Formula One goes troppo in Texas

Michael Lamonato Columnist

By Michael Lamonato, Michael Lamonato is a Roar Expert


12 Have your say

    Verstappen is one to keep an eye on during Formula One last races of 2017. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

    Related coverage

    As far as a weekend of motor racing goes, the 2017 United States Grand Prix at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas had just about everything — including the key ingredients of a successful Formula One future.

    Austin prides itself on being weird, and its inclusion on the F1 calendar from 2012 certainly fit that bill. With the sport historically finding it difficult to crack the US market, taking a European-centric race and dropping it into the middle of Texas seemed to make little sense.

    Indeed even today talk of F1 in America is as much about the addition of a race in a so-called destination location — New York or Miami or the Californian coast — as it is about the success of Austin as an unlikely home for the pinnacle of international motorsport.

    And the Circuit of the Americas is a success, have no doubt about it — and this year’s sixth edition of the event was not only another feather in the cap of organisers, it was also an important marker for Formula One as it embarks on its next chapter with its new commercial owners.

    Most pertinent is that two-thirds of the ownership hierarchy — CEO Chase Carey and commercial chief Sean Bratches — is American, making the 2017 race something of a homecoming for them. But, more to the point, the weekend’s grand prix was also an opportunity for them to demonstrate, even if indirectly, some of their much-hyped vision for Formula One.

    Any regular follower of Formula One knows only too well how little effort the sport has typically made to engage its audience. Despite being its global promoter, Formula One Management did next to no promotion under the regime of former controlling owner CVC Capital Partners. F1 was an asset to cash in on, not invest in.

    This formed part of Liberty Media’s justification for buying the sport at its multibillion-dollar price — put simply, the quantity of low-hanging fruit, especially for directors of the calibre of Carey, Bratches and Ross Brawn, made F1 a relative steal.

    America and self-promotion, of course, are natural partners, and so it is that not only great optimism has come to be held for the sport but also great expectation has been placed on Austin, now a de facto totem of Formula One’s new era.

    The call, as summed by Carey earlier in the year, is to turn F1’s 20 grands prix into 21 Super Bowls — “week-long extravaganzas with entertainment and music events that capture a whole city,” he said — and Austin had no difficulty answering it.

    The Circuit of Americas went full American, and for a sport used to the stuffiness of minute regulatory detail, it was a fantastic breath of fresh air.

    I dare anyone to sit through the legendary boxing announcer Michael Buffer’s introduction of the grid and not feel even the slightest tingle of goosebumps. Sure, it was rough around the edges and some drivers (Daniel Ricciardo, Lewis Hamilton) got into it more than others did (Sebastian Vettel), but the concept was excellent not only for its pre-race hype but also for its local flavour.

    The Austin race is already famous for all things Texas — and America. Barbecue is in bountiful supply. Southern hospitality is turned up to 11. A US defence force rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner invariably precedes the race.

    I was even lectured, though not in an unfriendly way, about the benefits of Texan secession last time I was there.

    Added this year were Buffer and former president Bill Clinton, born in neighbouring Arkansas, alongside Texan actors Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson.

    It was a larger-than-life event in a style only America can execute, and that’s the key — taking all those good, renowned things from the host nation of each race and blending it together with the sport.

    Remember the ushanka hats that appeared on the first Russian Grand Prix podium or the sombreros that so excited at the 2015 Mexican Grand Prix? These are only minor kitschy examples — and Mexico injects its culture into its race similarly successfully without the hats — but they are starting points from which Formula One can enrich its schedule of otherwise samey events by emphasising its worldliness.

    Questions are often asked of those races that struggle to find traction in their local markets, in particular the various United States grands prix. Not every race can have a local driver nor be run on an all-time classic circuit, and in some cases — Sebastian Vettel and Germany, for example — these don’t necessarily have any impact anyway.

    But if more Formula One events were more colourfully tailored to their environments, if Formula One gave in completely to the local vibe and atmosphere as it did in Austin, then maybe the sport really can have its 20 Super Bowls envisioned by its new leaders, just as it did in Austin.

    Michael Lamonato
    Michael Lamonato

    Michael is one-third of F1 podcast Box of Neutrals, as heard weekly on ABC Grandstand Digital nationwide. Though he's been part of the F1's travelling press room since 2012, people seem more interested in the time he was sick in a kart - but don't ask about that, follow him on Twitter instead @MichaelLamonato.

    Oldest | Newest | Most Recent

    The Crowd Says (12)

    • Roar Pro

      October 24th 2017 @ 8:26am
      Darren M said | October 24th 2017 @ 8:26am | ! Report

      I think for the most part, the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park goes a long way toward meeting the carnival atmosphere, but in an Australian way. There is a definite event feeling at least at the track and surrounding suburbs (particularly at the local pubs). I don’t think a full on American style of event would work as well in Australia, or possibly most places in Europe. But for America if it gets people interested, then I’m all for it.

      • Columnist

        October 24th 2017 @ 7:12pm
        Michael Lamonato said | October 24th 2017 @ 7:12pm | ! Report

        The Australian Grand Prix does do a pretty good job, you’re right, but not so many other tracks do.

        For the record I don’t mean pulling those American-style showpieces at every race — they work in America precisely because they’re American — I mean having more locally inspired entertainment and events complementing the sport at each race to make every event feel more distinctive.

    • Roar Guru

      October 24th 2017 @ 8:51am
      Jawad Yaqub said | October 24th 2017 @ 8:51am | ! Report

      As you say Michael, if each event can keep to its location’s culture and bring out the best in that, then we will definitely have 20-21 SuperBowl style grands prix on our hands. Obviously no one would like to see every event utilise the same entertainment, hence making each grand prix unique and creating a sense of attraction to a particular event because of what it has to offer.

      It is so pleasing to see that at last the greatest asset of motorsport, in that it runs over an entire weekend be exploited wholly. Leave the on-track stuff to itself, but if the promoters can nail down everything else around it, then we shouldn’t see as many complaints about being trackside not having full value for the money you spend.

      • Columnist

        October 24th 2017 @ 7:14pm
        Michael Lamonato said | October 24th 2017 @ 7:14pm | ! Report

        Absolutely right — a Formula One or motorsport event really is like a festival because it’s a multi-day event. Making sure promoters are able to use all those days to leave an impression — something Ross Brawn was talking about on the weekend — is extremely valuable not just to the local audience but also to the show overall, which everyone else enjoyed from their living rooms or wherever on the television.

    • Roar Guru

      October 24th 2017 @ 2:05pm
      Bayden Westerweller said | October 24th 2017 @ 2:05pm | ! Report

      As long as everything is done in moderation, rather than some contrived instant gratification, each event can create its truly unique footprint. Cycling through various aspects of each nation and its culture rather than repeating the same act each season will keep the concept fresh.

      The bombastic nature of proceedings at Austin was certainly appropriate, that’s how they go about it over there, so long as it knows it’s place, there are plenty of other aspects to American culture which can be showcased at the next edition.

      • Columnist

        October 24th 2017 @ 7:17pm
        Michael Lamonato said | October 24th 2017 @ 7:17pm | ! Report

        I think F1 should go a little bit down the Olympics route in this respect — the sport is the sport, but the presentation and everything around it should be left up to the promoter to leave their mark and create their flavour. If Formula One facilitates rather than mandates, this should avoid it feeling contrived of overcooked.

    • October 24th 2017 @ 4:22pm
      brian drian said | October 24th 2017 @ 4:22pm | ! Report

      that pre-race stuff was nauseating, but i guess it works there, so why not?
      i just hope like hell they dont start doing it at other races!
      btw, the series could really do with an american pilot…

      • Columnist

        October 24th 2017 @ 7:22pm
        Michael Lamonato said | October 24th 2017 @ 7:22pm | ! Report

        I liked it! I thought it was fun. It wasn’t perfect — it was certainly on the long side and some fo the timings were a bit off — but, like you say, it works in America and it’s the United States Grand Prix. Hopefully other countries start to think about what they can do to build up their races in their own unique ways.

        Definitely a driver from the US is long due now, but it’s difficult to see where the next one will come from. There are a couple in F2 and GP3 at the moment, but there’s not much buzz about them other than Santino Ferrucci being a Haas-affiliated driver.

    • October 24th 2017 @ 11:48pm
      Beny Iniesta said | October 24th 2017 @ 11:48pm | ! Report

      Yes, but let’s be honest, Americans couldn’t give a stuff about Formula 1.

      • Columnist

        October 25th 2017 @ 11:17am
        Michael Lamonato said | October 25th 2017 @ 11:17am | ! Report

        I just don’t think that’s true. Formula One is obviously not the most popular sport in the US — it isn’t even the most popular motorsport — but grands prix in America have always drawn big crowds comparable to, if not larger than, European and other races. For example, the 2000 US Grand Prix at Indianapolis drew 225,000, which is probably the largest ever crowd for an F1 race.

        The problem is that F1 has never made much effort to talk to US audiences in their language. Sport culture is so significant there that you can’t expect to just rock up and not engage with it, which is so often what Formula One has done in the past. It’s a good thing that this attitude is changing now.

    • Roar Rookie

      October 25th 2017 @ 9:06am
      Jamie Mills said | October 25th 2017 @ 9:06am | ! Report

      As a huge fan of boxing and Formula 1, I must say I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Michael Buffer involved.

      As the festival feel does come through on television and is not felt only at the track, I think it’s a great way to showcase what each locality is about to a huge audience.

      Not only to get people more interested and excited about Formula 1, which is great, but for the promoters to get more out of it and really make an impact on the viewers and perhaps get people more interested in visiting their country.

      I went away from watching the US GP genuinely considering booking some tickets for next year’s edition. If that thought enters the minds of more viewers then it obviously works.

      Some localities will appeal more to each individual’s tastes, so, as you said, if each host puts their own flavour and injects their own culture into their event I think it would be a great thing.

      If each grand prix appears the same as each other pre-race and post-race then they might as well be just down the road from each other. They all have an enormous multi-day platform to be able to showcase what they have to offer and the more it starts to get utilised the better for all.

      • Columnist

        October 25th 2017 @ 12:45pm
        Michael Lamonato said | October 25th 2017 @ 12:45pm | ! Report

        Thanks for the comment, Jamie. I think you’ve got it spot on. It works for F1 and it works for the host country, state or city, which is investing money in the race exactly for this reason. To travel to a country and spend three days at a race track that could be anywhere in the world seems a bit wasteful, but if those circuits have more character built into them and make more effort to be part of whatever city they’re built near, it becomes part of the trip to that place and a more valuable experience. Hopefully F1 heads further in this direction.

    Have Your Say

    If not logged in, please enter your name and email before submitting your comment. Please review our comments policy before posting on the Roar.