I followed the American-owned Haas F1 Team through its weekend at the only Formula One race in America: The United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas in Austin. This post is the seventh in a series.
Here are some “cleaning out the notebook” type items after a fun weekend in Austin:
Prior to Sunday’s U.S. Grand Prix, Michael Buffer announced the pre-race introductions and the drivers came out of a tunnel. If you’re a NASCAR fan reading this, you’re thinking, “So what?” After all, that’s pretty standard for NASCAR (even the Buffer part, since he shows up at the Bristol night race every year).
But it actually created a bit of a stir in F1, as evidenced by writers asking about the intros after the race.
To wit: Red Bull boss Christian Horner was questioned what he thought of all the pre-race “razzmatazz.”
“It’s America, isn’t it?” Horner said. “We’re under new ownership now. We have to be prepared to try new things. If that engages the American public, then why not? It didn’t detract from the race. It seemed to get the crowd excited prior to the grand prix.”
Still, Horner said that wouldn’t be a good idea before every race.
“I don’t think it would be everybody’s cup of tea,” he said. “I can’t see that working at Silverstone, for example.”
Lewis Hamilton liked the intros and said it felt like an NFL game. But then again, he loves all things America, so that might not count.
But Sebastian Vettel said those type of pre-race intros wouldn’t work elsewhere, like in his home country of Germany.
“I think Germans are very difficult to get excited,” he said. “I think Americans appreciate that sort of atmosphere and entertainment a lot more. I think Germans are maybe a little slower on that front.”
Give Haas a chance
You may have seen recently where Haas F1 Team owner Gene Haas said he wouldn’t stay in Formula One for long if he couldn’t win.
So I asked him on Sunday morning whether he really meant that or if he was just trying to send a signal to F1 that it needs to level the playing field a bit.
His answer? Pretty much the same thing he said before.
“Realistically, if I don’t have a chance to win, what am I here for?” he said. “And I’m not saying I want to win every race, but I just want to have a chance maybe in one race out of 20 to have the opportunity to be competitive. And we don’t have that.
“If we don’t have a chance of winning here — under some strategy or randomness or whatever — then yeah, I don’t think I’m going to run in the back forever.
“I’m not here to have a five-year plan of staying in the back. If I don’t have a chance of winning once in awhile or at least being competitive, I don’t think it’s really what I’d call a fair race. You have to have that chance.”
Haas, like some of the other mid-pack team owners, is hoping to see Liberty Media (F1’s new owners) get some new rules in place to help make the sport more competitive overall.
A possible spending limit has been discussed in the F1 world, just like it has in NASCAR (Richard Petty Motorsports owner Andrew Murstein recently proposed such an idea).
But I’ve always felt that wouldn’t work, because how would it be policed? You really think teams who try to find ways around every rule would be honest about what they’re spending?
However, Haas team principal Guenther Steiner told me Sunday morning there’s definitely a way it could be successful.
“There needs to be an outside accounting firm — one of the big ones — sitting in each team to control it,” he said. “I see it like this: The tax authorities know pretty well what we’re doing, so why would an outside firm not be able to do that? If there’s a will, there’s a way.”
He makes a good point.
NASCAR has the right idea
McLaren boss Zak Brown says NASCAR does a couple things (in addition to driver intros) that F1 could learn from.
First, he believes NASCAR does a good job getting the word out that a race is in town — something F1 doesn’t always do as an industry.
“You go to the China Grand Prix, leave the circuit, you’re in Shanghai — you don’t know there’s a Formula One grand prix going on,” he said. “NASCAR does a good job of lining up all their trucks outside the city and then they come in and it’s the ‘circus in town’ type of (thing). So NASCAR, there’s a lot to learn from the theatrical elements of how they put on a show.”
In addition, Brown says F1 drivers only have contractual obligations to their teams for appearances; there’s nothing required by F1 outside the track, like with NASCAR’s winner circle program (where drivers have to make appearances to promote certain races).
That’s something he’d like to see changed.
“Moving forward, so it doesn’t take out of our (appearances) allocation — because we need as much driver time as we can get — it would be a good idea that when a driver is issued a superlicense (to race in F1), with that comes a certain amount of obligation to the sport,” Brown said. “And then when the sport wants to go do a promotion in London or Austin, they can say, ‘You owe us six days as part of our superlicense contract.'”
So although F1 does some things better in terms of publicity (particularly in requiring every driver to speak to the media after a race), NASCAR is ahead of F1 on some other promotional aspects.