For a while now, Formula 1 has been trying to break into the USA. Not just in developing a fan base, but in holding races in the US. Being based in Australia myself, I understand how time zone differences to the mostly European races can make it a real commitment to follow the sport. A 2 hour race that starts at 2:00 PM in Europe, starts at 10:00 PM in Sydney, Australia, and 6:00 AM in New York, USA. With a 19 race season in 2013, it can get a bit tiring for those in different time zones.
Of course, not all races are held in Europe, but the vast majority take place on that time frame, and there are more problems than just that. In 2012, Formula 1 returned to the USA, after being absent since the 2007 Grand Prix, at the new and purpose built Circuit of the Americas in Texas. Canada and Brazil host F1 Grands Prix, and there has been talk of one starting in Mexico, and the proposed Grand Prix of New Jersey, which never seems to get off the ground. Certainly, the USA needs at least a West Coast and an East Coast race, in addition to Texas.
Perhaps a bigger problem is that Americans have no one to cheer for. There are no American drivers and there isn’t a “home team”. American drivers would be hard to come by, as they have rarely been involved in the career path of starting in Karts, and progressing through the junior formulas traveling the European circuits, such as Formula 3, GP3, World Series by Renault 3.5, and GP2, which have seen drivers graduate to Formula 1. The closest thing in single seat open wheel race cars that the USA have is the IndyCar spec car series, which I don’t believe is up to the standards of F1. I can’t see America sending their best young drivers over to Europe to compete there rather than on their home soil.
A home team could be created through either purchasing an existing team and re-branding it, or creating one from scratch. To create a team from nothing would likely result in a car that’s not competitive and a hastily thrown together workforce, which is an unlikely path to success. In Formula 1, teams are bought, sold and re-branded every so often. The current dominant team, Infiniti Red Bull Racing, having just secured its fourth consecutive World Constructors Championship, and it’s lead driver Sebastian Vettel having won the World Drivers Championship 4 times in a row, was up until 2005, the rather unsuccessful Jaguar Racing team.
There are some teams on the grid that are financially shaky, including the reasonably successful Lotus F1 Team. They’d be the perfect acquisition target for a consortium of American investors. Presuming a team acquisition was made, you’d still have the issue of there not being a candidate American driver on the horizon. Would Americans cheer on a French, German or Finnish driver in an American branded car? When a driver wins a race, the driver’s national anthem is played and their flag raised above the podium, despite where the team is registered or based. Perhaps this wouldn’t be such a problem. The iconic Italian team, Ferrari currently has a Spanish and a Brazilian driver, and will next year have a Finnish driver in place of the Brazillian. Italy is still almost singularly loyal to Ferrari.
In The Americas Cup (sailing), ‘Oracle Team USA’ has an Australian Skipper and Chief Tactician and 5 other Australians, 9 New Zealanders, along with sailors of other countries, but just one American on a predominately New Zealand designed boat. Perhaps American audiences could adapt to their team having a lot of foreign involvement.
Every F1 team is based in Europe, and so must any potential American team. Red Bull is based in Milton Keynes in the UK, although is licensed in Austria. It’s a similar case for the Force India F1 team. Licensed in India, and based in Silverstone in the UK.
An American team would have to be clearly identified as such, with iconic American brands sponsoring the team, and with “USA” featuring in the team name. Those American sponsors would have to have a significant level of business in Europe to make it worth their while, as it would still take a while for American audiences to catch on, and as that it where so many of the races are held, and so much of the global audience is from.
Formula 1 also has a blemished past in the USA, with the debacle that was the 2005 American Grand Prix. Of 20 cars entered, only 6 competed due to tyre safety issues, and racing’s governing body, the FIA unwilling to come to a solution. For Formula 1 in America, it was a damaging incident. For more on that, watch the opening minutes of that race below, and read up on some further background links included below.
Formula 1 can be more successful than it currently is in the United States. Get the basics right, of an American team, more local races, and a driver development program, and it can only go up in popularity.
Further Reading – 2005 United States Grand Prix: