The Final Frontier: Formula One and the United States

Sunday, February 6, 2011 Posted by the sportsloop team
What do you get when you mix the world's largest economy, a nation that loves things the automobile, and loves things 'big', with the world's largest annual sporting series that showcases the pinnacle of automotive technology? Well, a bit damp squib really.

How is it that Formula One has never cracked the USA? This is something brought into focus for me this month after reading the excellent February edition of F1 Racing magazine, which contained a feature on the upcoming USA Grand Prix in Austin, Texas. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the state that is well known for doing things big.

The article paints quite an optimistic picture of Formule One's future in the US of A, but the same picture was being painted 11 years ago when F1 ventured to the cathedral of American motorsport, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

So, what has gone wrong and can the Grand Prix in Austin achieve what the multitude of other venues have singularly failed to do - turn Formula One into a legitimate part of the American sports diet?

The United States is remarkably insular when it comes to sport, and whilst I am very happy for American readers to prove me wrong, this is certainly the perception of those living outside her borders. How else could it be that the winners of the NFL are crowned 'World Champions'?

It is this mindset that provides the first major hurdle for Formula One to overcome, and to be blunt, it is simply too ingrained into the American sports psyche for the sport to overcome.
Anyone believing that Formula One will ever be mentioned in the same breath as the NFL, NHL, MLB or NASCAR should probably stop deluding themselves now. Or keep taking their happy pills.

So what else has held Formula One back? For a sport with some incredibly gifted minds it has an amazing ability to shoot itself in the foot. Nothing more need be said about the debacle that was the six car 2005 US Grand Prix. Never in my life have I been embarassed to be known as a Formula One fanatic.

Also, despite it's brash appearnce, Formula One is quite a subtle sport, with the major protagonists rarely duking it out wheel to wheel NASCAR style. Of course, this does sometimes occur (and is truly breathtaking when it does), but as a rule it is fuel / tyre strategies that decide the outcome of a race. This subtelty and perhaps sense of elitism that Formula One projects is completely alien to the average American sports fan, and will always prevent the sport from going mainstream. It just really can't compete with the home grown heroes found in other sports.

What can Formula One hope to achieve out of going to Austin? With a promotor who is passionate about the sport and has huge resources behind him, I think the race will be as successful as a foreign based sport could ever be in the US. For some people it will lead to a greater education in, and therefore appreciation of the sport, for others it may simply mean that they are happy to tune in for their once a year fix of 'funny sounding' European named drivers in extremely quick cars. If Ferrari manage to flog a few more cars to Texan business men that's all well and good too.



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