Is USF1 a Case of Patriotism Before Points?
Are USF1 in danger of shooting themselves in the foot with their own American gun?
Since reports surfaced that a new American-based team was looking to enter Formula One, the rumour mill has been in overdrive linking the team with deals and drivers all over the place.
The one thing that most of them have in common? They're American.
Don't get me wrong; I believe every country has the right to be proud of what it brings to the table of world culture and the talent it possesses within its own borders. However, I also believe there is a time and place where this pride and patriotism should be left at the front door.
One of those places is when you're running an F1 team.
It's clearly something that all the other teams have managed to grasp. Force India, the most openly nationality-based team on the grid, has no problem employing two Italians and a German among its driving staff, and is moving from an Italian to a German engine supplier for this year. Toyota have never had a Japanese race driver since their entry to F1, and Honda dropped Takuma Sato despite what country it says on his passport.
Well, because they realise that F1 is not all about flag-waving nationalism. It's about winning races and getting points. Force India have stayed away from employing Narain Karthikeyan because, I suspect, they believe that Giancarlo Fisichella, Adrian Sutil, and Vitantonio Luizzi are better drivers. Sato proved to be a nightmare for Honda, or BAR, breaking more cars than finishing races, and in a results-driven sport, out he went.
Do their potential sponsors want an American in the cockpit? Possibly; there are doubtless some all-American companies who might not want their name on the side of a car being driven by a German, Brazilian, or Briton.
However, are these companies going to want to invest in a sport where you're wasting money on exposing your brand to countries where they have no access to the product? Wouldn't these businesses be better off backing a NASCAR or IndyCar team?
Other companies would probably want the best value for their money, and the best possible exposure for their brands. You get that by running up front in races, not by struggling at the back or retiring back into your garage.
But are the phalanx of American drivers being mentioned going to provide this "best possible exposure"? I don't think so.
Danica Patrick might give you a head start in the preseason headlines, but her performances on track might mean that your column inches dry up soon after. Scott Speed showed every little promise when he ran with Toro Rosso, and there is no reason to believe that the situation would have changed.
Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti both present marketing opportunities in their surnames, but much like Danica, their performances have left something to be desired. A.J. Allmendinger has some talent, but might find himself out of his depth very quickly and Jonathon Somerton is almost completely unknown.
Compare them to some of the drivers who might be available for the team in 2010. Sebastien Bourdais isn't exactly stable with Toro Rosso and has a high enough profile in America to raise a few dollars.
Assuming that Honda continue their southerly heading, that leaves Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello as potential employees. They're not going to set the world on fire, but both possess the experience that could be crucial in a team's debut season—basically the reason why Fisichella is at Force India.
Then there's the trump card—Bruno Senna.
If PR people can market the surname Andretti or Rahal, then imagine what they can do with a Senna!
Can this new team find the crucial balance between America and the rest of the world to build a successful team, but remain American enough to gather support from sponsors and fans from the 50 states? Getting the balance wrong either way could render the team defunct, lacking either sponsor dollars or success.
USF1 need to find a balance between their patriotism and commitment to the US and their drive to succeed in F1.
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