Has Formula 1 cracked the U.S. market in Austin?

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How can Formula 1 succeed and flourish in America, the market that has always caused such a headache?

It’s the age-old argument that has been debated for decades, and despite being more suited to economists, it has a great deal of relevance to the money-spinning sport of that we know and love. It has been the ‘problem’ for many, and few have come up with a suitable answer.

Ever since the beginning of the official world championship back in 1950, the U.S. has always been a market that has been targeted and pointed at as being a lucrative outlet for Formula 1. It’s not somewhere it should or could go to, but must go to.

And so after so many false starts, it was easy to see just why following the final United States Grand Prix to be held in Indianapolis in 2007 so many believed that the damage had been done. The sport would never enjoy a similar status to either IndyCar or NASCAR, and should simply accept that. The costs were too high to host F1 in the U.S., and the benefits were minimal.

Fast forward seven years, and that has all changed. For many, Formula 1 has not only found a good foothold in the United States, but it has also gone a long way to cracking the problem child of a market.

The naysayers will point to both IndyCar and NASCAR and point at the great divide still existing, yet this is perhaps an unfair comparison. Given that Formula 1 is a highly Euro-centric sport, cracking the American market is always going to be a struggle. It often amazes me how many fans tweet that they’re up and ready with a cup of coffee in hand to tune into free practice one in the wee hours of Friday morning. It certainly acts as proof of a real consideration and interest in the sport from one of its most loyal fanbases.

IndyCar and NASCAR both have their own demographics, so instead of being a rival to them, F1 must be seen as something ‘different’ – it’s just as soccer will never be as big as football in the US. Twist that around, it’s just as American Football will never be as big as football in my native UK. The markets are different.

As with any good business, the product can be adapted to fit the needs of the different markets and consumers. This is more difficult with Formula 1, given that it is so Eurocentric, but with two North American races currently on the calendar, one ‘friendly’ timezoned event in Brazil, and another coming in 2015 in Mexico, all of the cards are stacked in favor of great viewership. The boom in TV figures certainly can act as proof of an increase in awareness and support for the sport.

Another big factor in helping Formula 1 crack the U.S. market is how successful the new event in Austin has been. It has been specifically designed and tailor-made for the sport. IndyCar and NASCAR haven’t been there in the first place, with F1 piggy-backing off of it (as per Indianapolis). Instead, it has been a brand new event. Other series may go there, but so long as the Circuit of The Americas is on the calendar, it will always be a Formula 1 event first and foremost.

And it’s for this reason that other races in the United States must be treated with caution. As fantastic as grands prix in New Jersey and Las Vegas may appear to be at first, they would need to be mainstays on the calendar to truly work. Spending two or three years in either place before dropping off the calendar – or, as it would be dubbed, “failing” – would only do harm to the U.S market and its perception. It would get the naysayers quipping how this is further proof that F1 cannot succeed in the United States.

What makes the race in Austin so special, though? The city itself is a pretty cool place to hold a grand prix, and is perfect as a major city with an airport. The British Grand Prix at Silverstone can be one of the hardest races to get to from overseas because the track is in the middle of nowhere. Austin does not have this issue. It is a buzzing city that embraces the sport.

Even venturing through the airport after a long flight, the checkered flags and posters prove that the race is something that is being supported and loved, not merely tolerated.

Look at Lewis Hamilton’s appearance on NBC’s TODAY Show yesterday. So many fans came down to the plaza in New York to see the event and meet Lewis, getting pictures and autographs from the world championship leader. They were draped in Mercedes and McLaren gear, with one fan even sporting a replica of Ayrton Senna’s overalls from the late ’80s! This is a passionate fanbase on display.

If further proof is needed, the fan events being organized – the COTA Forum, Will Buxton’s Big Time Bash, the Red Bull show run – are wonderful to see. Few races are doing so much to give the fans a good time as the United States GP in Austin.

This weekend’s race is due to be a big litmus test, given that it is going head-to-head with the NASCAR race in Dallas/Fort Worth. Although the markets and fanbases are different, it will be interesting to see how many fairweather fans opt to head south to Austin instead of to see the NASCAR race.

The only thing lacking at the moment is an American driver or team, yet we could be set to see both join in the next couple of years. Alexander Rossi has come close with Caterham and Marussia, and may be in line to race for the latter should it get its act together in time for the race in Abu Dhabi, although this does seem unlikely. However, he could yet race for Gene Haas’ F1 operation when it makes the grid in 2016. An American driver racing for an American team at the United States Grand Prix – it’s the stuff dreams are made of for U.S. fans.

With a wonderful facility, a great and growing fanbase, some brilliant events and a delightful host city, the United States Grand Prix has a great home in Austin, Texas. Time will tell how the race will develop and evolve, but after three years, the signs are very promising indeed.

NBC/NBCSN SCHEDULE FROM UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”