June 28, 2006

Why Isn't There An American Team in F1?

Today at GrandPrix.com, they had an interesting article on why there wasn't an American team in F1. I've mulled this over before, and I think there are three major reasons: Winners, Action, and NASCAR.

Winners. America loves a winner. Always have, always will. Individual AMERICANS might pull for an underdog (see: Wonderduck, Minardi, SuperAguri), but as a whole, we love the big dogs. More importantly, though, we ALWAYS pull for American winners... this country didn't care about Women's Soccer until they won in the Olympics, for example.

America hasn't had a winner in F1 for decades. If Scott Speed, for example, wins a race or two, or even suddenly he'll be the subject of Sports Illustrated covers, he'd be on Letterman, he'd be elevated to "local hero" status. But until then, the American People (note caps) won't adopt F1, ever.

Action. As a people, Americans want action from their sports. They want to see the baseball fly 500 feet. They want to see the bone-crushing hits in football. They want to see cars going side-by-side for lap upon lap, and F1 just isn't like that. I fully believe that if Americans watched a few races with the Legendary Announce Team, they'd be hooked (particularly the gearheads who love technology. I'd think that computer geeks would really go for F1 racing), but the way to ge them to watch would be more action. If a Formula 1 race had, say, 20 laps of action like we get on the first lap of a race, people would be ADDICTED.

NASCAR. NASCAR is everything F1 isn't. It's got the personalities, it has the action, it has the good guys and bad guys, it's a uniquely American style of racing (much like drag racing... right, Steven?). As long as NASCAR markets themselves as well as they currently do, F1 will stand no chance of having a huge fanbase in the US.

So why do these things preclude an American team in F1? Really, it all comes down to money. Without fans to buy sponsored products, an American F1 team will constantly be a money-losing proposition. It's easier to slap sponsorship on a NASCAR team and get immediate exposure to the wallets of the US viewer than it would be to sponsor a F1 car/team/whatever (obviously, multinational corporations don't quite have this problem. Intel, AMD and Marlboro, for example, are all US-based companies that sponsor F1, but their products are in huge demand world-wide).

A Ford-based team with sponsorship from Fram oilfilters, Valvoline oil, Goodyear tires, ACDelco sparkplugs and so forth would really only be of interest to AMERICAN viewers, as those are American companies, with limited market penetration anywhere else in the world.

The first step is to get a good American driver in F1, and here's where I'm going to invoke the name Danica Patrick. Drop her in a Williams, lets say, and suddenly her every move in F1 will be covered like a blanket.

It'll never happen, of course, while Darth Ecclestone (who honestly seems to believe that F1 doesn't need the US, and is below the level of 'neanderthal' when it comes to women) is in charge, but it'd be a great step.

A great PR move would be for a NASCAR driver to turn some laps in a F1 car. Dale Jr, Tony Stewart, or Jeff Gordon would make an instant impact. This, too, would never happen.

But we can hope.

Posted by: Wonderduck at 02:53 PM | Comments (5) | Add Comment
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1 Jeff Gordon tried a JPM's Williams at a PR thing before the race at Indy a few years ago. Didn't disgrace himself either.

Posted by: Don Speekingleesh at June 28, 2006 06:14 PM (fc6cT)

2 I think it is purely a marketing issue. Bernie loves his little fifedom that he understands and controls, and that has leaders of countries bowing down to him begging him to let them have a slice of his lovely F1 pie. America doesn't need F1 at all. Sure they could appreciate it much more, and being such a petrolhead nation, would love it given the opportunity. But there are so many alternatives already, they don't need it. Until Bernie or F1 learns how to promote to the states (with the sort of measures you describe, tying into NASCAR, that sort of thing. Hell, have a NASCAR race on the day before on the same track...) it won't happen.

Posted by: flotsky at June 28, 2006 07:41 PM (6T2ID)

3 I think some of it is image. F1 comes across wrong. Americans want something a bit more earthy, a bit less hoity-toity and put on from their sports.

I think that for Americans, car racing is, or should be, a beer sport, not a wine sport. It's medium-rare steak, not quiche and brie. F1 just comes across wrong.

For all my joking about drag racing being a real man's sport, there's an element of truth to that in terms of how the sports are perceived. NASCAR and NHRA are, as you say, more earthy. F1 comes across as a bit effete.

I'm almost tempted to say that F1 comes across as gay. NHRA is more macho, and the fact that some of the top drivers are women doesn't work against this image in the slightest.

Having a good American driver competing in F1 would help, but I don't think it would make as much difference as you seem to think. The problem runs deeper.

Real car racing doesn't happen in places like Monaco and Paris. It happens in places like Texas and Georgia. Real race car drivers don't stay in 4-star hotels; they live in motor homes while they're on the circuit.

Car racing in America has much the same appeal that rodeo does, and I suspect there's a pretty significant overlap in terms of their fans (though NASCAR and NHRA are a lot more popular than rodeo). Can you imagine a rodeo fan traveling to Monaco to watch a car race? Sitting in the shade sipping an elegant chardonay and eating brie while watching the cars going past? Not even at gunpoint!

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at June 29, 2006 01:29 PM (+rSRq)

4 "I think that for Americans, car racing is, or should be, a beer sport, not a wine sport."

I think we're saying the same thing, you're just putting it more... concisely.

F1 does consider itself to be elite. If you look at it's past, it has a legit claim to that feeling. The problem is that that feeling DOES rub Americans the wrong way. The American fan may not put it that way, mostly because they don't give two figs about F1 (unless something bad happens, of course... see last year's USGP).

It doesn't help that there's a distinct undercurrent of anti-European feeling these days.

Posted by: Wonderduck at June 29, 2006 04:31 PM (y6n8O)

5 I think NASCAR also appeals to the guy that thinks "hey, if I win the lottery/make a killing in the Stock Market/invent something neat, I could afford to get into a NASCAR run". These are the guys that buy all the after-market bits for their car...a lot of which were derived from NASCAR cars trying to faster and better.

It also appeals to the casual gear-head. A Formula 1 car is as specialized a racing machine as a F-16 is as specialized a plane. It's beautiful...but you probably won't ever get as close to a real one than at a air show/Formula 1 race. NASCAR cars...you feel like you could buy one off the lot at home. And race them just as fast.

Honestly, the first person that can organize and regulate "rice burner" car races will have something so perfectly geeky that will be for the North and West what NASCAR is to the South.

Posted by: zakueins at June 29, 2006 05:45 PM (kVJ88)

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