It started with COTA in Austin, it’s being boosted by Haas F1 and now Alexander Rossi finding a seat at Manor – the USA is on a roll in Formula One, and Sarah Connors simply cannot wait.
Being an American F1 fan feels, a lot of the time, like being on the outside of a really fun party looking in. We’re the kid that wants to fit in, that wants to feel like part of the group, the clique; but we can’t really. We don’t have the right clothes, the right accent or the right motivation.
We don’t really have much to cling to.
In the generations of Americans under the age of 35, our reasons for watching F1 and cheering for specific drivers and teams are incredibly arbitrary; some of us like Ferrari because of the history, or Sebastian Vettel because he won a lot, or we got into F1 because of video games or the Senna documentary or the Rush movie. A lot of us don’t have favourites. A lot of us watch for good racing or cheer for the underdog of the moment. Many came over after CART stopped existing or because we were tired of NASCAR. The common thread for all of us is that there is no common thread. There’s no uniting factor in F1 for Americans right now.
At the races in Austin, it’s a mishmash of loyalties. You get Americans carrying around flags from other countries with driver names painted on them, Ferrari gear, Mercedes gear. People swap stories of how they got into F1, team loyalties or lack thereof are discussed and hashed out. It’s more like a strange fan convention than a sporting event, an opportunity to get together with other fans and discuss your place in the sport, with a race as an added bonus.
Go to Monza, you’ll experience the Tifosi. Go to Silverstone, you’ll drown in a sea of Union Jacks with “Hamilton”, “Button” and even a few “Stevens” written on them. In Spain the blue and yellow flag of Asturias, Fernando Alonso’s home region, is everywhere. Austria has Red Bull everything. Even in Austin, so close to the Mexican border, you get loads of Mexican fans coming to support Sergio Perez and, when he has a drive, Esteban Gutierrez. All of these countries have something to latch onto and run with, something to identify with. F1 is very much a country-coded sport; as global as it is, that makes sense.
Next year, there will be an American-based team, the Haas F1 Team, and this on its own is the second best possible thing for the American fanbase.
Because, you see, Americans like to party. American sports fans love a lot of things and being obnoxiously and unabashedly ‘MERICAN for a specific team is ridiculously high on that list.
If you are American in a global competition, we will support you. We will support the hell out of you. We will make tifo and we will turn out in droves with faces painted in red-white-and-blue, decked head to toe in flag-themed gear to yell and scream and cheer for you. Especially if you’re an underdog. Because we as a country don’t really have that underdog mentality; we know everyone kinda hates us, and the last thing an intelligent American wants to do is go overseas and be That American Fool. But sports? Global sports? Oh hell yes, we are the underdog. We’re gonna spit and snarl and cheer for this team that probably won’t win anything significant – but they’ll leave an impression on their way out.
And then suddenly, that sport will be more popular in our country. Look at ice hockey’s growth after the 1980 Olympics, where USA beat the Soviet Union in one of our country’s biggest underdog moments. Look at the growth of soccer since the 1990s, since the USA men’s and women’s teams became relatively competitive. Even within the last year, the popularity of watching soccer in general has erupted because of the last world cups – these days, you can go to any major city in the USA and find bars full of Americans watching English Premier League teams at silly hours of the morning. I should know; I’m one of them. (Those 7:45am starts are brutal.)
Similar to F1, the EPL is a league where your leanings, as an American, have to be incredibly arbitrary. But there are a disproportionate amount of Everton supporters here in the States, and you can thank great American Tim Howard for that.
We just need something very small to latch onto. It doesn’t take much for an American to go full ‘Merican.
I was at Silverstone on the Fourth of July – American Independence Day – this past year, and one of the F1 support series, GP2, happens to have great American Alexander Rossi, and he happened to get on the podium. Not a win – a podium. My friends and I, all decked out in flag apparel head to toe, yelled and screamed and cheered at the top of our lungs, waving our american flag on a stick. And remember, this is just for a GP2 driver.
With Haas coming in in 2016, you have get ready for us. And get ready for it to ramp up if Haas ever signs an American driver. A team is sort of an arbitrary thing to tie yourself to, especially a new team; we’ll do it for the USA. Haas has already basically denied the rumour of Rossi getting a seat, possibly because they want to work out the kinks for a year with drivers with more experience. But an American driver in an American car? THAT is the best thing that could possibly happen for the American F1 fanbase. It’ll hype up existing F1 fans, and fans of other motorsport series who won’t watch F1, because of the “abundance of European elitism”, might even get invested. And soon you won’t even be able to comprehend all the star spangled banners being waved at circuits around the world.
I’m too young to have been alive when Mario Andretti raced in F1. I started watching slightly after Scott Speed’s brief stint at Toro Rosso. But I have seen Alex Rossi win a GP2 race, and seeing our flag on the top step, hearing the American national anthem play at Monza, it was a really emotional moment. I love motorsport, but I love being able to identify with them more than anything. I don’t anticipate Haas being top-step competitive for a few years, but I’m hoping against hope that if they someday are, they have an American in the drivers’ seat.
Because as fun as it was to parade our stars and stripes around Silverstone on the Fourth of July for Rossi’s GP2 podium, it’ll be 100 times more fun to do that in support of a team – and even more so a driver – in the greatest racing series on the planet.