As we head off to Austin in a couple of days, there are quiet rumours cooking over in Texas that the promoters of the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas are struggling to make the event pay and want to make some changes in the future. The word is that Texan free enterprise and the Formula One group seem to have a potato/potahto, tomato/tomahto kind of problem and are beginning to head either to High Noon on Main Street or towards Gerschwin’s celebrated chorus: “Let’s call the whole thing off”. Now, Austin is charming and is, if nothing else, a race in the United States, but it is not New York nor Los Angeles and F1’s penetration into the US markets is still minimal as a result. This makes no sense because F1 is a consumer business and the United States is the world’s largest consumer market (by a million miles – and will remain so for at least another generation, no matter how hard the Chinese work). Thus if F1 is to fulfil its potential it should be making major efforts to get into the United States. This talk of a race in Las Vegas does not appear to have any substance at all (in the finest traditions of Vegas smoke and mirrors), but serious projects in California and New Jersey have fallen by the wayside because F1 will not compromise on money. F1 compromises to be in Monte Carlo, why cannot it do the same in other places? Many big international corporations alter their approach in different markets, in order to achieve the best possible results.
At the same time we are going to Austin with two assets that might help growth in the US market and there is no definite sign that either one will be used. Alexander Rossi is the only American driver within realistic range of F1 and yet getting into a race seat has proven to be difficult because there is no money to support him. If he is again left out in Austin because someone else came along with cash, it would not be smart, although one can understand it if Marussia need the money to survive. Surely, it would be wiser for the sport to find some cash from a shoebox under the bed somewhere and got Rossi into a car. This would get the US fans excited. If there is a US driver more people will watch… etc etc etc.
The same is true of Simona de Silvestro. She has enormous potential for the sport, not simply because she is a women who can (perhaps) race competitively and not be merely a token presence, but also because she is already a known quantity in the US, with a proven record in IndyCar, including a second place finish on a street circuit (which is a pretty good recommendation). As we have seen with Danica Patrick, the popularity of a racing series can go through the roof if there is a woman racing. It adds massive interest in the sport.
The two youngsters are assets that could go to waste and while there is an argument that F1 drivers have to make things happen for themselves, there is also logic in the argument that wasting assets is simply not very sensible.