ESPN is reporting that Formula One supremo, Bernie Ecclestone, is close to signing a deal bringing a second F1 Grand Prix to the US. It seems that we may, at last, get to see the much vaunted race in New Jersey.
Which raises the obvious question: why?
F1 is already set to return to the US in 2012 at the newly created Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Given F1’s chequered history in the US, it would make more sense to sit back and see how that goes before leaping headlong into another race.
F1 has never gained a consistent foothold in the US. Of course, F1 hasn’t helped its own cause in the more recent iterations at Indianapolis.
In 2002, Michael Schumacher slowed down on the final lap to allow Rubens Barrichello to claim the race win as a payback for the team orders scandal in Austria earlier in the year. We all know the arguments in favour of team orders and how the teams have the right to demand the best outcome for the team. It’s all very logical—except for the fact that fans don’t pay money to watch a rigged result.
Then again, F1 is all about the TV audience, not the punters who pay the extortionate prices to walk through the game to see it live.
To add insult to injury, F1 then delivered the infamous 2005 Grand Prix when only three teams started the race.
The FIA, as usual, failed to see the big picture, focusing instead on its own narrow self-interests when a compromise solution should have been delivered and the legal stuff left to be sorted out in the courts later.
That appalling effort signed the death warrant for F1 at Indianapolis, and when the time came to renegotiate the contract, Ecclestone was surprised to find that the promoters weren’t willing to bend to his will.
F1 again had walked away from its most coveted and elusive market.
Prior to Indianapolis, we had the hugely unpopular Phoenix effort on a very ordinary street circuit that was loathed by fans, drivers and teams alike. The race was reportedly so unpopular that an Ostrich race in a nearby suburb drew three times more spectators.
In 1982, F1 had three races in the US, but all had problems of some description—financial, attendance or, in the case of the Dallas GP, climatic. A New York Grand Prix, however, or at least one that had the Manhattan skyline as a backdrop, has been a dream of Ecclestone’s since at least 1983 when it was first announced.
He has never managed to deliver one—perhaps until now.
The concept of an F1 race in Weehawken, New Jersey, on a street circuit with that beautiful New York City backdrop certainly has appeal, more so if Ecclestone can engineer a night race similar to the one in Singapore—although this is unlikely given the time-zone issues.
The downside is that it will be a street circuit, which, while aesthetically stunning, doesn’t bode well for exciting racing.
And it annoys hell out the locals, too.
More fundamentally for those F1 fans outside of the US is, which race is going to get the axe to pave the way for Ecclestone’s personal indulgence?
The F1 teams have drawn a line in the sand over the maximum of 20 races in a season. Only one other nation, Spain, hosts a second F1 grand prix, with Valencia the current home of the European Grand Prix as well as Catalunya hosting the Spanish Grand Prix.
To make way for the 2012 USGP, we say farewell to the Turkish GP, who lost the coin toss with the tedious Valencia in yet another example of what happens if race organisers plead poverty.
The Korean race is currently in financial difficulty, and organisers should be very wary about trying to negotiate reduced fees, lest they too end up discarded on the F1 scrapheap to make way for New Jersey.
If the FIA abandoned Valencia to make way for the New Jersey race, there wouldn't be many F1 fans who would mourn its passing. Knowing the FIA, however, they are much more likely to get rid of an immensely popular race like the Belgian Grand Prix.
The fans don't rate very highly in the FIA's decision-making process.
The amazing thing is that there is seemingly a never-ending queue of cities lining up to throw their hat into the F1 ring. Despite its many flaws, hosting a Formula One race is still one of the most glamorous and sought after sports engagements on the planet.
Sadly, however, F1 is a notoriously fickle courtesan and one who will quickly move on when the cash stops flowing. We can only guess how long it will be before we’re back to one USGP or less.
Not long would be the smart guess.