With Austin a success, time to see a US team
If Formula 1 wanted to put itself on the map in the United States, both as a big international spectacle and as a good sport, it could not have asked for a better event than last weekend's United States GP at the Circuit of the Americas, Joe Saward writesindia Updated: Nov 22, 2012 02:56 IST
If Formula 1 wanted to put itself on the map in the United States, both as a big international spectacle and as a good sport, it could not have asked for a better event than last weekend's United States GP at the Circuit of the Americas.
The venue was perfect and the racing was tense and exciting all the way. There were 117,429 spectators on race day, many of them who had never seen F1 before. And there were many more out there watching on TV. The next step is to consolidate on that success, build the F1 audience and draw in those who have just discovered the joys of F1.
So, what is the secret of making an F1 race work and getting people enthusiastic about it? I am sure that is something they would like to know in places like Shanghai and Korea, and perhaps even in Delhi.
Shades of Adelaide
One thing that many F1 veterans in Austin said during the course of the race weekend was that the city reminded them of Adelaide, in Australia, where F1 had races from 1985 to 1995. Adelaide was special.
We all loved it and on the morning of the last race, the F1 mechanics gathered on pit straight and waved a sign saying "Thank You Adelaide" to the crowds in the grandstand.
It was unprecedented and completely spontaneous. It was no PR stunt. It came from the heart. There were 210,000 there to watch that last race and over the weekend the four-day attendance figure hit 520,000. The town rocked.
Adelaide was a favourite in F1 not just because of the great organisation, the exciting racetrack, not even because of the topless hairdresser. It was loved because of its party atmosphere.
You knew that it was going to be fun when you arrived at the airport and found a jazz band playing to greet the F1 folk.
But having a big party is not the only answer, they do that each year in Montreal and while we all love the city, it is not the same kind of passion that we felt for Adelaide. That was down to numbers.
Much in common
Austin is a sister city of Adelaide and they have much in common. The key point for me is that each has a million residents and that means that the Grand Prix was a big enough event to dominate the town, rather than being swallowed up by it, as happens in bigger cities.
When F1 came to town in Adelaide, everyone knew about it. That meant that pretty much everyone got involved in one way or the other, if only by partying with the visitors.
They all saw the value of the race for the city and they wanted to make it the best event they possibly could.
The result of that was Adelaide was not just a race meeting, it was a carnival and people came to town for the party, not just the race. And that was important because it added to the economic impact of the event.
Pepping up US market
Austin will be like that given a little more time and that will send out great jibes to the US market.
It will help that in the years ahead there are plans to build up interest. There will be a Mexican Grand Prix in 2014 and, hopefully, there will be a second US race in New Jersey as well.
That would give the sport five races in the US time zone, alongside Brazil and Canada. That would mean a sensible TV package could be found and the following can be increased.
There are even whispers that F1 is trying to negotiate a deal to take over the IndyCar race in Long Beach for 2016.
That would be great.
From these kinds of foundations, other things will grow. We want to see a US driver who can hack it with the best in the world, and we would love to see a US team in F1, run by a Roger Penske or a Chip Ganassi.
If that happens one day and F1 becomes big in the US, the one thing we will be able to say with some certainty is that it all began that day in 2012 in Austin...
The writer has covered every Grand Prix for the last 25 years