Bernie Ecclestone has made some comments on the Indianapolis race that seem to contradict his previous declarations of support for F1 being in the USA. He seemed unimpressed with the viewing figures for all single-seater racing in America, the implication being that the contract with Indy to hold the US GP there might not be renewed after this year.
This contrasts strongly with Bernie’s avowed determination to have F1 racing in the States and makes me wonder whether he is preparing the way for yet another move of the event to a new circuit (probably Las Vegas). I am old enough to remember the glories of Watkins Glen and Long Beach (and the horrors of racing in a Vegas car park) but I suppose the world moves on and change is here to stay.
But is Bernie missing the point by concentrating only on viewing statistics? The problem has always been that Americans like their own forms of motor racing and are difficult to convert to the more political and sometimes boringly predictable delights of F1. The change of venue every few years doesn’t help us establish an F1 tradition in the States and it may be time to ignore the stats and the money while F1 builds a stronger following.
Look at how soccer has struggled to make an impact in the USA. For years it tried every trick in the book to be noticed but got nowhere. Yet it has a brighter future now than ever before because it has become a game the kids play. Those kids will grow up and they won’t forget. Give it another ten years and I can see soccer becoming one of the top spectator sports in America.
The lesson for F1 is that it takes time. Throwing money at the problem has never worked and never will. America needs some stability in its Grand Prix and that means F1 needs to pick a good circuit and stay with it.
And I don’t believe that the wilds of upstate New York or Wisconsin are out of the question. These days the real money is in televising the show and the gate money is merely icing on the cake. So the race could be held in Alaska and still make money eventually. It’s that patience in waiting for the thing to develop that F1 needs now, not a mobile circus that is for sale to the highest bidder.
Way back in the mists of time, when the US GP was always at Watkins Glen, F1 did build a following in the States. It was close to Canada as well and the Canadian fans had two races as a result. Those fans are still there and would be happy for the GP to move back where it started, I’m sure. So, yes, this is yet another whinge from an old fogey, bemoaning the demise of a good circuit and longing for its return.
But, who knows? I might just be right…