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).
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.