Formula 1 has a better chance than ever of cracking the American market now that DRS and Pirelli's tires have made the sport more unpredictable, reckons McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh.
The World Championship returns to the United States this weekend at Austin's Circuit of The Americas, five years after F1's last U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis. Whitmarsh believes F1 has had a sea change in its approach to entertaining its audience during its absence from the U.S. He thinks that change of attitude could be key to winning over an American racing market that has been primarily fixated on NASCAR.
"North American sport focuses significantly on entertainment," said Whitmarsh, "and Formula 1 over the years has probably not placed enough emphasis on that. Now, if you look at the last few championships, you've got a lack of predictability.
"Things like DRS, which the purists would never have accepted in yesteryear, was a right and appropriate concession to be made to the spectacle. Formula 1 is much more unpredictable and, as a consequence, much more entertaining than it was only a couple of years ago. We're not going to go quite as far as World Wrestling Federation-style sport..."
Whitmarsh feels the reasons why F1 has previously made few ripples in the USA are obvious and solvable.
"America is such a vast market, and it's such a car market – they love motor cars in North America, and I think we've got a product that's very different to NASCAR but ought to be able to conquer America," he said.
"We've failed to do so for a whole variety of reasons – we've been intermittent in our time there, we haven't focused enough on the entertainment as is necessary, we've generally been in the wrong place and we've done no promotion, so I think there's a great challenge but also a great opportunity.
"We have a product that can work there. At the moment Formula 1 is less predictable, and now is the time that we've got to go to America and work hard. We need North America more than it needs us, and therefore we've got to be prepared to work at it, adapt the sport if necessary but make sure we do everything we can so we can appeal to the American market."
He added that the impact of success in the USA on F1 could not be underestimated.
"You only have to walk up and down the paddock and look at the [sponsor] names that emblazon the cars, the garages and the team shirts," said Whitmarsh. "They're effectively the primary investors in our sport, and I imagine 98 percent of those names will put America in the top three of their major markets. So it's massively important."