Introducing Mike Caruso, a real life American, who has produced this guest article on the state of Formula 1 in the USA and the upcoming race in Austin

Grand Prix racing in the United States has faced an identity crisis in the recent past, but on November 18th 2012 the U.S GP will return to the Formula 1 calendar in Austin, Texas.  After a four year absence, it will regain its footing in the country among tumbleweeds and cowboy hats in the Lone Star State.

Rosberg at the 1984 USA Grand Prix
Rosberg at the 1984 USA Grand Prix – credit: Cahier Archive f1-photo.com

After one-offs at Sebring and Riverside the U.S. Grand Prix found a home at Watkins Glen International from 1961-1980 when Formula 1 champions like Graham Hill, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, and Niki Lauda battled to climb atop the podium. The Glen is an 11-turn, 3.377 mile (5.435 km) intimidating beast of a circuit and is still considered one of the greatest and oldest institutions in North American road racing. It is well worth the trek into a relatively obscure, quiet region of upstate New York. For nearly 20 years, the Glen, itself was the attraction, until the facility began to deteriorate and ran into financial trouble. The U.S. Grand Prix subsequently disappeared from the Formula 1 calendar for several years. Sound familiar?

F1 then held a race in Long Beach, California for a few years (1976-1983) attempting to split two grand prix races across the United States. This street circuit layout would soon be overtaken by CART (aka Champ Car) and run for many years until the demise of the now-defunct sanctioning body; today it runs as an IndyCar event. CART sprang from a seed of discontent with the USAC, which famously sanctioned the Indy 500 for nearly 40 years. CART and USAC waged war with each other for many years, which did tremendous damage and created many fractures for open-wheel racing in the U.S.  Formula 1 meanwhile made further attempts to broaden its efforts in the States by holding grand prix races in Detroit, Michigan, Dallas, Texas, and Phoenix, Arizona through the 1980s and ’90s. None were successful. In 1989, while none other than Ayrton Senna hoisted a trophy for winning the grand prix in Phoenix before a crowd of 15,000, an Ostrich racing festival in nearby Chandler, Arizona drew over 70,000 fans. Yes, the birds that cannot fly.

Unsurprisingly, Formula 1 again disappeared from U.S. soil for nearly ten years before returning to Indianapolis (2000-2007), truly hallowed ground in motor sports. A proper venue to mount a Formula 1 resurgence in the U.S., right?  Not so.  Despite attendance records topping nearly 225,000 in 2000, a deal could not be struck to make the grand prix profitable for the track’s owners.  Many believe the same man who created the rift between Indy and CART, Tony George, was largely to blame for the loss of the U.S. Grand Prix.  Of course, the 2005 Michelin tire debacle at Indy and the ensuing controversy did not help matters; nor did Ferrari’s ludicrous attempt at a dead heat in 2002. Unfortunately, Formula 1 left the United States with a tarnished image. Open-wheel racing in the U.S. was having an identity crisis.

Ferrari attempt a dead heat at the 2002 USA GP
Ferrari attempt a dead heat at the 2002 USA GP – credit: Cahier Archive f1-photo.com

So, where does this leave the U.S. Grand Prix today?  Will it suffer the same fate as the previous races at the hands of greedy track owners and ill-fated promotional endeavours? Can the U.S. Grand Prix regain some consistency and prestige harkening back to its days at the Glen? The answer to these questions is a resounding yes!

Formula 1 and the grand prix model it promotes have fundamentally changed. Like it or not Formula 1 has evolved into a business that demands conformity from its prospective venues and promoters. Purpose-built, space age tracks and facilities are the standard.  Urban centres and socioeconomic considerations dominate the calendar. Unfortunately, this leaves little room in the schedule or the model for amazing tracks like Watkins Glen, which simply cannot provide the glitz and glam (unless you love farms and cow pastures) and provide the necessary infrastructure to host a Formula 1 race.  Cue the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas.

With a 10-year deal in place and construction progress looking promising, COTA is just the type of facility Formula 1 now requires.  Despite a tiff among race promoters and track ownership, the power of profitability prevailed and the United States Grand Prix should be a sure bet.  Austin is a young, vibrant city on the rise in the U.S. with a culture that starkly contrasts with the surrounding scrub brush.

There is also much less strife in U.S. open-wheel racing nowadays. IndyCar and its various development series no longer do battle with CART, and the stock car world stands apart as an entirely different animal. The U.S. has a tremendous Formula 1 following with very little to grab hold of but the Canadian Grand Prix. Fans are hungry for more and  COTA is a solid commitment that they can be proud of.

Formula 1 and the U.S. Grand Prix need each other and it is time for the country to embrace this truly global sport, rather than attempting to brand something unique, different, and irrelevant on its own terms.  The U.S. Grand Prix should also be a gateway back to Mexico and an additional grand prix in South America (Argentina perhaps). The Herman Tilke-designed COTA looks impressive and if the circuit’s promotional efforts are any indicator, ticket sales should be stout, if not quite sold out.

Like Formula 1, the U.S. is a different market for motor sports than it once was, which should bring a renewed interest and growing fan base here.  While I do not expect the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin to create a Formula 1 craze here in the U.S. it will re-establish Formula 1’s identity to the masses.  And don’t worry about any nearby ostrich races.

How the 2012 USA Grand Prix Circuit will look
How the 2012 USA Grand Prix Circuit will look – credit: circuitoftheamericas.com

republished from March 2012

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