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Bernie and the United States Grand Prix

Bernie Ecclestone’s comments on the future of F1 in America are beginning to cause much comment as the teams head for Indianapolis for what may be the last Grand Prix held there. Many are saying that the States should have two races, rather than none, as Bernie is apparently happy to accept.

Of course, everyone knows that this is Mr Ecclestone trying to improve his bargaining position for the GP contract, but it worries and unsettles the small band of F1 faithfuls in America. As I wrote a few days ago, we need stability if F1 is ever to become big in the USA. Silly statements made merely as a strategem for financial bargaining do nothing to build confidence in F1.

Much is made of the farce that the US GP became last year, when all of the Michelin runners withdrew for safety reasons, this being used now as the reason for the Indianapolis circuit’s reluctance to stage the GP in the future unless the price comes down. And Bernie’s feigned indifference is a part of his determination that the FIA will continue to fill its coffers.

This is about as stupid as the FIA’s refusal to implement any of Michelin’s sensible suggestions for changes that would have allowed the US GP to proceed with a full field last year. If Bernie is really so concerned about the limited number of F1 fans in the States, he ought to be finding out why it has failed to grasp the public’s attention, rather than pretending it doesn’t matter to him. And a large part of this dearth of support is the perceived inflexibility and political nature of the FIA.

A few years ago, the professional baseball players in America went on strike for higher wages. Baseball has never recovered from the blow this dealt the sport in the eyes of the viewing public. America happily switched to other sports rather than watch grossly overpaid sportsmen who demanded even more money.

There’s a lesson for F1 in this and for Bernie especially. Sometimes the sport is more important than the money. Sign up Indy for another five years, Bernie, and let’s have another GP in the west too. Build the sport and the viewers will come.

This is a great time to enhance F1′s reputation within the States. For the first time in many years, there is an American driver in F1: Scott Speed (with a name like that, how can he lose?). He is doing a competent job for the Toro Rosso team and F1 should capitalize on his presence. Meanwhile, there is only one American driver involved in Champ car racing. Surely this is the moment when F1 should be presenting itself to television viewers as a stable, well-governed alternative that gives American rookies a chance.

Scott Speed

Scott Speed

Instead of which, Bernie mutters into his wallet about not really needing America at all. Sure, that’s really going to impress whatever following F1 has managed to build in the last few years.

I know I am a voice in the wilderness and that F1 will continue to become more of a business than a sport. It is true, too, that the influx of money into F1 has been necessary for it to remain as the technological pinnacle of motor racing. But there comes a point where the sport is lost and all enjoyment squeezed out by the bean counters. It would do us good to see the FIA bringing F1 back to its priorities: competition between man and machine and never mind the money.

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