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JUNE 1, 1990

Formula 1 and the United States


Formula 1 observers do not generally believe in coincidence. If something happens there is a logical reason for it. It is just a matter of finding out what that reason may be. Michael Andretti and Al Unser Jr are being linked with F1 drives and then, suddenly, there is talk of a Formula 1 race at Indianapolis.

Strange, is it not, that two related-rumours should emerge at the same time?

If you take a step back and look at the wider picture, you realise that Formula 1's big problem is the United States of America. The Phoenix Grand Prix has been singularly unsuccessful. At the same time the CART/PPG Indycar World Series has been looking to expand. There have been talks with Japanese tracks, negotiations in Australia and a rumoured Indycar race in South America. The powerful men in F1 do not want Indycar racing to become an international formula. That would be a threat to Grand Prix racing.

But how does one solve such an enormous problem? There does not seem to be a good US venue for F1, and the American media and the public don't care at all for Grand Prix racing.

CART is a strong series. It is growing, with the level of professionalism increasing all the time this, in itself, has created a weakness. In order to be competitive teams are rejecting customer cars and starting to build their own machinery. Some are merging, others folding. There are only a few good teams left and a lot of rather poor efforts. On the driver front, most of the established stars of CART are reaching the end of their careers. There are only really two youngsters of note: Michael Andretti and Al Unser Jr. They represent the future of CART.

One should never underestimate the power-brokers of F1. They are capable of very clever, very subtle, manoeuvres. They are forever floating ideas and gauging reactions with off-the-cuff comments - and they use rumour as a weapon. Might these rumours about Michael and Little Al be a deliberate attempt to make the CART men feel uncomfortable?

CART's strongest card is the Indianapolis 500. It is the biggest and one of the most important motor races in the world.

"If it weren't for Indianapolis Motor Speedway," says AJ Foyt, "you really wouldn't have a good championship circuit. You'd have a lot of road courses, but it would be more or less like F1. Indianapolis makes it Championship Automobile Racing."

But the Indianapolis 500 is not a CART race. It is organised by Indianapolis Motor Speedway on behalf of USAC - and it is sanctioned by the FIA. Over the years CART and Indianapolis have had many a fight. Indy would be a superb venue to launch F1 onto the American scene in a very big way. The Grand Prix technical bods might not like the idea, but the sponsors would be in seventh heaven. To invite the president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and his director of marketing to Europe to watch a couple of Grands Prix is an inspired move. It sends a very clear message to CART: If you keep messing about trying to expand outside the US, we will rip your heart out.

Pull back even further and look at an even wider picture and you can see why F1 is so desperate to hit the bigtime in the United States. Single-seater racing in the USAis under threat from NASCAR. CART is already losing sponsors to the big stock cars, which are infinitely more popular within America. If NASCAR decides to expand onto the international scene, or enterprising television magnates start buying up - or beaming in - coverage, F1 is under threat in viewing audiences ad ultimately in sponsorship income. If single-seater racing is to remain the dominant force in motor racing on the international stage NASCAR has to be challenged. If CART will not work with F1 to achieve this - it must be destroyed - leaving a stronger F1 to deal with NASCAR.