News has emerged of talks between Tony George, founder of the Indy Racing League (IRL) and former CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) and Formula One Management and Formula One Administration President and CEO Bernie Ecclestone regarding the United States’ return to the F1 calendar.
While nowhere near the viewership figures for NASCAR, there remains a hardcore following for F1 in America. Hardcore indeed considering the fact that the majority races are broadcast live at a fairly inconvenient local time. One to eight in the morning for the European and Asian races on the East Coast and Eleven at night to five in the morning on the West Coast.
Should the talks be successful the venue for the race would almost certainly be the IMS. Stands to reason that with George involved in, this would be the case. An infield section was added prior to the very first race held there in 2000. While receiving mixed reactions from drivers and fans alike the location was ultimately given the thumbs up by the F1 community at large.
It was, at any rate a greater success than any of the other venues that tried to give F1 a home following the end of F1’s stint at Watkins Glen International in upstate New York from 1961 to 1980. 1981 and 1982 saw the race move to the parking lot for Caesar’s Palace hotel in Las Vegas. A race was even held on the streets of Dallas, Texas in 1984. Detroit had a fairly good run, hosting the race from 1982 to 1988. The knockout blow to F1’s aspirations came in 1991, at the third running of the US Grand Prix in Phoenix, Arizona. Just 18,000 spectators turned up to watch the race. A number claimed to be beaten by the attendance figures at an Ostrich race held on the very same day.
In excess of two hundred thousand spectators turned up at the IMS to watch Michael Schumacher claim pole position and victory in 2000, much to the delight of George and Ecclestone. The race even managed to survive the fallout of the 2005 race where 16 of the 22 starters failed to take the start of the race due to safety concerns with the Michelin tyres they were using.
Indianapolis hosted the last US Grand Prix in 2007, following which the race was canceled after George and Ecclestone could not agree on a commercial partnership. It was a pretty big blow to Ecclestone’s plans of establishing a long term presence for F1 in America, where unlike a lot of the other new venues on the F1 calendar, people can actually afford the ticket prices.
I for one am in favor of the IMS returning to the F1 calendar although I have my doubts about Ecclestone’s plans to also add a street race in New York city. Street races, as a rule, are boring and processional affairs due to the lack of overtaking opportunities. There is also the matter of the ever expanding F1 calendar. Expected to hit 20 races for the very first time, with the addition of the Indian Grand Prix, there is a real possibility of the calendar hitting the 25 race mark that Ecclestone joked about.
I don’t know about you but I find the two week gap between races (sometimes even three weeks) helpful in building anticipation for the upcoming race. The last thing I would like to see is a bloated calendar that makes it impossible for drivers to recuperate. You may argue that it is the drivers’ and teams’ job to race but treating them like circus performers doesn’t seem to be in the sports’ best interest.
Ultimately it seems inevitable as resentment to Ecclestone dropping races at traditional European venues in favor of new venues grows. With the construction of new tracks at Portugal and France (both former rounds on the calendar) and upgrades made to Imola and Silverstone the chances of European venues hanging on to their races seems likely. That being said, I wouldn’t mind in the least bit if the Hungaroring was booted off the F1 calendar.