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"There's a lot of junk out there today. If you want it straight, read Kirby." -- Paul Newman

The Way It Is/ Formula 1's ongoing failure in America

by Gordon Kirby
Many people held high hopes for Formula 1's future at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin. From its debut in 2012 the race drew good crowds and a belief began to grow prior to this year's rain-soaked race weekend that F1 had found an American home in Austin. But the financial realities of dealing with Bernie Ecclestone appear to have caught up with CoTA following a reappraisal and reduction in state funding for the race.

The state has cut funding from $25 million to $19.5 million but Ecclestone's fees have risen every year and with declining crowds in 2013 and '14 and serious losses this year because of bad weather CoTA chairman Bobby Epstein has admitted the race's future is "not looking good".

Added Epstein: "I think he (Ecclestone) appreciates what we have created here in trying to give F1 a suitable home in the United States. The fans are responding well and I want to see it continue."

But the fact is Formula 1 is simply bad business in the USA. There's not enough popular or media support to pay for F1 in an era when Ecclestone is doing business with Vladimir Putin and other potentates around the world who are happy to write him a big check. The little man from east London has done a superb job of turning F1 from a once glorious sport into an exclusive club for the world's richest and most arrogant people. His recent comments lauding Putin and Sepp Blattler are a ringing confirmation of Ecclestone's imperious positioning of Formula 1 today.

© Gary Gold
Of course, over the years Bernie has made many silly comments about the USA. A quarter century ago he made one of his typical wise guy cracks about Phoenix International Raceway being a "shitty little oval", this at a time when he was trying to promote a dreadful F1 street race in downtown Phoenix, perhaps the most forlorn F1 race anyone has ever seen. Thank god it lasted only three years.

More recently Ecclestone made some comments about America being out of line with the rest of the world when it came to sport and other things. I have no idea what he hopes to gain with these irrelevant, provincial little jabs which demonstrate how little he and many of F1's team boss's know and appreciate about the USA's sports culture and the power of the NFL, college football, Major League Baseball, the NBA, and even NASCAR.

Bernie and his pals prefer to look down their noses at these home-brewed American sports but they do so at their peril. Their increasingly imperious ways have done F1 no good at all in America as they've trailed through a long, sad story of failed venues from Watkins Glen to Long Beach, Las Vegas, Dallas, Detroit, Phoenix and Indianapolis with CoTA looking likely to join that rag tag club.

Looking back, everyone appreciates what a perfect combination Watkins Glen and Long Beach were for a few fleeting years. It was a great thing to have two United States GPs, one at a classic road course in upstate New York, the other through oceanside streets in sunny Southern California, but Bernie tore apart that beautiful dream amid his lust for money. Instead of building a vision for the future he went for the quick buck and turned F1 in America into a bunch of carpetbaggers trailing from pillar to post with their hands out holding nothing but contempt for their hosts.

As a result F1 has struggled for years with poor US TV ratings and an utter lack of any serious, intensive American media coverage. These issues need to be addressed if F1 is ever to have a proper future in the United States, but there's zero interest from Bernie or the FIA in tackling these problems.

Meanwhile, another grand F1 melodrama has played out in recent months as the Red Bull team has searched for a suitable engine partner to replace Renault. After thoroughly bad-mouthing Renault, Deitrich Mateschitz and his men Christian Horner and Helmut Marko went on to make their pitches to Mercedes-Benz and Ferrari. But Mercedes turned them down flat and Ferrari told them they would have to run a year old engine rather than the factory team's latest spec motors.

© Gary Gold
Amid endless speculation that Red Bull was on its way out of F1 a deal has been brokered by Ecclestone that could result in Red Bull being stronger than ever. Although it has yet to be announced Red Bull will race Renault engines after all next year, but in 2017 the team will race its own power units designed and built by Ilmor in the UK. Ilmor has a long and impressive history of designing and building Indy car and F1 engines. The company currently manufactures Chevrolet's turbo V6 Indy engines.

In fact, a partnership between Red Bull and Ilmor is a natural and has probably been percolating for some time. For one thing Ilmor is located in the village of Brixworth barely thirty miles north of Red Bull's F1 operation in Milton Keynes. But perhaps more importantly Ilmor designer and founder Mario Illien and Red Bull's Adrian Newey are great friends as well as professional partners.

They've known each other and worked together for many years, going back to their days in CART in the eighties. More recently, they worked together in F1 at McLaren and Mercedes while Illien has been busy over the past year developing a new hybrid system for Renault.

This brewing partnership with Ilmor will make Red Bull a rare, proper F1 team like Ferrari and Mercedes building both cars and engines. Of course, Renault is going down the same path by buying Lotus, all of which means F1 may emerge with a stronger base than ever of major factory teams.

In turn, it will be interesting to see how such a development affects F1's dwindling collection of "little guy" teams. F1's current mid and backfield is as weak as it's ever been, maybe weaker. As we all know, it's a daunting proposition to start or build an F1 team, but again, this is exactly the culture that Ecclestone has fostered over the years. F1 is hard-core Darwinism. It's all about survival of the fittest and to hell with the rest.

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
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