Big in America

Jenson Button, Honda, Barcelona, 2006David Beckham is off to play football in America, in deal that will make him USD $250m richer.

No I haven’t gone mad and turned F1Fanatic into a football gossip column. This is interesting to F1 fans for two reasons:

Firsit, the deal was set up by 19 Entertainment head Simon Fuller, who was hired by Honda F1 in February to revamp their image. Second, Beckham’s mission in America is to bring ‘soccer’ to the masses, a feat not entirely dissimilar to Formula One’s efforts to win friends in the States.

It’s no secret that Formula One does not have the success it craves in America. Bernie Ecclestone’s hardball negotiations last year saw only a one-year extension on the deal for F1 to race at Indianapolis.

United States Grand Prix, Indianapolis, 2005, StartIn seven years at the speedway Formula One has paraded its ugly side more than once: in Ferrari’s shameful ‘photo finish’ of 2002, and the craven debacle of 2005.

That aside, America’s F1 evangelists face much the same problem that David Beckham will when he turns out for Los Angelex Galaxy. In America, they have their own sports, and they don’t much care for anyone else’s.

As Simon Barnes wrote in The Times on Friday, “America is a self-loving, insular nation and its self-created sports are part of its understanding of itself. In America, sport’s highest achievements are domestic.”

Beckham will find soccer is dwarfed by the National Football League in the minds of Americans, just as Formula One is eclipsed by the NASCAR behemoth.

But, happily, not for all. Major League Soccer in America does draw crowds, from a substantial minority of people, including various immigrant groups, who prefer the kind of football that you play with your feet, rather than your hands.

And so too Formula One in America does have a dedicated following. No, it’s not yet enough to fill the Indianapolis Motor Speedway like the NASCAR race does, but in a land of homemade sports like baseball and the NHL, that is something.

I can’t pretend to be too concerned whether Beckham’s mission to LA bears fruit.

But I want Formula One to stay at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Indianapolis 500, 2006, startOf course it merits a billing alongside the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400 as one of only three races that take place annually at the IMS. Of course an international motor racing series cannot afford to ignore the United States of America.

And most of all, of course the dedicate, passionate American F1 fans deserve a Grand Prix.

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