Despite initial scepticism, Austin could prove to be a surprising success for F1 as it once again attempts to rebuild its reputation in the United States.

That is the view of Steve Madincea, owner of one of F1's largest sponsorship agencies, who, having admitted that the Texan state capital would not have been an obvious choice of venue, believes that it could be a real boost to the sport's hopes of establishing itself in the largest car market it has so far failed to crack on a regular basis.

There has been no USGP since 2007, when the circus last rolled up at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and F1 has yet to anchor successfully anywhere since breaking ties with Long Beach and Detroit in the 1980s and meandering through the likes of Dallas, Las Vegas and Phoenix in the meantime.

"It's unique," Madincea told 422race.com when asked about the choice of Austin as venue, "Maybe it wouldn't have been my first choice, but the more I [think about] it, the more I see it's a clever choice for Austin and for Texas.

"It's a city on the rise, which could use some international recognition that F1 can bring, and which could really embrace F1 and get behind the programme, like the old Adelaide or Montreal. For my experience of F1, I would have liked Miami, because it's more international and it's the national stepping stone to Central and South America, but that's because I was ignorant - rather than negative - about Austin.

"If it's possible to raise up one event in Austin, then it would be extremely powerful, and stop the current negative slide of F1 in America. We got too many punches to the body with F1 and it's time to get something positive. I think that [the Michelin tyre farce at Indianapolis in 2005] was the beginning of the slide, then Scott Speed didn't work out as a driver for whatever reason, [and] the new [USF1 and Cypher Group] teams didn't make it for whatever reasons. So F1 kept giving these punches to America and it didn't look good. That's why I'm very excited about Austin, because that's something really positive."

Despite accepting the reasons for Bernie Ecclestone's apparent pursuit of a race in New York - where several potential venues, such as Monticello Motor Club and Liberty Park, were rumoured - Madincea claims that 'an emerging city' such as Austin has awakened interest that may have lain dormant since the end of the Indianapolis era.

"I think that [New York]'s the dream, the Holy Grail, to be from one coast to the other, and the first response [to Austin] was scepticism," he accepted, "Who is this [Tavo Hellmund] guy? Why Austin? The city is known, but not like New York, Los Angeles, Boston, big cities.

"But the USA is changing and there are some up-and-coming rising cities, such as Austin, where there are big organisations like Dell. It's definitely emerging [and], after the scepticism, I think came optimism. Now I get calls from people asking me how do I get tickets, how do I get involved, how can I be a sponsor... For me, the scepticism is turning to optimism, without question."

That optimism, Madincea believes, will stretch equally to potential sponsors and fans, although the resurgence could still take time.

"It might be too early to say [that F1 is] growing [in the US], but the negative phase which started with the tyre scandal is changing," he insisted, "This was a good positive announcement which turned it back in the right direction.

"There are two groups of F1 fans in the US. One is the Hispanic market, which is large, powerful and, according to the latest researches, one of the fastest growing, up to 25 per cent of the population. The second group is almost as important: key business leaders throughout the United States, who control the largest companies and like F1 because they're internationally mind set. They travel to South America, Europe, Asia and they know how big and powerful F1 is so, when they come back to the US, they follow F1 as well.

"If you analyse, a lot of F1 sponsors over the years have been American. They recognise that F1 gives them an easy access across cultures, languages, borders. First one that goes to the top of my head is AT&T, with Williams. Their programme was an international one, because maybe they were not well known internationally as they are in the US. And I think an event like Austin will bring more companies to be involved.

"[The American market] is still the biggest [for the car manufacturers]. For people like Mercedes, it's very important - and it could be an important market for tyre manufacturers as well. The teams were pushing to have another GP in the US and one of the reasons is that, even if you don't have a big manufacturer behind you, your sponsors know that it's a large market where they want to be.

"It's quite the last big pillar that F1 doesn't control. I'm not saying that F1 would ever go in and beat the big domestic programmes [such as NASCAR and other sports], because they are there all year, but it can make an impact. And two races would make a huge impact versus one race, but one race is still very good."

To succeed long-term, however, F1 has to make some allowances for the US market.

"They have to adapt to an American mindset," Madincea pointed out, "This means all the sponsors should organise a promotion for one or several months before the race. And teams and drivers should show themselves across America for a few weeks. That's why I think two races would be good, maybe not back-to-back, but with a weekend off. They could go to all the chat shows. The point is to allow them to discover America and Americans to discover F1."

And, of course, giving sponsors and the public someone to 'root' for would no go amiss either. Speed was the last American driver to try and crack the top flight, but struggled with Toro Rosso and few others have been seen as contenders, despite the repeated candidature of IndyCar race winner Danica Patrick and young hopefuls such as Graham Rahal and Jonathan Summerton, the latter having been strongly linked to the failed USGP project.

"[Having an American driver in the field] is both something that has been under-rated and over-rated," Madincea accepted, "It's the first thing people talk about - wouldn't it be great? - but, when you have a driver from your home country who doesn't do well, it's a negative. If there is a driver, he - or she - has to be a good young driver and competitive in the sport.

"When I say 'she', I think about Danica Patrick, who has a profile like she's won the championship three years in a row. It's extraordinary and it does bring in a whole new audience. Hopefully, she will help evolve a new group of young girls who come racing and they could break the barrel. That would be fantastic.

"[Similarly], I think that [the return of Mexican drivers] would be fantastic, because it would unleash the Mexican market which, combined with the US market, would be very powerful. Hopefully, a couple of young good Mexican drivers could start the revolution."

"[USF1 and Cypher failing to make the grid] is the shame. God bless them for trying, but I think it underlines how difficult F1 really is to get something happen, even with the backing that they had. You need to have a full infrastructure to make it work."

Comments

Join the conversation - Add your comment

Please login or register to add your comment