So.... by 2013 F1 should be visiting the USA twice a season like in eras gone by. Bobby Rahal has recently stated that for the new US rounds to become successful and established in the longer term, it will require the participation of American drivers.

So why are there no US drivers currently in F1?

The reasons for the lack of American competitors are not straightforward and go back many years. The first thing to consider is that when it comes to motorsport, as with many aspects of American culture, is that the US has always 'done its own thing' and in 'its own way'. During the 1950's and particularly the 1960's & 70's motor racing (four-wheeled) in America and Europe was a lot more closely linked, with drivers and teams from different sides of the Atlantic regularly competing against each other in different championships and competitions (not just F1).

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Since the 1970s, the FIA backed, largely European based world championships and the USA's/North American championships, have gone off in different directions to form two isolated domains. It is worth noting at this point that the North American racing scene/market (four-wheeled at least) in any era, has been so big and so wealthy it has not needed European participation, recognition or the venues to make it a success. The reverse can also be said of the European based World motorsport scene (particularly F1).

What this means is that (from either perspective) but if we focus on the American view for now, a young aspiring North American racing driver has never needed to compete outside of North America to attain great recognition, wealth, professional success and support from their home land (which is the size of at least Western Europe). This is the key factor as to why there has been a lack of Americans in F1 for some time and from this stem other factors.

The racing culture in the US differs to Europe; a big element of the racing scene in the USA has always been based around different forms of oval based racing whether you are talking about Open wheel, Stock Car or Dirt Track based racing. Indeed the biggest events on North American racing calendar are the Indy and Daytona 500s. Historically, oval racing has always been able to draw big crowds whilst in Europe the average fan cannot see the attraction of watching cars 'go round and round in a circle'. Europeans like to put the American attraction to oval racing down to a crude stereotype of Americans being simple uncultured people, Europeans do not on mass appreciate the skill and entertainment of oval racing.

When trying to understand US racing culture, let's consider the following; if you ask a typical European F1 fan to name a great American race driver their most likely response will be Andretti, maybe Gurney if you're lucky and if they are a bit older they may say Hill. If you ask an American race fan you may well hear those names mentioned but the chances are you will also get the names Foyt, Unser, Jones, Earnhardt and Petty.

This of course brings us onto a more modern major hurdle F1 has to overcome if it is to attract US participation and that is the dominance in the USA of NASCAR. During the mid 90's following the CART/IRL civil war, NASCAR grew tremendously, both from increases in spectator interest and from TV and Commercial Revenues. So, given the promise of big bucks, big recognition and if you have the talent comes the attraction of a greater chance of winning races in NASCAR and competing for championships.... where in F1 in 2011 only five (maybe six) drivers had a realistic chance of winning races if the cars didn't fail and only two or three drivers had a chance of winning the championship (2010 being the exception to the rule). Why would a young American want to go anywhere else other then NASCAR?

During 2011, NASCAR has seen a drop in spectators but this is seen as a result of the weakening US economy and rises in unemployment rather than dwindling interests, although several popular drivers have either retired or scaled back the number of races they enter. Commercial revenue is still very healthy and this will continue to attract the majority of America's better younger drivers for some time to come.

There is a long common held belief that Americans want to see Americans winning and that they do not wish to see their countryman losing to Europeans or South Americans (this element is also for many a reason for the decline of Indycar). So not only will F1 need to have American drivers but they will need to bring in US drivers of sufficient calibre and equipment to run up the front end of the F1 grid and be a genuine contender for sustained period of time. If they are to catch and retain the attention of the American dollar and sports fan.

Another factor keeping American drivers out of F1 maybe the last high profile foray by a major American driver into F1. Michael Andretti raced for McLaren in 1993 his track record prior to his entry into the F1 was very impressive. He was the 1991 CART champion and had 29 victories in CART over ten full seasons. Allied to his famous father's own experience and F1 track record, at the time Michael was surely as strong a candidate for an F1 seat as you could get and a potential contender for race wins at least.

As it turned out Michael's single F1 season is widely considered a disaster and eventually he left before the season ended after securing his best result of his short F1 career - a third at Monza. The reasons for Michael Andretti's failure in F1 are a separate debate but in the opinion of this writer are it was not a reflection of his driving skill. However Michael Andretti's record in his single unfortunate season in F1 gave rise to a belief in much of the European press and casual race fans and possibly European motorsport professionals that America does not produce drivers that are good enough or suitable for F1.

After Michael there were two notable drivers who from a CART/Indycar background made themselves a success in F1 (Jacque Villeneuve and Juan Pablo Montoya), but maybe F1 bosses have been put off signing American drivers. From the American perspective having seen a driver of Andretti's ability and track record return so quickly with a cloud of perceived failure over him, maybe American drivers subsequently have been put off trying F1.

Of course Toro Rosso gave Scott Speed a drive but he had come to F1 via GP2, although his results were deemed not good enough to sustain his presence in the sport.

One other hurdle confronting all drivers is the cost of coming through the junior European based ranks into F1. American drivers may struggle more than most to attract the level of backing needed unless a major US company or brand who advertise globally want to put an American in the sport.

So what will it take get American drivers back into F1?

Firstly, the two new US rounds will need to establish themselves as permanent fixtures on the F1 calendar regardless of whether there is US driver participation or not. Meaning, they will need to be a commercial success and crucially attract and retain the interest of the local communities of Austin and New York (much like they did in the past at Watkins Glen and Long Beach). Of course we should always keep in mind that there are many F1 fans in America and in particular Ferrari fans. These are the people who used to sustained the now defunct Indianapolis round which was well attended giving some hope to the new forthcoming races.

Secondly, alongside the new grand prix rounds as mentioned recently by Bobby Rahal there will most likely need to be some form of commercially sponsored or manufacturer's supported young drivers programme. The aim being to find promising young American talent and back them through F1's traditional feeder categories similar to that of Redbull or Mercedes and previously Honda.

Alternatively maybe guest drives by Americans in GP2 races in America could be used to give young US drivers a chance to test themselves and showcase their abilities to potential F1 teams.

F1 could again attract US drivers back to the grid on a regular basis but it will have to overcome North America's domestic racing market forces and provide a clear incentive and funded path through the F1's feeder categories. This will not be cheap or easy.

Thank you New York and good night.

by Tom Boyers