Ingram's Flat Spot On: F1 back in the USA?

Ingram's Flat Spot On: F1 back in the USA?

Ingram's Flat Spot On F1 Back In The USA? by Jonathan Ingram I often find it interesting, if not laughable, when the Euro-weenies talk or write about Formula One in America. The reason F1 has not succeeded in the U.S. is summed up by one...


Ingram's Flat Spot On


F1 Back In The USA?
by Jonathan Ingram

I often find it interesting, if not laughable, when the Euro-weenies talk or write about Formula One in America. The reason F1 has not succeeded in the U.S. is summed up by one word: competition.

The last Formula One race start at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Photo by xpb.cc.

The American fan has lots of choices when it comes to motor racing on a major league level. One might suggest when CART and the IRL were in action that too many choices existed. As great as the Le Mans 24-hour might be, to take other examples, an American fan can take in the 24-hour race at Daytona, the 12-hour race at Sebring and the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta in the course of a single season -- and get his or her money's worth while watching two different series.

F1 long ago began pricing itself out of decent venues in the U.S., more precisely when Long Beach switched to CART in 1984. Similarly, the most recent excellent American venue for F1, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, did not have the budget of a minor principality to pay the ever-increasing rights fee for an F1 event. Above all, the Speedway had other options, including a MotoGP as well as NASCAR and IndyCar.

The pricing of F1 is directly related to the lack of competition for premier motor racing events in its home base of Europe, a situation gradually rectified by the presence of the European Union. It's no surprise that as a result of the EU's more favorable business climate, the owners of the Le Mans brand have been able to expand so effectively in recent times through the Le Mans Series and now the proposed Intercontinental Le Mans Cup.

By sustaining F1 all these years as the premier circuit racing brand outside the U.S. without much in the way of competition, the demand for sanctioning rights among those who can afford F1 in the Middle East, Asia and elsewhere have risen accordingly, usually on a government scale. Seen through the eyes of devotees of "le sport" or those who have never set foot inside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on a race day in May, I suppose it looks like the U.S. somehow doesn't measure up to F1. It's quite the other way around.

The Automobile Competition Committee of the U.S. used to be an organization that bridged together all the major sanctioning bodies to help sustain control of the American turf. These days, the president of ACCUS, Nick Craw, escorts the president of the FIA, Jean Todt, through the garages at Daytona during a NASCAR and Grand-Am weekend. The powers that be in America no longer consider the FIA or F1 a threat to their business.

Jean Todt, FIA president .
Photo by xpb.cc.

So a little diplomacy can't hurt with the FIA, whose only real power in the U.S. is the sanctioning of track safety through inspections. When such cases arise, it's important to have a face-to-face relationship in addition to a cell phone.

As an aside here, the last time I met an FIA president in the U.S. outside of a Grand Prix event it was Max Mosley, who was touring the Talladega Superspeedway with longtime Indianapolis Motor Speedway and France family ally John Cooper. In point of fact, Mosley was getting ready to run for president of the FIA, perhaps an even more propitious time for the owners of America's biggest tracks to meet and greet.

Was Mr. Todt also promoting the prospects of an F1 race in America by showing up at a NASCAR weekend? At this point, the FIA probably fears the recent success of the Le Mans organizers far more than it fears repercussions from its members over the lack of an F1 race in the U.S. But the FIA and its business department at Formula One Management need to at least appear to be interested in running an F1 event in the U.S.

At present, there's a potential bait-and-switch in place with the announcement of a race in Austin in 2012. Formula One Management has signed a deal for an underfunded rookie promoter to host an event in the Texas city, presumably at a rights fee similar to that paid out of treasure chests from oil or tax payers elsewhere. It sets up a tedious scenario where those buried up to their eyebrows in all things F1 can tut-tut the Austin project as if Indianapolis was the first foot in the grave.

I happened to be standing there the day FOM's Bernie Ecclestone wagged a finger under the nose of Flavio Briatore at Indianapolis on the morning of the U.S. Grand Prix in 2005 shortly before the disastrous withdrawal of the Michelin teams. "That's not the way it's done in F1," said the shorter Ecclestone to the taller Italian, presumably dismissing a threatened strike by the Michelin runners.

Well, highjacking veteran racing promoters who have other options isn't the way it's done in the U.S., either. The prospect for doing motor racing business otherwise in America, i.e. with rookie promoters, seems to be of little regard or consequence to those holding the receiving end of a lucrative contract.

Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jonathan@jingrambooks.com.

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