If all goes to plan, this will be a big week for Formula 1 as it returns to the United States for the first time in five years. F1 has failed to break into the US market in the course of the last 30 years, having blown the foundations that were built at Watkins Glen and Long Beach in the 1970s.
At the time F1 wanted more money than American promoters were willing to spend and so Grand Prix racing went elsewhere. That was a big mistake. Attempts were made to put F1 back in the US and the last attempt, at Indianapolis, was not looking too bad until a political fight in 2005, that meant nothing to the fans, resulted in most of the cars parking in the pit lane before the race began, and only six cars racing: two Ferraris and four small fry. It was a charade. Up in the grandstands they did not really understand what had happened — but they knew they had been cheated. The race survived for a couple of years after that but not very successfully.
Now, F1 needs the United States to complete its global jigsaw puzzle and a couple of promoters have been found who can see ways of making money using the sport. Let us hope that F1 is smart enough to understand that the consumer market in the United States is not much smaller than that of India and China. Sure, the big Asian nations have lots of people, but in America, those people have money. And they like to spend it on sports. They do not need to be educated. They do not need a car culture to develop. All they want is a good show to keep them happy.
The good news is that I believe this week there will be a number of announcements in Formula 1 that will be good news for the sport. I hear that at least three big sponsorship deals will be made public, all of them involving US multinationals that have decided that F1 is the best way for them to spread the word about their products around the globe.
No better platform
There is no doubt that when big corporations take a serious statistical look at the best way to publicise their activities, Formula 1 comes out ahead of other sports. It is big investment, of course, and often sponsorship decisions are not based on logic, but rather on what the chairman or chief executive officer likes to watch, but if it is down just to numbers F1 tops the list. There are problems, of course, but there is also a tendency in Formula 1 circles to not always see the big picture and to get things a little out of proportion.
The world loves to watch Formula 1. Every race attracts a live audience of 600 million, which is a mighty impressive figure when you consider that this happens every couple of weeks. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that in a year, F1 visits 20 countries with a combined population of 3.6 billion. In all of these countries the arrival of the F1 circus is big news.
The sport is still working on increasing these numbers with races planned in the years ahead in Mexico, Russia and Thailand, which together will add another 300 million people to that total, depending on what races are dropped.
This kind of marketing reach is what attracts big-name sponsors, who want to grow their brands internationally. It may cost to be involved in F1, but involvement is very effective, which is why big name companies continue to be involved.
It is also interesting to note how F1's top companies are constantly looking for better ideas, not just in racing but with their products as well. This is another reason why F1 is so attractive. It gives those involved a get-up-and-go psychology. Honda used to rotate engineers through its F1 programme so that they would get out of the inertia that exists in big companies. F1 people make things happen.
I was fascinated to see that Ferrari has put Apple executive Eddie Cue on its board of directors. Ferrari said that Cue's experience in the internet would be of great value. His understanding of the possibility of internet connectivity will obviously be useful for Ferrari as it tries to provide its buyers with state-of-the-art technology that will allow drivers to remain connected when they are driving. This is popular amongst younger buyers.
There are also those who believe that Apple may be looking at automotive technology with a view to getting involved in the industry in the future. There is much potential for integrated gadgetry. Perhaps Ferrari will be able to lure Apple into the sport as well…
The writer has attended every grand prix in the last 25 years