The next steps for F1 in the United States


It was great to see the first United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin get off to a resounding start.

Everyone seems to have enjoyed the race from the track itself to access in and out of the place and the ambience of the city of Austin. The grandstands were full to capacity on race day – some 117,000 seats – and the race was as good as any modern F1 race comes.

Everyone hopes the first year’s success will continue and the race in Texas establishes itself as an essential weekend on F1’s World Championship calendar. The track plans to run a full schedule of other races, including MotoGP and Grand-Am, and it’s possible that IndyCar could race in Austin in the years ahead, either in addition to or as an alternative to the Texas Motor Speedway. Either way, Formula 1’s arrival at the Circuit of the Americas is a good thing for both F1 and motor racing in general in America, which has been caught in the doldrums in recent years.

While the Circuit of the Americas provides a good springboard for F1’s revival in the United States, plenty of work remains to be done for F1 to attain any serious market presence in the USA. There was precious little coverage of Austin in the major American newspapers and the domestic television show on SpeedTV drew around 500,000 viewers for a 0.42 rating. It was the highest rated F1 race in America in more than a year, but Austin’s TV rating was miniscule compared to NASCAR’s 2.7 rating for its Sprint Cup season finale on the same day at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Mind you, that was down 27 per cent from last year’s rating, a continuing trend that NASCAR hopes to reverse next year. But that’s another story…

How can F1 begin to attract a bigger TV audience in America and more coverage in the major newspapers like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today? Well, it will help if the Weehawken race in New Jersey happens as hoped in 2014 and Long Beach is reborn as an F1 race in 2015 as Zak Brown and others suggest may happen.

It’s not yet clear how the tremendous damage from Hurricane Sandy along the New Jersey shore will affect the race in Weehawken. Nor is Long Beach’s future clear. The current contract with the city to run the race expires in 2015 and Zak Brown said in the September issue of Motor Sport that he believed F1 should buy the contract and bring F1 back to the California streets for the first time since 1983. IndyCar is sure to fight to retain Long Beach but would likely be outbid by Ecclestone, Brown and Pook…

If F1 found itself in the position of enjoying three Grands Prix – one each on east and west coasts and one in Texas – it would have a much more powerful position than it’s ever had in America. So it will be interesting to watch the futures of Austin, Weehawken and Long Beach.

The other key element in building wider interest in F1 in America is having a competitive American driver or two in the field. Many decades have passed since we’ve seen such a thing and I believe the only way to make it happen is for the promoters at the Circuit of the Americas (and Weehawken and Long Beach if they happen) to find the sponsorship to fund a young American driver to Europe programme.

A guy like Zak Brown surely is capable of selling sponsorship to support a way forward for talented young American open-wheel drivers to race in GP3, F3 and GP2. It would be great to see Brown and the people in Austin make it happen and just might pay for itself many times over in the long run.

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