Fri, Jun 25, 2004 - Page 24 News List

Formula One eyes expansion in the finicky US market

AP , INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA

Formula One is the world's giant in auto racing. In the US, it's barely a player.

At last week's US Grand Prix, tickets were a tough sell, the stands were filled with foreign flags and even Michael Schumacher, one of the world's biggest stars, talked about his anonymity in the US.

"We have to get our act together," said Eddie Jordan, team boss of Jordan Ford. "We understand we have technology and we have newfangled cars, but we also have to reach out and make that extra effort."

Part of the problem is exposure. For nearly a decade, from 1991 until the US Grand Prix came to Indianapolis in 2000, F1 didn't even hold an American race. The last US driver in the series was Michael Andretti in 1993, an experiment that flopped.

But in a global economy that requires constant growth, F1 is rethinking its approach. It is considering adding a second American race, perhaps returning to the West Coast for the first time since 1983.

"Maybe we can squeeze another race in," F1 president Bernie Ecclestone said. "We need a lot more exposure."

Ecclestone would not discuss specifics of a new marketing strategy, but acknowledged changes may be needed.

There haven't been two F1 races in the US since 1984, and the circuit has just two races each year in North America -- the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal and the US Grand Prix in Indianapolis. For the first time this year, F1 ran them on back-to-back weekends to help cut costs and improve attendance.

Making it three straight weeks, some believe, would help hold the interest.

"Americans like to be entertained and if we don't entertain them, it won't catch on -- simple as that," said Tony Purnell, team principal of the Jaguar team.

Another problem is the lack of American names.

While most of the world considers F1 the highest form of racing, because of the technology, strategy and skill involved, Americans have no countrymen or teams to cheer for -- and that doesn't appear to be changing.

Two years ago, Dan Gurney's attempt to field an all-American F1 team failed because of a lack of sponsorship.

Andretti's attempt was aborted after a partial season.

BMW Williams team principal Frank Williams has developed a friendship with NASCAR star Jeff Gordon, a driver he calls a "special talent" but who is unlikely to make the switch. Jacques Villeneuve, a Canadian with American appeal, won the 1997 world championship but now is looking for a ride.

Defending Indy Racing League champion Scott Dixon, of New Zealand, already has tested for Williams, who believes Dixon needs at least one more season on the IRL circuit before jumping overseas.

Eddie Cheever, a former Indy winner and F1 driver, believes there's only one way to get more US fans hooked.

"It's going to take an American team with an American driver," Cheever said. "That's the only way it's going to happen.''

That will be difficult, though.

"I don't know that you could have an American team because everybody's based in Europe," Ecclestone said. "But you could do it with an American driver."

Even that may not be good enough. From 1950-1960, F1 sanctioned the Indianapolis 500 but few regulars competed. It didn't hold an actual race in the US until 1959 at Sebring, Florida. Since then, F1 has stayed longer than eight years at only one US track -- Watkins Glen, New York, where it ran from 1961-1980.

This story has been viewed 2714 times.

Comments will be moderated. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned.

TOP top