Hello! What a huge privilege to be allowed to share my thoughts – enthusiastic and/or disparaging, depending on what’s happening in worldwide motorsport at the time of writing – with fellow petrol-veined Goodwood Road & Racing readers. If, like me, most things with wheels that move and make a noise get your juices flowing, I hope you’ll come for the ride every Monday morning and tell me if you enjoyed it or not.
To kick things off, I can’t help but focus on the 55-year love-hate relationship that is Formula 1 and America. After all, the F1 circus is on its way to the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas for the 17th and antepenultimate race of the season as you read this, so the topsy-turvy, will-it-won’t-it saga of the world’s fastest sport failing for so long to properly sink its teeth into the land of the free and the home of the brave is on my mind.
“The images of fans in the stands that day telling F1 exactly what they thought via various hand gestures still linger.”
OK, there were some great events – leafy and swoopy Watkins Glen in upstate New York and glitzy Californian harbourside street circuit Long Beach spring to mind – that showed proper commitment to the cause and I sincerely hope that the Texas race, now in year three, does the same, but there were too many shortlived snafus that don’t look good on the US of A’s F1 CV.
Between them, bit-part players Sebring, Riverside, Las Vegas, Dallas and Phoenix managed just eight GPs. At least Detroit, the capital of US motoring manufacturing, managed a similar number on its own.
So why has America had this long-standing insouciance towards F1?
Despite the best efforts of American F1 champions Phil Hill and Mario Andretti, there’s been a long-standing, home-grown, thundering-V8-powered problem: NASCAR. The 36-round National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing has a culture all of its own, born out of illegal bootlegging in the 1930s and ’40s. Drivers are either deified or hated and the ‘rubbing is racing’ culture is all pervading. Not to mention the branding and merchandise warfare among manufacturers, teams, drivers and sponsors. Elitist F1 couldn’t – and wouldn’t try to – keep up.
But surely the biggest own goal was the bizarre decision in 2000 to run a grand prix at the hallowed Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home for decades to the mighty 500-mile oval thrash and now host to one of NASCAR’s biggest races, the Brickyard 400.
Using a layout that featured bits of the legendary oval – in the wrong direction – and a purpose-built infield section, the Indy tie-up somehow lasted for eight years, with lasting damage done in 2005 when just six cars lined-up at the start following a Michelin tyre safety issue that led to all 14 cars on the French rubber pulling out.
The images of fans in the stands that day telling F1 exactly what they thought via various hand gestures still linger. Here’s hoping that F1’s Texan deal can flourish and the sport finds a permanent home in America.