Apparently many people inside Formula One have been doing some deep thinking about what the sport needs to do to make its desired breakthrough into the lucrative — and elusive — U.S. market.
F1 raced eight times at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway beginning in 2000, but it simply was unable to capture the interest of U.S. racing fans. A combination of declining interest and exorbitant sanctioning fees left F1 without a home in the U.S. after the famed 2.5-mile Brickyard declined to renew its promoter contract following the 2007 race.
Although the sport will return to the U.S. next year after signing a 10-year deal with a new promoter group to race in Austin, Tex., anyone who actually thought F1 would finally get things right this time only needs to look at the revised 2012 calendar approved by the sport’s governing Federation Internationale de l’Automobile last week to realize that they simply have no clue.
After being moved from its original date a week after the Canadian Grand Prix in June, the revived United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas is now slated for November 18 after the promoter asked for a switch due to some construction delays with the new facility.
Okay, not racing in June in Texas, in temperatures that would give the surface of Venus a run for its money, can’t be seen as a bad thing. And there’s also something to be said for actually having the circuit ready for the event. But, the choice of Nov. 18 as the new date simply shows how completely out of touch F1 is with the U.S. market.
Maybe F1’s decision-makers are not aware, but there’s a quaint little motorsport series in the U.S. called the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, commonly referred to as NASCAR.
For those in the F1 paddock who are not aware of this stock car series, it’s a bit different from grand prix racing. It features approachable drivers, open paddocks, and cars with fenders that usually race on strange tracks called ovals. It’s also the second-most watched sport in the U.S. after the National Football League and, more importantly, its season finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway falls on the third Sunday in November.
In case anyone in the F1 paddock is wondering, that puts it on — you guessed it — Nov. 18 in 2012.
Given that the NASCAR Sprint Cup title has been decided at the final race of the year in eight of the past 10 seasons, it would be a good bet to think that it will happen again in 2012. So, NASCAR’s roughly 40 million diehard fans and several million more less rabid observers in the U.S. will likely be focused on Miami to see who claims the Cup championship.
That means most, if not all, of the top motorsport writers in the country will be assigned to Miami to cover the NASCAR finale. In addition, stock car stories will dominate Monday’s racing coverage, likely relegating F1 to the back of the sport section and the tail end of television and radio sports reports — and that’s assuming anyone actually notices there was a grand prix in Austin.
The worst thing about it is that a simple scan of the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule for the past decade by F1’s bright lights would have ensured they avoided this ridiculous conflict. Since 1999, every Cup calendar has wrapped up on the third Sunday in November.
Although NASCAR hasn’t released its 2012 schedule, a spokesperson said it would be safe to assume “the third week in November for Homestead for next year, as that’s how it’s shaken down each year recently.”
And it only gets worse. In football crazy Austin, the Texas Longhorns will play on Saturday during race weekend. It won’t matter whether the game happens at the University of Texas campus in Austin or on the road. Either way, Longhorn fans will tailgate for a couple of hours and then watch their team rather than show up at the track to check out the F1 cars. A day later when the cars take their warm-up lap for Sunday’s race, the Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Texans will likely be kicking off their NFL games.
The fact that it seems F1 overlooked the most obvious obstacles to success with its race in Austin leaves little doubt as to why most U.S. fans see the series as being run by snooty Europeans who can’t be bothered to make the extra effort because they think they can show up with their fancy cars and essentially say: “OK, we were kind enough to come, now look at us.”
In the end, attempting to conquer the U.S. market by going head-to-head with its two most popular sports seems to point to one of two things: Unfathomable incompetence or mind-boggling arrogance.
F1 Rocks a success
While F1 may not have the right stuff to break into the U.S. market, research by Bournemouth University’s Lindsey Pearson seems to indicate that the sport’s move to copy popular North American marketing tactic of twinning rock concerts with races helps to increase a grand prix’s appeal.
The study found that the F1 Rock initiatives that provide additional off track entertainment are especially likely to increase a motorsport event’s attractiveness to women, with live music being the biggest draw. It also recommends the sport consider increasing and expanding the F1 Rocks concept to capitalize on its broader appeal.
Coincidentally, The F1 Rocks returns for a second year this weekend in Milan during the Italian Grand Prix in nearby Monza.
The Indianapolis Motors Speedway, among other U.S. venues, has used this idea to help attract new audiences to races such as the Indy 500.