Despite big crowd in Texas, Formula 1 is still chasing the American dream

Cheerleaders in Austin ahead of the US GP

Cheerleaders in Austin ahead of the US GP

A year after making a splashy return to the United States, Formula 1’s American dream has yet to come true with the glamour sport unable to fully captivate a huge market it has long coveted.

While motor racing fans across the globe planned their Sunday around the United States Grand Prix, for Americans it was just another event on an action-packed day of National Football League (NFL) games and NASCAR.

The Circuit of the Americas carved out of the south Texas scrubland, one of the most popular stops on the calendar for paddock regulars and praised by drivers, teams and spectators alike, was supposed to provide the launching pad for a new era for F1 in the US but has so far failed to take off.

When Formula One returned to the United States in 2012 after a five-year hiatus F1 commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone stood in the paddock and enthusiastically outlined a coast-to-coast vision for the sport in America with races in Austin, New Jersey and Los Angeles.

An impressive crowd descended on Circuit of the Americas for the US GP weekend

An impressive crowd descended on Circuit of the Americas for the US GP weekend

A year later, talk of a race in Los Angeles has disappeared while the elfin Ecclestone breezed through the Austin paddock on the weekend avoiding questions about a New Jersey race that is struggling to get off the ground.

“We can always do more,” said McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh, noting that the US is a major market for many F1 sponsors especially car makers such as Ferrari and Mercedes. “This is such an important market that I think we have to treat it as a new market.

“I know there have been lots of races in the States before but we have never cracked the States in the way we should have done and I think the opportunity is there and all of the stakeholders, the commercial rights holders, the teams, the promoters all of us should be working together and harder to make sure we demonstrate to the great US public what a fantastic sport Formula 1 is.

“I think it is reasonable to say we are not doing enough.”

Sebastian Vettel parades in AC Cobra

Sebastian Vettel parades in AC Cobra

Unable to find a permanent home in the United States, Formula One has been forced into a string of unsatisfying one-night stands with Austin, the Texas capital, becoming the 10th venue to host the series after Sebring (Florida), Riverside (California), Watkins Glen (New York), Phoenix (Arizona), Dallas (Texas), Detroit (Michigan), Las Vegas (Nevada), Long Beach (California) and Indianapolis (Indiana).

Americans have had a long-standing love affair with the automobile but the romance of Formula One, which sets hearts of motor sports fans around the world aflutter, has never managed to get pulses racing in the United States.

The Circuit of the Americas, the only purpose-built F1 track in the United States, has provided an attractive foundation for the sport in the US but one promoters have since been unable to build on.

Even in Austin, known as “The Weirdest City In Texas,” F1 had to battle for attention with a college football showdown between the University of Texas and Oklahoma State stealing the buzz during Saturday qualifying then going head-to-head against the NFL goliath on Sunday.

Fans were enthusiastic despite a somewhat boring race

Fans were enthusiastic despite a somewhat boring race

Three day attendance was announced at 250 324, a drop of 6 percent from last year’s inaugural event but remains one of the most well-attended events on the circuit.

The main reason for a lack of interest in the United States is that F1 is almost devoid of American content with no US teams or drivers on the starting grid.

Attempts to form a US-based team with a factory in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2010 failed and there has been no American driver on the circuit since Scott Speed left in 2007.

Even Ecclestone has acknowledged that in order for F1 to grow in the United States they need to develop an American driver who can win or, at the very least, be competitive.

Mario Andretti, who handed out trophies after Sunday’s race won by Sebastian Vettel, remains America’s best known F1 driver 35 years after he claimed the series drivers’ championship. No American has won a grand prix race since.

Start of the second US GP at COTA

Start of the second US GP at COTA

Andretti’s son Michael followed his father to Europe and competed briefly in F1 for McLaren alongside the triple World Champion Ayrton Senna.

Andretti told Reuters he would like to see grandson Marco, who currently races on the IndyCar series, give F1 a shot but has no desire to be involved.

“I have no interest in creating a team, the only thing I would be interested in seeing is my grandson Marco getting some proper testing and evaluation,” Andretti told Reuters.

“That in itself could be interesting but I agree with Bernie, you don’t necessarily have to have a team but if you have a driver representing the US with a top team it would make all the difference in the world as far as press interest.”

American driver Alexander Rossi in action during FP3 in Austin

American driver Alexander Rossi in action during FP3 in Austin

American Alexander Rossi could be the next American to appear on the F1 starting grid after leaving home at 16 to pursue his F1 dream in Europe.

A winner in F1 feeder series GP2 and currently a reserve driver for Caterham, Rossi made brief appearance in Austin during the first practice session but it is still uncertain when, or if, a fulltime F1 seat will ever come.

“It doesn’t matter if you win every junior championship in America you have to go to Europe and start all over again and prove to them (F1 teams) you can race in Europe and compete against the Europeans,” Rossi told Reuters.

“That’s just the way the sport is. Formula One is a European-dominated sport and they don’t believe anyone deserves a chance unless they won and competed in Europe.”

  • Dissapointed F1 fan

    For 2 years running they have scheduled the USA F1 gp on the same day and at the same time as the Nascar sprint cup finale at Homestead. How stupid is that! Of course most usa petrol heads will tune into that rather than F1, I know I did and I’m in the UK.
    For F1 to take off in the USA, they have to move the date to earlier in the year so that it wont clash with NFL, also choose a weekend when nascar either has a week off or the sprint cup race is held on a Saturday. Simples!
    As an aside, I have followed F1 since 1966 and watched virtually everyrace on tv since 1982, except this year. I stopped watching after spa, ITS BECOME BORING!!

  • Texas Roadhouse

    If they want to reschedule, then it would have to be in the spring. Summer in Texas is way, way too hot and humid.

    That would also require the MotoGP round (presently mid-April) to be moved.

  • Miles Long

    If they want maximum exposure, glitz and glamour, etc Ecclestone should help the promoters for the NYC/NJ Grand Prix get off the ground! New York City is considered the capitol of the world, isn’t it?

  • Allan Goodall

    Not mentioned is the fact that there are only 3 races in the year with times conducive to watching the race live: Montreal, Austin, and Brazil. The others are on too early. Now, that’s not as big a deal with DVRs, but it’s a pain trying to follow the sport and not have the race spoiled for you on race day.

    For F1 to work in the U.S. you need an American F1 driver, a race that doesn’t go up against the sport’s biggest competition in the U.S. (NASCAR and the NFL), and you need to delay a couple more races so that they are run in the evening in Europe rather than the afternoon.

    Sadly, I don’t see all three of these happening.

  • Michael Warr

    This is a very poorly written article……….250,000 fans is a great turnout, especially as Friday is just practice. Austin is actually the only sane city in Texas………the rest of it and most inhabitants are stark raving bonkers. Any state that elects Bush and Perry has to be mentally deficient. People who would rather watch football are not motorsports fans anyway, so who gives a damn? People who would rather watch Nascar are mostly just there for the accidents and inevitable mayhem that surround oval track racing. An American driver and/or team would certainly be an asset, but most of this author’s other “points” are not really valid in this fan’s opinion………and I have been a fan since 1958!

  • ZombieJebus

    I know more Brits that watch Nascar than I do other ‘muricans. Same goes for Indycar. I’m an F1 addict and couldn’t care less about domestic racing series.

    Then again, I also wouldn’t go to Texas. Run the NJGP and see what happens, though with NBC owning the F1 TV rights it’s going to be a hard sell as the utterly suck compared to their predecessors and SKY or better still BBC.

    Lol, and the 2014 regulations aren’t helping either. Lame and crap sounding hybrids with artificially amplified aerospace turbos, fixed fuel loads and flow rate and rpms just can’t compare with screaming F1 engines of this and previous eras.