The inglorious history of Formula 1 racing in the US took a surprising turn last year, when the prestigious racing World Championship came back to US soil in the inaugural US Grand Prix at the highly praised Circuit of the Americas in Austin TX. With this new circuit, organizers are hoping to avoid many of the errors of previous F1 campaigns.
As recently as 2009, F1 President Bernie Ecclestone promised he would “never return” to its latest home in Indianapolis. This may have been a relief of sorts, as event promoters had difficulty turning a profit after paying sponsorship fees to host the event.
Despite drawing an estimated 225,000 fans in its first F1 race at the track, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway race was beset by multiple problems, the most ridiculous being in 2005 when 14 of the 20 racers pulled out of the race over safety concerns with the tires they were using.
Prior to Indianapolis, there was a dark period of 8 years when F1 wasn’t in the US at all. That dead period followed a disastrous Phoenix experiment where fans stayed away in droves.
The Circuit of the Americas hopes that the problems plaguing other US tracks will be a thing of the past. Initial response says they’ve got a good chance. In May of this year, the SportsBusiness Journal gave the US Grand Prix the award as the Best Sporting Event of 2012.
While this year’s champion is already a lock, the US Grand Prix is poised to become a big player in future World Championship races. The race is currently one of the last events in the F1 circuit, and in years where the points race is closer, the podium finishers on this track could very well determine the ultimate World Champion.
As one of the world’s most popular sports, this would shine a bright light on the US and significantly ramp up F1’s presence in Austin. Two recent F1 films have also raised the profile of the sport in the States. The sublime and spellbinding documentary, Senna, tells the story of one of F1’s most beloved racers, Ayrton Senna, as well as Ron Howard’s Rush, have compelling narratives that have attracted audiences beyond racing fans, and certainly created their fair share of new converts.
State of the art facilities also have their appeal. Where the track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was repurposed for F1 events, the Circuit of the Americas track is custom built for F1, with some of the best features of the greatest tracks in the F1 world, and the racers have responded positively.
Sebastian Vettel,this year’s champion and the youngest racer ever to win four World Championships, says “the track is tricky, very challenging, mixed, with high speed and slow corners…you could feel that there was a special vibe and that everyone was looking forward to the event.”
Whether such accolades and endorsements will be enough to make the previously snakebitten US Grand Prix a success remains to be seen, but they seem to be on the right track.
The US Grand Prix takes place November 15-17 at 1:00 EST and can be seen live on NBC.