all by itself.

  8. Andy Miller, 29 April 2013 16:55

    I don’t understand this entire thing.

    “It will also be expensive for Ecclestone and his partners.”

    Since when does Bernie spend one single dime of his own money? His constant MO is to extract tens of millions from the tracks (and those tracks’ local governments) who host F1, while increasing that fee by 10% or more yearly. Yet we’re supposed to believe that in the case of Long Beach, he (or somebody closely associated with him) is going to 1) purchase the rights to hold the Long Beach race from the current rights holders (and they’ve already said it will take “stupid money” because they already make a tidy profit cruising along year to year as the event sits now), 2) invest some number of several million dollars to upgrade all of the circuit infrastructure (some of which may get pushback from the locals), and then 3) pay Bernie an annual $15-20 million for the sanctioning fee? You’d have to have sponsors that would be willing to drop $100+ million just to be able to sign a 5-year contract. I don’t understand how this works at all. Can somebody, anybody, explain this?

  9. Pat O'Brien, 29 April 2013 17:13

    “…lucrative for Long Beach,” if so, that would be a first. Since when is an F1 race lucrative for anyone but BE? If the switch comes about it will be interesting to see how the economics are divvied up; who pays the bills?

  10. Dave, 30 April 2013 00:27

    i hope f1 doesn’t come to long beach as if it did it woudl rob me of been able to attend my local race.

    i’ve been attending the cart/indycar races at long beach since 1991, Tickets prices have always been reasonable & the fan access to the teams/drivers second to none & more importantly the races have always been good to watch.

    f1 would bring higher prices & restricted fan access,
    not to mention they would almost certainly butcher the track to make it ‘suitable’ for f1 & all that would turn me off even thinking about attending.
    plus with gimmicks like drs & the artificial pirelli tires i’ve lost a lot of my interest in f1 anyway.

    regarding indycar, the racing has been fantastic since the introduction of the current car, Its easily more exciting to watch than F1 so im surprised it hasn’t shown signs of growth.

  11. Don Larsen, 30 April 2013 01:11

    Every time it comes up the Troll wants put a new race somewhere, I can only hope that a smart, unbought, and probably, brave, financial investigator/reporter would take a look at BE and his bankster accomplices, to whom he sold Gran Prix racing, and cast a light on where ALL that money goes.

  12. John, 30 April 2013 10:22

    Tom said Just do it Bernie! Yes Bernie do it and do what you appear to do best, make loads of money and ‘F’ up racing. As they say the one thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from it !!

  13. Listerine, 30 April 2013 14:50

    Yes, Steve, that pic of Jody on 3 wheels (in fact, is it 2?) is spectacular – and another thing I love about it is the authentically unglamorous setting! Sadly if what now passes for F1 returns in 2016, both the action and the circuit periphery are likely to be much more fake. Still, this looks like one of Bernie’s better ideas for contemporary F1, although it’s impossible not to notice the question “what’s really in it for him?” cropping up throughout this thread from wary posters. Or “what’s he really up to?” What must be fed into the equation is that the New Jersey project is still go, which means that either Bernie sees Long Beach as Plan B if that falls through, or he’s looking at a minimum of three GPs in the US by ’16. If the latter, it means a change of tack by him, not back to Europe of course but nonetheless a big push back to one of F1′s older markets after having eyes for so long only for the newer markets in the middle and far east. For BCE, it’s always about the gap in the market, but which gap and which market? With Indycar dead on its feet, there’s a chance for F1 to become the premier single-seater category in North America, after decades when that was just a pipe-dream. Then again, that might require 5 or 6 US GPs a year, not just 3, so maybe BCE has another idea – not to replace Indycar, but to take it over. Maybe he IS planning to buy the Long Beach GP, but who says he has to take F1 there if he does? A moribund but once dynamic series with rounds all over the US of A….. mmm, I can hear CVC’s lips smacking already.

  14. John Saviano, 30 April 2013 14:52

    Yes, switching Long Beach to F1 would make it quite different. I went to the IndyCar finale a couple of years ago in Homestead FL. Bought the “paddock club” tickets, for maybe $300 bucks ea. I’ve been to many an F1 race, and you can’t get a bad seat for $300, let alone the extortionately priced F1 Paddock Club! That being said, while it was fun, it’s NOT F1 (and hardly anybody attended).

    So … think about F1 (and not BE) for a second. Long Beach would be great for the future of F1 in the USA. Again, think of F1 and not cynically focus on BE. I know we have trouble separating the two.

  15. Listerine, 30 April 2013 14:57

    By “moribund”, from a CVC-BCE perspective, I did of course mean “going potentially cheap”….

  16. The Original Ray T, 30 April 2013 15:02

    American audiences are confusing, they avoid IndyCar because they are, “crappy, spec cars”, yet they watch NASCAR in droves. The actual racing in Indycar is better than F1.

    The problem with Long Beach is ..Long Beach. The track was barely safe for F1 in the 80s, and its hard to imagine how they could possibly fix the city of Long Beach for an F1 race.

    Bernie…hint.. Laguna Seca.

  17. chris b, 30 April 2013 20:31

    Gordon as an F1 fan i would be overjoyed at the thought of two great USA motor racing circuits holding F1 races every year, but each time i watched the ‘elite’ race around Long Beach i would be saddened as to what Indycar became, it was just so awesome and better than F1 offered, at the time, what happened was tragic for motorsport – the world needs a strong Indycar series, but it is about moving on and seeing how we can redress this awful situation, well get rid of the spec cars then

  18. Dick Richards, 30 April 2013 20:50

    Listerine: From a NA perspective, I think it highly unlikely F1 can ever become “the premier single-seater category in North America”. It is difficult to overstate how low a profile F1 currently has in the US. One example: Michael Schumacher patiently cued up at a motorsport circuit for some fan laps, completely unrecognized.
    The premier open wheel series must include the Indy 500, the one venue still enjoying significant name recognition. It was ownership of this facility that allowed T George to set up his IRL and destroy open wheel racing in the process. Obviously F1 does not do ovals and they have already been and done Indy anyway.
    Other problems with F1 include the lack of, or prospect of any American driver.
    F1 was a niche sport in the US up until the early 80s when it abandoned Watkins Glen and Long Beach. NASCAR was also a niche sport then, the difference being a savy marketing, promotional strategy allowed it to become the dominant US series. F1 can still be a niche sport, in a market of 330 m that would be significant. That would require a permanent venue and concentration on 1 USGP at a time, walk before running. Some kind of marketing strategy would also be a big help; there is little evidence of any consistent strategy in the past 25 years or so.

  19. Terry Jacob, 30 April 2013 21:46

    It will all end in tears . You should always be careful what you wish for ……………….

  20. Wayne, 1 May 2013 12:13

    First thing to do is to make it more exciting. Stop all the ridiculous regulation and speed restricting ploys. and let ‘em race. if somoene is going to stop vettel, then some of the rules, which play straight into Adrian Newey’s hands, need to be lifted. Vettel’s only where he is because of Adrian Newey and the brilliant job he does of finding better ways to bend the rules than anyone else. Less rules, less bending, more open, exciting racing. And real racing, not just nursing the car round the circuit at 80% capacity. My Mum could do that.

  21. John Saviano, 1 May 2013 13:18

    A really creative thought would be to make the Indy 500 an F1 event. Allow some car modifications, of course, but it would be quite interesting. Might separate the “men” from the “boys.”

    Now that’s something that would raise the 500′s profile around the world.

  22. Bob Caladrino, 1 May 2013 13:57

    Personally, I would love to see Formula 1 return to Long Beach, along with a reconstructed circuit that is wider and more suitable from a safety perspective.

    I have no interest in the current devolved state of “Indy car” as owned/operated by the H-G family. If the sport is to ever recover and regain any semblance of popularity, which is unlikely to begin with, it needs to be sold and rebuilt from the ground up.

  23. Reza F, 1 May 2013 14:42

    It would be wonderful to have an F1 race at Long Beach. Despite absense from F1 calendar for quite some time, there is a special bond between F1 and Long Beach.

  24. Jack Reynolds, 2 May 2013 07:04

    Make the deal ASAP Bernie. Indy Car is still resisting innovative engineering and without some creativity it will continue to suffer even though the racing has been quite good. The marriage of ALMS and that spec car group will set new standards of mediocracy and Indy Car needs to avoid the same thinking. Let’s face reality. Their are no bragging rights to second best and now that Indy Car emphasis is on road courses rather than ovals the inevitable comparison to F1 will resurface. Astute fans may remember the last time F1 and Indy cars raced on a common track (Canada) The pole time for the Indy car was some 7 seconds slower than the last qualifier in the F1 race. Indy Cars need to go faster and that means ovals. Let F1 have long Beach. The show is a significant step up even considering costs. F1 and to a lesser extent ALMS is engineering at its best. Racing is racing but fans need to have something extra in the area of sophistication or they will have nothing to spark the their imagination.

  25. Doug Meis, 2 May 2013 16:37

    A few have commented on the photo of Sheckter “three-wheeling” his car. It’s hard to tell for sure, but there may be daylight under the RR tire – “two-wheeling”

  26. John Fox, 2 May 2013 20:36

    No thanks. No more street races.

  27. Lucas Verhoeven, 3 May 2013 08:27

    I am sad to read that Indy-Car is doing so badly…….. I lived in the sates in the late 90′s, and I LOVED Indy-Car (Champ-car)
    at that time. The great days of one Alessandro Zanardi… what a guy!
    Anyway, thanks George!! Really brilliant move! Now even your Indy is but a far cry from the heady days of the early 90′s and before. Not too mention the sad state of affairs for Indy-Car. If you would have been asked to sabotage American single-seater Racing on purpose, you wouldn’t have been able to do it much more effective….. Now Bernie and cohorts can hammer in the final nail. Mind you, F1 coming back to long Beach could be good, as long as they make the track a LOT more interesting and challenging. But it could be the final straw for Indy-Car, I am afraid. That’s just another side benefit for Bernie though.

  28. Lucas Verhoeven, 3 May 2013 08:32

    PS: Forgot to say: Just LOVE that pic of Scheckter in the Wolf….those were the days. I must be getting old! Modern F1 doesn’t hold a patch on F1 from the 60′s and 70′s…… Real Characters, Real Cars, Real Tracks.

  29. craig tuck, 3 May 2013 09:21

    the IRL series is losing fans because all the cars are the same brand as well as the tyres and up until a couple of years ago the engines were all the same, one word for this type of racing . BORING. if the long beach race is to go ahead it needs to be on the old track.

  30. Clyde Cohen, 3 May 2013 16:11

    Having F1 back at Long Beach would be great, and I think better than having a New Jersey F1 race, but if NJ is on the Calendar starting in 2014, does that mean there will be 3 F1 races in the US in 2015 including Austin (which was an amazing race in 2012, has a fantastic circuit, and I hope stays on the calendar)?
    If so, that would be fantastic for us North Americans who feel that F1 doesn’t get enough attention here. Four races on our continent, maybe 5 if you include Mexico City, one can only dream…

  31. Steve Selasky, 6 May 2013 11:56

    Pray, tell me…. Why do we need 3 F1 races in the USA?

  32. Terry Jacob, 13 May 2013 09:19

    Are you guys in North America sure you want another round of the farce that Formula One has become visiting your shores ? I think you’d be better sticking with IndyCar despite its problems . It least it’s not contrived nonsense with a tyre preservation contest thrown in .

  33. Carl, 14 May 2013 18:48

    If Formula One returned to Long Beach, the race would of course and necessarily be scheduled to start at 5 am so the coddled European fans can watch the live telecast at a convenient time.

  34. Anthony Jenkins, 24 December 2013 18:19

    Crappy back in the formula one days – on a more interesting circuit- and downright awful in the current Indycar format. Not my opinion only . Look at the viewership. Forget Long Beach . Its a dump and a lousy circuit.

    If Bernie can turn a buck- or a few tens of millions, he will, but it will be for him, not for the benefit of we fans.

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