The United States Grand Prix is arguably the most crucial race on the Formula One calendar. Although results are important at any circuit they were particularly significant this weekend due to the American car market.
More vehicles are sold in the United States than any other country making a slice of the American market highly desirable. The three biggest car companies in the USA are also the three biggest car companies worldwide, highlighting how success in the US directly boosts global sales.
Many of the manufacturers involved in Formula One are keen to grab as much of the action as possible. This means the most valuable Grand Prix in terms of brand awareness and perception takes place at Indianapolis.
Earlier this year Toyota overcame General Motors as the world’s biggest car manufacturer, the first time since 1931 that GM has not been top dog. Part of Toyota’s success is due expanding sales in the USA and they will soon be selling more cars in America than Ford. This triumph has made Toyota the eighth largest company in the world.
They aren’t the only F1 Manufacturer chasing the American dream.
Throughout 2006 Renault and General Motors formally discussed an alliance. This would have given the French manufacturer a massive presence on the US scene, and although talks ended up failing it showed how desperate Renault are to blossom in America. Honda have also gone to great lengths boosting sales in the USA, specifically introducing their luxury Acura brand for that exact purpose.
It is also worth noting that America represents the biggest market for both Ferrari and BMW.
This is why every manufacturer in Formula One seeks good results in the United States Grand Prix. Points are worth the same wherever you score them but they’re worth far more marketing potential in the world’s biggest consumer nation.
Not surprisingly then, some of the teams have been quietly asking for a second race in the USA since the successful return of Formula One at Indianapolis.
Their request is not without precedent. Throughout the seventies and eighties there were regularly two Grands Prix in the US that took place at different ends of the season. In 1982 there was even a third United States race at Las Vegas, the only time in F1 history a country has hosted three championship events in a season.
Unfortunately for the car manufacturers in Formula One a second United States Grand Prix is unlikely to happen again anytime soon. There simply isn’t enough space on the F1 calendar to accommodate it.
The season will shortly be expanded to include twenty races but with Valencia, Singapore, Abu Dhabi and Korea joining the circus, existing Grands Prix will need to be dropped. This becomes especially complicated if Suzuka returns to the calendar, or if a race is confirmed in India.
A second United States Grand Prix might replace the Canadian or Australian races, but dropping either of those events would not be straightforward.
It is interesting that a race so crucial to the sport has endured such a torrid history.
Formula One abandoned America in 1991 when the Grand Prix failed after numerous attempts. Even with two (or three) races a year the sport has never been popular in NASCAR territory.
Even the very first United States Grand Prix in 1959 drew controversy. There was resistance to racing stateside because the rules strictly prohibited a country from running two Grands Prix in a season, and back then the Indianapolis 500 counted as a World Championship event. This was an easy hurdle to overcome because the Indy 500 was not taken seriously in F1 and promptly lost its championship status in 1960. In fact, the 1959 Indy 500 took place the same weekend as the Dutch Grand Prix making it impossible to compete in both races.
Things didn’t get any better. The first race at Sebring was poorly organised and the event had to be postponed from its original date until the end of the season. Not only that, but the American promoters lost money and sought a new venue for 1960.
This was a trend for Formula One in the USA. The country has hosted Grands Prix in nine different locations giving them the record for most F1 venues.
The Grand Prix found stability at Watkins Glen for two decades but like every other circuit (except Indianapolis) it eventually ran out of cash. Detroit hosted the Grand Prix for seven years but the track was dull, unimaginative, and attempts to move it onto a nearby island failed.
New York came close to hosting the Grand Prix in 1983 but the race ended up being cancelled. A similar thing nearly happened at the 1984 Dallas event when support races ruined the track surface.
The final nail in the United States Grand Prix coffin was the move to Phoenix. The track was awful, the grandstands were empty, and there was no commercial benefit to the European based teams.
Thankfully the sport has changed a lot since then. Manufacturers now have much more of a presence in Formula One and racing the in USA reaps huge marketing returns.
With all the negative history in mind Bernie Ecclestone strategically chose the brickyard as the venue for Formula One’s American comeback. The Grand Prix has been able to cash in on the history and prestige associated with the name â€œIndianapolisâ€ that wouldn’t have been available anywhere else.
Despite the on-track dramas in 2002 and 2005 the United States Grand Prix at Indy has largely been a success. The event now has a safe and commercially viable home.
If anything, Indianapolis boss Tony George needs the Grand Prix as much as it needs him. The CART/IRL split of the mid nineties substantially tarnished the kudos associated with the Indy 500. As a result, Tony George is keen to retain Formula One to protect the value of Indianapolis as the spiritual home of American racing.
Although a second American Grand Prix is unlikely at the moment, this could change in the future as manufactures gain more power in the sport. Earlier in the year the FIA sent proposed regulations for 2011 to the manufacturers, not the teams, showing just how much sway car companies now have in Formula One.
Crucially perhaps, General Motors was one of the manufacturers consulted. GM has no presence in Formula One at the moment but might consider an involvement as their push into Europe continues. If General Motors do enter Formula One, and the manufacturers increase their control, a second race on the streets of Las Vegas or New York may be on the cards.
Although Bernie Ecclestone said last week â€œIt is not vital to Formula 1 to be in the United Statesâ€ he was doing so only to leverage his negations with race organisers. Bernie is aware how valuable the American market is to Formula One, and also knows that another race in America would be great for the sport as well as the manufactures. Not only might it help lure General Motors into Formula One, but it would also boost Grand Prix racing in the growing fight against NASCAR for popularity.
If a second United States Grand Prix has benefits for the sport and the manufacturers competing, there is good reason to put one on the F1 calendar in the years ahead.
Provided it isn’t at Phoenix.