When the FIA World Motor Sport Council released the final 2014 calendars for its major series, including F1, WRC, WEC and WTCC, one of the first things I looked for was if the United States Grand Prix in Austin had changed dates due to other races being dropped from the calendar (Mexico, Korea, New Jersey). Indeed it had been moved up to Nov. 2…clashing directly with the NASCAR Sprint Cup weekend only a few hours up the road from Circuit of the Americas, site of the F1 race.
For the past two years, including Formula One's grand return to the United States in 2012, the Austin weekend clashed with the NASCAR season finale in Miami, arguably one of the most important weekends in North American motorsports.
People mumbled and grumbled about how little sense it made to have two premier series running against each other in the same time frame. And now, with the FIA's schedule change, COTA will be hosting the international Formula One circus on the same dates as NASCAR's big Texas weekend, a Chase race that has had important championship implications.
Immediately the comments started. "That is so stupid." "What are they thinking?" "It hurts the fans."
To better understand this, lets determine who the real loser is here.
Clearly not, their audience comes from all over the world, and is primarily based on television. If COTA fails as an F1 host, Bernie Ecclestone will simply take the show to another venue, or another country. It makes little difference to the FIA or F1 at the end of the day. American fans like to site the importance of the U.S. market to F1. Really? If Fernando Alonso and Scuderia Ferrari win the USGP, will the local Ferrari dealers see a dramatic uptick on their sales the following Monday? My point is, the Ferrari brand doesn't need F1 to sell itself to the US market. The same goes for McLaren, Renault (not even implanted in the States) and even smaller teams like Marussia. What are they selling to Americans? The only exception to this might be Mercedes.
Do the fans lose?
Having attended and covered both series, the answer is an emphatic no. Demographically, the two are basically mutually exclusive. From the F1 perspective, here is a great example: at this year's USGP, I asked a few European journalists and photographers about this date clash that seems to irritate Americans beyond belief because of its nonsensical nature. None of them seemed to care that there was a NASCAR race going on the same weekend. Two of the five guys I talked to couldn't recognize Jimmie Johnson when I showed them a picture of the 6-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion! That's when I understood that F1 is on it's own separate planet, and this is endemic starting at the top, with Bernie, down through the teams and media covering the sport. Me showing a photo of Johnson to these journalists was like showing the Associated Press's NASCAR writer Jenna Fryer a photo of Satoshi Motoyama in Super GT. Two different worlds. From the NASCAR perspective, American fans have this idea that their sports are the center of the universe (the MLB's World Series anyone?). And to an extent they are right. The Sprint Cup is the biggest racing series in the country and rightfully deserves all the media and fan attention it gets…by Americans.
Does NASCAR lose?
Will the diehard Kyle Busch fan living in Austin, Texas drive the 200 miles to Texas Motor Speedway to see his favorite driver passing up on the chance to see a bunch of European guys drive around without passing each other on the same weekend? Yes. Every time.
Neither set of fans understand each other's sport, and therefore remain largely ambivalent.
Yes. And that's the real tragedy here. The only entity that will actually get majorly affected by this schedule clash is absolutely powerless to do anything about it.
At the end of the day, it's not the FIA's problem if COTA can't fill seats or make money from hosting a racing event. It's COTA's problem, unfortunately. But this is what they signed up for. Austin wanted F1, and they got it. But now they have to play by their rules. If ex-GP hosts Turkey, Valencia and Korea weren't evidence enough that the odds are stacked against you, I hear there are a few NCAA and NFL football games scheduled for the Nov. 1-2 weekend too. Good luck with that.