Wednesday, June 22, 2011

F1 Returns to America... Or Not

Back when the US Grand Prix at Indianapolis was announced in the late '90s, I thought it was about the coolest thing in the world.

Not only was Formula 1 (this predates Schumacher's absolute domination) coming back to America, it was coming to the Midwest, and to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway-a move that, in my mind, helped cement the facility as a international benchmark. I would get to see the mythical drivers, the standing start, and hear the 16,000 rpm engines. Never mind the financial wisdom of the investments required and the hit to management's coffers-as a fan this was about as cool as it got.

The first race, in 2000, didn't disappoint. My attendance was facilitated by a complex logistical operation involving a business trip to Arizona, a car left at the Indy airport, two rented RVs, and some clearance-sale beer. Race weekend had a buzz that this was an exciting international event. Alas, it didn't last. I was able to attend the first three races, but other issues intervened and kept me from going. Attendance flagged in general and was undoubtedly hurt by the aforementioned absolute dominance of the Schumacher Ferrari and a 2005 fiasco of a race that saw only six cars run. By 2008, there was no more American Grand Prix stop, the event replaced on the road course by a Moto GP race.

No one could have been more surprised (or skeptical) than me when, in 2010, a 2012 F1 race was announced in Austin at (those oh-so-reliable words) a facility yet to be built. I hated to be such a naysayer (I was super bullish on the USGP at Indy, after all), but there are/were way too many questions here:

1. The track. Not built yet? Yeah, that's likely to go off. How many race tracks have been announced but never built? It's not a simple undertaking, to build a spectator road course from scratch, then expect people to come out.

2. The market. Austin may be "America's Hippest City", but do hipsters watch Formula 1 racing? Are there a lot of race fans in the area? Are there a lot of road race fans in the area? How friendly is the community to this idea? I would guess that there is enough entertainment and lodging in the area thanks to the college and the festivals, so it has that going for it.

3. The promoter. I'm not sure who thinks he can make money off of Formula 1, but this guy is apparently buddies with Bernie, so maybe he has some insight.

4. The X Factor. See: Austin Grand Prix to Face Questions... There is a lot that goes into putting a race on, not to mention building a track, and this just seems to scratch the surface. These kind of things take years to prepare (like 5 or 10, not 2) and it sounds like not all the homework has been done.

Again, I hate being a naysayer, but I'm extremely skeptical that a Formula 1 race will be held in Austin next year. I'm also extremely skeptical that the track will be completed. If it is, it won't stay open long. There's an aura about all things "F1" that makes people lose all sorts of common sense and throw every dollar they have at it-when it clearly isn't enough. The USGP has failed at numerous locations, including Best Spot In The World for it, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, at least three "US F1" teams have been announced and started in the past ten years, only to have gone nowhere. I applaud the ambition of a promoter who wants to try it, but I'll be shocked if the race goes off a year from now.

1 comment:

  1. This whole "F1 in Austin" idea is such a joke. I went to the last few F1 races and vowed to return if they ever came back. But less than two years out and there is no track, its planned two weeks or so after the 500, in the hottest part of the year... i dont think so. it is a sad extortion game bernie is playing with tavo.