My European, Asian, and South American friends understand my fascination with Formula 1. They understand because they are F1 fans. In fact, the common denominator in our friendship is the sport.
My American friends find it difficult to understand my interest in F1, and I seldom try to explain. When pressed, I mention the technology, the international nature, the exotic locales, and the “glitz and glamour.”
My foreign friends always ask why the sport isn’t more popular in the US. I’ve thought about this, and I think I have a pretty good answer: no permanent home circuit for the sport, no American constructors (teams), and no American drivers.
But, it’s a little more complicated than that.
America is very “inward looking” regarding sports. The baseball World Series is only played by American teams and two Canadian teams situated on our northern border. Yes, many of the players come from other countries, but no teams do.
The National Basketball Association has players from all over the world, but all of the teams are from North America.
The National Football League has mostly North American players, as the rules are unique to North America, and all the teams are North American.
The only outward looking sports are tennis, golf, and the Olympic Games. This is easy to explain: geographical determinism. There is no way to play weekly or twice-weekly games on more than one continent. The leagues in America are subdivided into geographical divisions to minimize the travel requirements because the USA is a very large place.
NASCAR is the most popular American racing series, but there are few non-Americans involved, and the series races primarily on oval circuits common only to North America. Indy Car has more foreign drivers than Americans, but the series is only marginally successful. Many foreign Indy Car drivers have failed to get seats in F1 and resort to racing in America, the best alternative, and many have been champions here.
Formula 1 does not have geographical limitations due to the frequency of events. There are only 19 events per year (20 for 2012) and the races are conducted over a period of 39 weeks. That means on average, a race every two weeks. F1 clusters the events by continent to minimize the travel requirements and competes in Europe, Asia, South America, and North America.
I mentioned above that I think that America does not embrace F1 because there has been no permanent home for the races, no American constructors, and no American drivers. However, with the addition of a permanent home for F1 in Austin at the Circuit of the Americas, and a second temporary circuit in New Jersey, this issue can be put to rest. Austin, with its purpose-built facility, can be the permanent home for F1 in the US.
The next hurdle to overcome is having another American driver in the sport. There have been two American F1 champions: Phil Hill and Mario Andretti. There have been another dozen or so who made the grid, but had limited success, the most recent being Scott Speed. Currently, Mexican Sergio Perez drives for the Sauber F1 team, and he represents North America very well.
Who will be the next American in F1? I have a very good candidate: Alexander Rossi anmd I will introduce him to you in part two of this story.