Saturday, June 24, 2006

F1 -- The soccer of motorsports

Since we’re about to head toward the traditional Fourth of July weekend’s visit to Daytona, it seems that a few words about how Americans like their sports are in order.
We’ll use Formula One major domo Bernie Ecclestone’s words in a recent article in The Times of London as a jumping-off point. If you didn’t see what His Bernieness said, here’s a quick review.
“It does not matter to Formula One if there is no grand prix in the U.S.,” Ecclestone said. “What do we get from America? Aggravation, that’s about all. If you say ‘good morning’ over there and it’s five past 12, you end up with a lawsuit.”
That’s an outstanding line, but after the ridiculous debacle that was the 2005 U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis – in which just six cars actually raced following after a dispute over tires and safety and politics and egos and fun stuff like that – you would think Ecclestone would be a little less strident.
The contract for the U.S. Grand Prix is up after next weekend’s event, and Ecclestone appears to be in no mood to give the folks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway any kind of break on the $20 million price tag for hosting an F1 event.
“Why do we need to worry so much about America?” Ecclestone said. “America has never really taken to open-wheel racing. We have never got any sponsors out there. The television has never taken off. We have more viewers in Malta than over there.”
Clearly, Malta could beat our red, white and blue backsides in soccer (more on that in a minute), but if Ecclestone really doesn’t think the U.S. market is more important to his sport than Malta, then he’s just a dolt.
Having said that, I believe that the United States needs F1 no more than Ecclestone feels F1 needs us. The F1 series is, without any question, the world’s most popular motorsports series. But until is has at least one competitive American driver, it’s just not going to matter much in this country.
American sports fans pull for Americans. It’s not any more complicated than that.
That’s why the World Cup soccer tournament is the biggest thing in the world but struggles to find traction here.
This just in – on an international level we stink at soccer. Ghana knocked us out of the World Cup the other day.
Ghana!
That county has a total population of about 21 million people. There are nearly that many people in Texas. Are you telling me that a team of the best players in ANY sport from all of the other 49 states – even football – shouldn’t be able to beat a team of the best players from Texas? I know Ghana’s very best athletes all play soccer, while our best athletes are getting rich in other sports. But how can we get beat in anything that matters by Ghana?
We did, though. And that’s why no matter how much ESPN tries to hype it and no matter how much the “experts” try to force the World Cup down our collective throats, this country is not going to care about international soccer until we can beat people at it. I’m not saying that’s how it ought to be. But I am saying that’s how it is.
That gets us back to F1.
I know that American Scott Speed has a ride this year and will be competing next weekend at Indy. But until Speed and his team move way up the competitive ladder – or until Dale Earnhardt Jr. decides he wants to go F1 racing – nobody in this country is going to get terribly excited about that series.
Whether it races at Indianapolis or in Malta.

10 comments:

Winkout said...

I enjoy all forms of racing and I have favorite drivers in most of the series that I watch. I love F1 and I try to watch every race live, if possible. But, after last year’s debacle at Indy, I refuse to watch any F1 race held in the U.S., whether it is at Indy or any other track. Let F1 stay “over there.” I’ll still watch the rest of the F1 races on TV because I love the technology, the cars, and I get a kick out the egos involved.

F1 doesn’t fit the American racing mentality, but it’s not because we don’t have a driver who can finish on the podium. It’s just a whole different class of racing that mainstream America can’t identify with. We’ve had NASCAR shoved down our throats for so long that it’s like a religion. NASCAR doesn’t involve the high lifestyle that goes along with F1. Most Americans can’t picture themselves traveling across the world to see their favorite F1 racer compete when they can barely afford to attend more than one NASCAR race in a year, if at all.

I prefer road course races. They are much more interesting to watch than the let’s-turn-left-for-3-hours races. So, I will watch all of the F1 races except for the U.S. Grand Prix, just because Bernie and a certain tire company slighted us. I do have the American loyalty factor to racing sponsors. I won’t purchase a certain brand of tire because if they can’t hold up at Indy, they won’t hold up on my car (see how we Americans are, Bernie?).

If F1 wants to lure the American audience, then they need to court American sponsors who will flood American televisions with F1-related advertising and pull the American mind in to that racing environment. Apparently, Bernie doesn’t feel we are worth that trouble. That’s fine. I don’t need to watch a sham of an F1 race at Indy, either.

Anonymous said...

I'm with winkout but for different reasons. F1 makes such a big thing of "Oh, we're sooo technical" and has such arrogance--the two F1 races I've been (Canada and Spain) to have been marked with such contempt for fans on the part of everyone actually in the sport. Forget the Indy debacle--why should I put my energy (and $$) into supporting a sport that really doesn't seem to want me? That makes no attempt to encourage fans to bond with the sport, its drivers, and its identity?
Screw 'em. Let them drive their video games on wheels. Give me cars and drivers I can care about!

Monkeesfan said...

F1's biggest problems are several -

1 - as noted by anonymous, the arrogance and contempt for fans permeates F1; their attitude is that we somehow need them when it's the other way around.

2 - Technology doesn't translate into good competition. IRL and NASCAR have infinately better racing with retro-tech specs. When was the last time there were any lead changes in an F1 race?
winkout has it backwards - there is far more of interest on ovals, especially superspeedways, than on road courses.

3 - The closed loop. NASCAR and IRL have fallen or are falling into this trap, where a handful of money-guy teams control the sport and there is no wherewithal for anyone else to beat them. CART personified this trap forever and is why I broke with that form of racing nearly two decades ago.

Anonymous said...

F1 will never be popular in america because the races are brutally boring. I normally turn on an F1 race if I am up at the time it is showing on speed because it does a fabulous job of putting me to sleep. There is no competition in F1 races. When I watched some of the canadian grand prix last night There was like a total of 5 passes anywhere during the entire race and most of them came from Schumacher. They even made a comment that Alonso has not been passes for position all year in 9 races!! Thats ridiculous!! Do you think anyone would watch NASCAR if there were only 5 passes in an entire race! F1 is to technological and the seperation in competition is ridiculous and gives no one but like 2 drivers a chance to win for an entire season. At least NASCAR half way recognizes that and keeps the engines and many car parts the same as they have been for 50 years.

Quietbreezes said...

I prefer NASCAR racing over F1 any day. Agreeing with Anonymous---IT’S BORING AS HECK! There isn't any passing, no excitement whatsoever unless a car runs off into the kitty litter, stalls or the driver falls asleep and spins out taking a competitor with him. The same top three drivers win every time and there is never a chance for an underdog to win a race. Unless again all the tire manufactures pull at the last minute and leave only two competitors running. I have tried to get into F1 racing but I lose interest after the first few laps and find myself watching the lap clock counting down as to end the torture of the race.

I guess being exposed to NASCAR as my first racing experience has dulled my mind to open up to new venues. But most Americans can associate with NASCAR drivers. There are a few that may feel they are a tad bit above the rest but for the most part NASCAR puts on a good show...even with the WWF bouts every now and then.

As far as the F1 Grand Prix, I have no intention on watching it and only watch the other races if I happen to come across it on television while waiting for a NASCAR event to come on. So if they feel America isn't worth their time or effort to come here---so be it. No skin, sweat or tears off my back.

RACE THE TRUCK DALE!!!

Monkeesfan said...

And you thought Talladega wrecks were nasty - check that tumble through the gravel on the opening lap of the USGP.

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