Will Gray

Can F1 take shortcut to US success?

Will Gray

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Formula One will head to Texas to give the US Grand Prix another crack in 2012 - but what can be done differently to finally build a strong popularity in mainstream America?

It is clear from the comments of F1's leading drivers in Turkey on Thursday that everyone wants to make America work, not because they have a particular passion for the United States but because it matters so much to the businesses that run their teams.

Although F1's manufacturer presence has dwindled, most major sponsors are global companies or seek global brand awareness and many others could be tempted in if America was added to the list of nations where F1 brands can achieve strong cut-through.

"It's a huge market," said Mark Webber. "If it's of benefit for all of us to go there and hold a Grand Prix under their noses and for them to embrace Formula One racing as best they can - because obviously it's a different kind of sport for them - let's see how it goes."

And that, of course, is the big problem. It is a very different sport. And although F1 has many American fans, the mainstream population just doesn't seem to get it.

Most sports popular in the US generally involve close competition, thrilling rivalries, grandstand atmosphere and a nail-biting ending. And, where possible, an American hero. Formula One, right now, just doesn't have that.

Many would argue that it shouldn't change just for one country, but what if it did make a one-off concession?

When cricket turned to Twenty-20 to increase its popularity, it became an overnight sensation. It ignited interest from people who would never watch a one-day game, let alone persist in exploring the complexities of a five-day Test. Now, the die-hard fans still have their Tests and one-day games, but cricket has secured itself a new audience without losing its original support.

Perhaps, then, just for the new American race, Formula One needs to create something different.

Monaco is unique on the calendar, so much so that teams re-design their cars specifically for it with tighter steering and extra downforce add-ons, so why not allow another track to be created to suit its audience?

When Hermann Tilke takes pen to paper for the Texas track, he should listen to what the fans want - a atmospheric stadium section, maybe a fully banked corner and some clear overtaking opportunities. And then add the final piece of the jigsaw - a short-cut, as suggested by Bernie Ecclestone, to set up the chance of a last-gasp finish.

Add in a few one-off wild-card cars (the track could be designed to cope with bigger grids) draped in stars and stripes paintwork with American drivers at the wheel, as Ferrari recently touched upon, then maybe that could add another booster to Americanise F1 for a one-off spectacular - while still leaving the purist's sport for other races.

It could be tough to get the teams to agree, but surely the desire for brand breakthrough in America offers easy persuasion. "Red Bull sell a lot of cans over there," said Webber. "It will be good if we can sell some more..."

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