Much of motorsport’s eyes will be on the United States Grand Prix this weekend as Lewis Hamilton heads to Texas hoping to secure his fifth Formula One world championship.
Yet if there is one country that might look at the action with little more than a sideways glance, it is the nation of the USA itself which has been through an up-and-down relationship with F1 over the years.
F1 may be the pinnacle of motorsport but it has always struggled to crack the USA as Sportsmail looks at the country’s current relationship with the series ahead of Sunday’s championship showdown.
Lewis Hamilton is on the brink of winning his fifth F1 world championship in the USA on Sunday
Where is the United States Grand Prix now held?
The Circuit of the Americas based in Austin, Texas has been hosting F1 since 2012 and has proved popular with drivers and spectators with its challenging, flowing corners combined with long straights to offer overtaking opportunities.
Is this the track that F1 can finally call home in the USA now? They’ve had a few…
For the time being there is no need to go anywhere else. Or at least it is better than the nine options from the past.
The United States Grand Prix is currently held at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas
F1 TRACKS IN THE USA
Watkins Glen (1961-1980)
Long Beach (USA West Grand Prix – 1976-1983)
Las Vegas (Las Vegas Grand Prix – 1981-1982)
Detroit (Detroit Grand Prix – 1983-1988)
Fair Park, Dallas (Dallas Grand Prix – 1984)
Nine? Why so many?
Well, 10 if you include the Indy 500 race, that counted in the early days of the F1 championship. F1 had settled well at Watkins Glen in the state of New York between 1961 and 1980 but as the cars developed, track safety failed to keep up and it has not returned since. A race in Phoenix failed to attract much fanfare with similar stories at other venues. Then there was a return to Indianapolis…
Wait, that rings a bell. Something about a ‘six-car’ race…
Also known as F1’s most farcical day. The 2005 US Grand Prix saw just six starters as the rest of the field ran Michelin tyres that were deemed too unsafe to race on.
After all 14 Michelin runners peeled into the pits on the formation lap, the large crowd jeered as Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello led away for Ferrari in front of backmarkers in Jordan and Minardi cars.
Following the controversy and the fallout, the Indy crowd never really forgave F1 and Indianapolis was axed after the 2007 race. A real shame as pre-2005 it had boasted good attendances following its 2001 debut.
Only six cars were able to compete in the 2005 Grand Prix in Indianapolis due to unsafe tyres
Even so, F1 should have cracked the USA long before then. Why do they struggle?
While there is a fanbase for F1 in the States, and a potential for that to grow, it faces a unique problem quarantined in the US in the form of stiff competition.
USA’s motorsport culture is geared towards other open wheel series such as Indycars, which leans heavily towards slipstream battles on oval circuits like the Indy 500.
In addition NASCAR is another highly popular form of racing, and F1 must usurp these series if the United States is ever really going to give it more attention. Some challenge, that…
Formula One have struggled to attract fans in the USA, partly due to motorsport competition
Haven’t Spain had success with building an F1 fanbase from almost nothing?
We are about to find out soon enough whether that is an F1 fanbase or a Fernando Alonso one.
Attendances were poor at the Circuit de Catalunya for well over a decade before the Spaniard burst onto the scene.
His retirement is bad news for F1 coverage in Spain, especially when the popular MotoGP series is currently being dominated by another nippy Spaniard in the form of Marc Marquez. The Spanish love their bikes as much as tiki-taka.
Fernando Alonso (left) took part in the 2017 Indianapolis 500 after retiring from Formula One
Speaking of Alonso, how much did USA care when he competed in the Indy 500?
Well, they didn’t really and that rather sums up USA’s view on F1.
Danica Patrick, whose popularity is largely contained in the US, drew much larger ticket sales for the Indy 500 in 2018 for her last race than the two-time F1 champion did a year previously. Yet the twist is, Alonso’s appearance saw a global spike in viewing figures such is his popularity just about everywhere else in the world.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles explained: ‘I’ve said it all along, she’ll (Patrick) probably be a better ticket-sales driver than Fernando was.
‘Fernando was great for international interest and our live stream. All of that was way up because of him.
‘But Danica being from here, from the US, racing all over the country, she’s probably driven ticket sales better than he had.’
American driver Danica Patrick proved more popular than Alonso in this year’s Indy 500
Would the States care more if they had a top-level driver in the sport?
Can’t hurt can it? Alex Rossi was the last American in the sport back in 2015, while they have not had a permanent driver on the grid since Scott Speed’s forgettable run at Toro Rosso over a decade ago.
They’ve had world champions in Phil Hill and Mario Andretti, but the latter’s title success was 40 years ago and since then only his son Michael has generated any real publicity for an American driver and he failed to last the season at McLaren in 1993. Although he did have the unfortunate job of having to try and match a team-mate in the form of Ayrton Senna.
So who will the American supporters be cheering?
Without a doubt, Lewis Hamilton. The Brit has warmed to American culture and has won every race in Texas bar one. The Mercedes star is also looking to win the championship stateside for the second time following his stunning drive in 2015.
Hamilton (front, pictured in action at the Japanese Grand Prix) is popular among Americans
Has that led to an influx of supporters?
Well, not exactly. Although 258,000 spectators attended the event in 2017, one of the highest figures on the calendar, it was a massive decrease compared to the 269,889 from a year earlier. No other circuit on the calendar suffered a bigger drop from its 2016 figures.
Does that mean the US Grand Prix’s future is at risk?
Not now there are American owners in the sport in the form of Liberty Media. They will be desperate to boost the F1 brand stateside, and would probably race around Las Vegas’s car park if it kept the race on the calendar. Although that is one aspect of F1’s past that fans won’t want to return in any hurry.
One final question, why is qualifying on so damn late relative to the race?
Well obviously the 10pm BST start time translates to 4pm local time and there is a clever if cynical reason for that.
To entice more fans, there is a concert held after qualifying and the race, with Bruno Mars and Britney Spears booked to perform this year.
It works financially for the circuit but it does show how much work F1 still has to do to win over America when it has to rely on mainstream pop acts to get punters through the door.