At this time of year, when there is little real racing news and dedicated websites and the odd newspaper that cares will grab at any crumb (witness the intense interest in crew chief shuffling in NASCAR . . .), some tried and true gimmicks get trotted out.
One of them is the “ask the driver how the team will do next season” story in Formula One. That way, on Monday you have a headline story that says, “Alonso confident Ferrari will dominate in 2012,” and then on Tuesday it’s , “Hamilton sure McLaren will bounce back in ’12,” and on Wednesday, there’s “Red Bull will be up to the task next year,” Webber thinks,” and so-on.
One of the others is the always successful interview with Bernie Ecclestone. That’s when the F1 czar sits down with a chosen reporter and, for an hour or so, says all sorts of controversial things that the reporter - if he or she is smart - will publish some of, and then squirrel the rest away for a rainy day in January when the editor wants a story.
One such story hit the wires this past week in which Ecclestone, after successfully getting not one but two contracts signed and sealed (but not necessarily delivered) for Grand Prix races in the United States in the next few years, allowed that he doesn’t think F1 will ever really hit the mainstream in America and will always be viewed as a “minority sport.”
Said Bernie: “We've got a maximum of two races in America and when you consider the country is as big as Europe and we've got several races in Europe, it's difficult (for the United States). If we had a lot more races there and a lot more television, it would be okay. It's (also) a bit like the rest of America in that they want to see a profit before they start something and it's not easy to do that.”
He covered a lot of ground in those three sentences, didn’t he? 1, F1 is going to be a tough sell in the U.S., 2, we need non-stop TV like NASCAR in order to succeed, and 3, sorry we took all the money up front and so you might never make a profit (ask the Indianapolis Motor Speedway about that).
Unfortunately, what Bernie and the rest of the F1 establishment don’t seem to realize is, 1, it’s going to be a tough sell in the U.S. because people remember little things like Schumacher trying to fix the result of the U.S. GP in 2002 and then, in 2005, the farce that resulted with only six cars racing after the rest of the drivers pulled out; 2, there’s plenty of TV about F1 in the U.S. (Speed Channel, FOX Sports) but most people don’t watch because, compared to NASCAR, F1 is boring, and 3, for F1 to succeed as a business in America, Bernie and his boys will have to stop being so greedy (which, of course, will never happen).
If Ecclestone and the others really want to succeed in the U.S., they can do two things: they can work with the organizers of the races in Texas and New Jersey to at least try to get people interested (unlike other countries in the world, people will not automatically flock to an F1 race) and they can urge team principals to be less European-centric when seeking new talent for their racing cars.
Of the 2012 driver lineup to date, only six or so of the racers are not from Europe. As Ecclestone himself said above, the United States is as big as Europe. Surely there is a driver in that country good enough to be among the chosen 24.
Proper promotion and an American driver in a McLaren or a Ferrari would see F1 very quickly become something other than a “minority sport.”