Many people in the Hungaroring paddock ask me what I think about the latest aborted attempt to get a US team into F1. I have only one answer to that: what attempt?
This Cypher Group or whatever they’re called not being able to rustle up the necessary capital tells me that there’s still a shred of common sense among US investors. Who in his right mind would dump countless millions into an outfit that sits thousands of miles away from the necessary technology and know how to get a proper F1 racer on the track?
But Bernie, I hear you say. The United States are a technologically advanced country. Surely they have all that’s needed to build race cars?
Well, they may have it but they’re bloody well not using it. Their main series still races with carburettor cars. Carburettors! Outside the US, Africa and some parts of Southeast Asia nobody under 35 has ever seen one. OK, I’m forgetting Russia. It’s an engine technology that dates from the 19th century, which makes it even older than me. Nobody, or nothing in F1 should be older than me.
And why do NASCAR prefer carburettors? Because it’s easier to regulate. Thing is, some of their biggest races are on ovals, where you don’t need to actually drive a car. You just need to propel it with great speed along a pre-determined trajectory, so all that matters is engine power. Try to imagine, outdated race cars with Vietnamese suspension hurtling along a giant oval with speeds of up to 200 miles an hour. NASCAR’s answer to this is restrictor plates. It’s a metal plate with holes that you stick in the middle of a carburettor. Who needs high-tech when you can get away with power tools?
But the thing they fear most is electronics. Replace carburettors with fuel injection and you introduce electronics in a car. American race officials apparently do not understand electronics. How else to explain they’re fighting tooth and nail to keep it out as much as possible?
It’s a tribute to the American love of car racing that even this outdated business can draw gigantic crowds. So don’t tell me there isn’t a viable motorsports market out there. Believe me, there is.
But starting an F1 team in an environment like that is like throwing a snowball into Hell. No chance of survival. North Carolina may have a rich tradition of racing outfits but they all live in the automotive Middle Ages. People like US F1 and Cypher should’ve realised this before they started.
For F1 to succeed in the US we need to build an audience first. So we start with Grand Prix. Street circuits are fine because they provide spectacular settings but purpose-built venues are even better, because they provide continuity. Rome wasn’t built in a day. The same goes for F1’s rebirth in the US.
Drivers come next. Give us a couple of successful US Grand Prix and we’ll see some nice US racing talent enter the fray. And if we’re lucky, some investors who want to buy into an existing European outfit, to start transferring some technology back to the States. And maybe, maybe, if we’re really lucky, this will provide enough fertile ground for a US based team in a couple of years.
Meanwhile, Tavo, just do your job. And don’t worry about other Grand Prix in the US. The more the better. Just leave it with me.