Another chance for Formula One to win hearts and minds in the USA

David Coulthard in action at the Red Bull F1 Show Car run in Austin last year

David Coulthard in promotional action at the Red Bull F1 Show Car run in Austin last year

Nov.15 (Reuters) Americans have had a long-standing love affair with the car but the romance of Formula One, that sets the hearts of motor sports fans around the world a flutter, has never quite managed to get pulses racing in the United States.

After a five-year hiatus, F1 returns to America this weekend for the U.S. Grand Prix at the $400 million Circuit of the Americas, where Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel can clinch a third successive driver’s title.

As jet-setters, high rollers and A-listers descend on Austin, the quirky Texas capital is gearing up for a week that will see an estimated $ 220 million poured into the state economy.

Hotel rooms, if any can be obtained, are going at triple the normal rates while rental car companies are soldout and requests for reservations at one of the city’s top restaurants are met with a laugh.

In the United States, however, the appeal of motor racing’s glamour crowd has somehow been lost on the country that sells more Ferraris and Porsches than any other and it is likely that more eyeballs will be focused on Homestead, Florida come Sunday where NASCAR’s Chase championship will be decided.

“The truth is [that] we find that there is no crossover,” Eddie Gossage, the president of Texas Motor Speedway near Dallas, which hosts two of NASCAR’s biggest races, told Reuters. “NASCAR fans tend to look down their nose at Formula One fans and F1 fans tend to look down their nose at NASCAR.”

“It’s apples and sausages, it’s not even apples and oranges they are so unlike each other. First of all road racing isn’t an American sport, oval racing is. It’s like soccer in this country. It has never succeeded and I don’t think it will ever succeed because it is not our game. It’s not an American sport and that is never going to change,” added Gossage.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series CARFAX 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 15, 2010 in Brooklyn, Michigan.The U.S. has been a market that Formula One covets but is also one that commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone has viewed as more of a luxury than a necessity as the circuit searched out new venues to expand its global brand.

But the teams, car manufacturers and sponsors have not been so cavalier about the importance of having a U.S. race on the calendar with all of them keen to return to one of their biggest markets.

Once focused on wooing over NASCAR and IndyCar fans, F1 now appears more intent on catering to its base in yet another attempt to crack the U.S. market, with the Austin venue the 10th American venue to host the race.

“They need to be here,” said Gossage. “It’s the world’s largest economy and F1 is a global sport so it’s an obvious hole in their schedule.”

Eddie Gossage during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 4, 2009 in Fort Worth, Texas.Gossage, whose track attracts more than 140 000 spectators to each race, said he was unthreatened by Formula One’s appearance in Texas and wished U.S. Grand Prix promoters luck, then added that they would probably need it.

“I think a lot of people were surprised about Austin – it isn’t a large market or an international market,” he said of the Texas state capital. “I think it will be quite successful this year. The question is; Can it sustain that success?”

“You look at the history of Formula One in the U.S. and it has never maintained any degree of success in the last 30 years. I hope they can but it is going to be a challenge…[F1] haven’t made it easy for themselves,” concluded Gossage.

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  • wjc

    Who’s the idiot who interviews a NASCAR track’s president for an opinion about F1? Why not get quotes from Austin’s Mayor or the president of the freaking track F1 is actually racing on?!

  • Barlow

    Hey you guys, NASCAR is really exciting. They start rolling, and get the green flag. Then they turn left, they go a ways and turn left again, and another left turn, wow, they are rolling now and here comes, another left turn, going around in circles. And all this rattle and hum, with “Dukes of Hazard” theme song playing in the back ground. I’ve been an American fan of F1 since High School, I’m now almost 66. Formula One is the only sport I really care about or follow anymore. I watch all the races live, and in Hawaii that means race times at 2 or 3 am. Oh, yeah, and if it rains, all the NASCAR dudes head for the barn!! Aloha
    ps. Next year Kimi!

  • Michaelmacarthur

    Barlow: damn right. I’m only 43 but I remember watching F1 on the CBC when I was younger. My grandfather was a big F1 fan.
    Oh and thanks, now I have the Dukes TV theme song in my head.

    Ps. asking a Nascrap person anything about this coming weekend, and F1 in general is kinda of an irrellevent thing to do.

  • tony sullivan

    went to my first F1 race in 1962 at Watkins Glen – it was unlike anything – Wide World of Sports produced the Monaco race and that was it – although F1 is now shown by Speed or Fox(very badly produced) the audience has not grown very much – the FIA
    has not promoted F1 expecting it to catch on as in Europe – Because Austin now exists as a venue some expect it to catch on – my friends who watch auto racing have zero interest in F1 – if the sport catches on I will be surprised