Will F1 make a success of its return to America?

2012 United States Grand Prix

Circuit of the Americas, 2012F1 is back for another attempt to win over the American public. But will the Circuit of the Americas provide the springboard for success the championship is yearning for?

For

The major difference between F1′s tenth attempt at holding a race in America and those which have gone before is that in the Circuit of the Americas it now has a dedicated, purpose-built venue for Formula One racing.

Drivers have praised the track which already looks among the best recent addition to the calendar. Its impressive gradient, high-speed corners and ample character make it a venue worthy of a round of the world championship.

Since F1′s return to America was announced, some F1 teams have visited the USA for promotional activities. Red Bull visited Austin (as well as the planned venue of the postponed 2013 race at New Jersey) and McLaren did an event with Lewis Hamilton and NASCAR driver Tony Stewart.

There is plenty to be positive about in F1′s latest attempt to crack the American market.

Against

Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon, NASCAR, Phoenix, 2012F1 needs more than just a good track and an annual presence in America to gain major national recognition there. While local media have given considerable coverage to Austin’s race, it seems to have registered little more than a ripple country-wide.

Caterham’s American test driver Alexander Rossi gave some perceptive views on why F1 struggles to win widespread popularity in America: “Part of what makes F1 so special is the exclusivity and the mystery but at the same time that is the one thing that repels Americans the most.

“In NASCAR and IndyCar you can go into the paddock and the drivers are more human, they?re more approachable. Americans quite like to feel that they can be close to the people that they?re supporting but in F1 it?s very much an exclusive sport and the drivers are very much on a pedestal.”

F1 has made life more difficult for itself by scheduling its American round of the championship on the same weekend as the last round of the NASCAR championship. “We’re not involved in setting the calendar,” said Martin Whitmarsh at the team principals’ press conference yesterday, adding: “I think it appears to be a bit unfortunate.”

Nor had they realised that the FIA’s provisional calendar for 2013 has the Austin race clashing with the same NASCAR round. “To be honest I have to say that I didn’t know about that,” admitted Stefano Domenicali.

I say

F1 needs to be realistic about what it can achieve in America. It is unlikely to ever be able to rival the likes of NASCAR, even if America’s most popular form of motor sport has declined slightly in popularity in recent years.

Formula One already has a small but significant following in the USA. Americans are the second-largest group of visitors to F1 Fanatic by country and more people turned up to watch the first day of practice at COTA than for race day at Yas Marina. But there’s clearly a long way to go to make this a sport with major national recognition in America.

The teams who have made the most effort to promote F1 in America are those with sponsors connecting them to it: It’s a huge market for Red Bull and McLaren’s lubricant supplier Mobil 1. But where is the initiative from Formula One Management and the FIA to promote Formula One in this vital market which it has repeatedly failed to crack?

So far this year I have received 1,050 emails from NASCAR. The 1,051st dropped into my inbox shortly after I began writing this article. In contrast I’ve had perhaps a few dozen from the FIA about F1. And it’s not as if I run a site called NASCAR Fanatic.

NASCAR and IndyCar are so far ahead of Formula One when it comes to communication it’s embarrassing. The uptake of social media such as Twitter by F1 in recent years has been encouraging but again this initiative is coming from the teams, not FOM or the FIA.

The teams are doing what they can and COTA are straining every sinew to make the event a success, but I don’t see a fraction of that effort from the sport’s governing body or commercial rights holder. That has always been F1′s problem and there’s no sign it has changed.

You say

Do you think F1′s tenth attempt at breaking America will be a success?

If you’re in America, have you seen any coverage of the race weekend? Have your say in the comments.

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Images ?? COTA/Rizzo, Tom Pennington/Getty

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44 comments on Will F1 make a success of its return to America?

  1. claudioff (@claudioff) said on 17th November 2012, 15:46

    I just came across with this amazing video, which I would like to share, it has a lot to do with this discussion:
    http://edition.cnn.com/video/?hpt=hp_tvbx#/video/sports/2012/11/13/f1-history-us.cnn

  2. Atticus (@atticus-2) said on 17th November 2012, 15:47

    I think no, F1 will not make a success of its return to America.

    On the short-term, or initially, that is. By ‘success’, I mean a number of factors.

    Take TV viewers. I agree with the opinions that most of the American households, even if turning on to the F1 race will definitely switch to the NASCAR season finale – the fact that this is a finale, and a nail-biting one makes it even worse for F1. Viewer numbers are key figures and will be cited often, I think – and if it will be low, which is likely, the event will be deemed unsuccesful. Same goes for 2013 if the FIA will not change date for the race – I heard it will once again collide with the NASCAR finale.

    Take battles for the lead. As a lot of you has said, and as Keith mentioned in the article, a one-stop race is likely as is an umpteenth Vettel pole and a processional race is in sight. Worst case scenario – not that F1 can’t produce great battles for the lead, in fact I think a few, but main lead changes (such as Hamilton’s retirement in Singapore and in Abu Dhabi) is remembered and cherished more than the few dozen, but unfollowable lead changes and battles of a Daytona or Dega race. But certainly, F1 races can be considered dull for a pilot performance, if it will turn out to be processional. Just not the kind of first impression it would want, I think – I think F1 could have gained a lot of fans with Abu Dhabi or Valencia, IMO. Or NASCAR with Texas or Phoenix. All these events defined what the serieses are about.

    Only ticket sales and attendance, which I think is another key figure of measuring ‘success’, fared well, I heard. But if the excitement, described above will not be there, this could also go down rapidly in the next few years.

    Purpose-built circuit, good layout, promotional events? I think they will be weighted less. F1 abandoned a purpose-built circuit due to low attendance and/or financial issues before (Istanbul Park) and a good layout was not able to keep hold of a race before in America (Riverside, Watkins Glen) either. Promotional events could be key, but I agree that FOM should organise it more efficiently and not leave them to teams and sponsors individually.

    So my final verdict is no, I am sceptical.

    • HoHum (@hohum) said on 17th November 2012, 20:56

      You are right, as usual the circuit owners have done everything asked of them but have been let down by Bernie/FOM who believe their responsibility ends once the contract is signed and the cheque is in the bank.

  3. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 17th November 2012, 17:32

    How do you measure success? Are you trying to overhaul established sports or should you rather try and compliment them? I’d go with the latter. F1 doesn’t need America so let’s not pretend it does, sure it’s a bonus but by no means a necessity. F1 should be wary of trying to attract new fans by making too many concessions to them. I didn’t have F1 handed to me on a plate, I had to go out of my way to find it (not far admittedly) and wake up at all the hours God sends to follow it. Don’t treat the US fans like a charity case and don’t shamelessly plug the sport and warp it to fit one commercial entity. Let it develop of its own accord and evolve like any other sport.

    I think it will be a success if you can measure success by a consistent, if not small fan base.

  4. Dan (@rcrider13) said on 19th November 2012, 17:27

    Unfortunately I do not think COTA will be a long term success. The race fee is coming from public money and that will always be a political football, especially for something “foreign” like F1. With the current economic climate and the animosity between political parties I can see these public funds drying up very quickly and COTA will have no way to pay for their race.

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