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


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.


Hunter Lawrence defends Haiden Deegan after controversial block pass at Detroit


Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.

Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.

On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.

One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.

After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.

The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.

“It was good racing; it was fun,” Deegan said at about the 27-minute mark in the video above. “I just had some fun doing it.”

Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.

Lawrence defends Deegan
Jordon Smith failed to make the Detroit Supercross Main and fell to sixth in the points. – Feld Motor Sports

“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.

“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”

As Deegan and Smith battled, Jeremy Martin took the lead. Deegan finished second in the heat and backed up his performance with a solid third-place showing in the main, which was his second podium finish in a short six-race career. Deegan’s first podium was earned at Daytona, just two rounds ago.

But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.

Lawrence defends Deegan
A block pass by Haiden Deegan led to a series of events that eventually led to Jordon Smith failing to make the Main. – Feld Motor Sports

“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.

“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”

Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.

“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.

“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”

The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.