Formula 1’s growth in the United States over the past few years has been rapid, as detailed in the two features published earlier today on MotorSportsTalk.
However, one eye will always be on the future. Regardless of the here and now, just how might the perception of Formula 1 in the American market change over the years to come?
The two big talking points about the future for the American F1 market are Haas F1 Team and Alexander Rossi, who could soon grace the grid. Haas has been given the green light by the FIA to go racing in 2016, and the plans are certainly coming into place quite nicely. Earlier this week, the team released a time-lapse video of its new factory being constructed in Kannapolis, and all of the plans to push ahead seem to be coming together.
Naturally, the pessimist’s comparison is to the failed US F1 project from a few years ago. After much of the same fanfare that we are experiencing now about an American team coming to the grid and beating the Europeans at their own game, the project ultimately fell flat without getting even near a full race start.
And that is the big worry for many about Haas: it would be another US F1 and another failure for the sport in the United States.
However, the big difference with Haas is that there is a very successful racing operation and business already in place. The Stewart-Haas NASCAR team acts as proof of that. There is a corporate operation behind the outfit with racing heritage. With US F1, everything was being built from the ground up. Haas has history and resources to rely on.
That does not diminish the immense challenge that Gene and his team will face, though. He even admitted himself that this is the biggest challenge he has ever faced, as it is new territory. The recent financial collapse of both Caterham and Marussia will act as warning signs that one can only hope the Haas operation will recognize and learn from – it is to be avoided at all costs.
But let’s look at the positives: say Haas gets off the ground, all goes to plan, and an American team does indeed hit the grid in 2016. All going well, it would be huge for the sport’s profile in the United States. I have written earlier today about the ‘boom’ that is currently being enjoyed in the American market, but this would only be furthered should the stars and stripes appear on the Haas car, lining up on the grid at the Circuit of The Americas in 2016.
What would make it all the sweeter is if there was an American driver behind the wheel of the car, with Alexander Rossi being the most obvious candidate. Rossi has been within touching distance of his grand prix debut on three occasions, only to be denied in each instance, meaning that he is still without a grand prix start to his name.
After appearing to jump from the sinking ship at Caterham, he has seen his F1 hopes put on ice once again following Marussia’s own collapse. However, he is still fighting, and if the team does push for an American driver, Rossi is the only man that can realistically be picked.
And this is all very encouraging. The sport is on the cusp of having two major breakthroughs for the American market, and it is something that will be embraced. F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone said a while back that he would like to see Ferrari run with an American driver if it ever opted for a third car, as it would do wonders for the sport’s profile. Although this particular example is a bit far-fetched, it shows that continuing the growth and evolution of the sport in the US is a key priority.
In terms of races, Austin has been and continues to be a great success. The more pressing issue is the push for a second grand prix in the United States, and whether or not it will actually happen.
The biggest charge in recent years has been for a grand prix in New Jersey, taking place around Port Imperial. It was listed on the provisional calendar for the 2013 and 2014 seasons, only to fall from both before it was ratified by the World Motor Sport Council as everything was not in check. It was not listed on the provisional schedule for the 2015 season, and with few developments coming out of GP America, hopes of a grand prix in New Jersey are dimmer than ever.
A recent report suggested that Formula 1 could be set to head to Las Vegas for a grand prix along the city’s famous Strip. Although Bernie Ecclestone was very suggestive about the project, it is a very lofty ambition that would unquestionably leave the sport jumping through hoops. It would be a short-term thing – if F1 wants a long-term marriage, stumbling into a Vegas chapel is not the way to do it.
Two races in the United States would undoubtedly be brilliant for the sport’s profile and for fans in North America. However, it must follow the same blueprint as COTA: it mustn’t be another Indy.
All in all though, the future for the sport in the United States is very bright indeed. Once again, this year’s event in Austin is set to welcome huge numbers of fans, which will likely surpass attendances seen at some of the European rounds over the summer. Throw in an American team or an American driver, and Formula 1’s success in the United States could go off the chart.