Formula One racing in the United States has had a chequered history over the years. 1908 saw the commencement of Grand Prix racing with the competition originally called ‘The American Grand Prize’. Later, this was to form part of the Formula One championship. Altogether there have been nine locations across the country to have had the priviledge of hosting Grand Prix races with varying success.
In 1959, Sebring International Raceway in Florida joined Indianapolis as the host of the second Grand Prix in the US in one season. This inaugural race saw the only win of the year for Bruce McLaren in a Cooper, the winning constructor that year. The following year, the venue for the US Grand Prix switched to Riverside Raceway in California, a race won in superb style by Stirling Moss in a privately owned Lotus.
Between 1961 and 1980, Watkins Glen in New York hosted the race providing the stage for many exciting races during its nineteen year reign. Ten weeks prior to the race at Watkins Glen in 1976, Niki Lauda had cheated death and been badly disfigured in a crash at the Nurburgring. Though physically scarred, he showed that his spirit and passion had not been affected, bringing the car home in third to stay ahead in a closely fought World Championship. His championship rival, and eventual winner, James Hunt, took the victory. Races at Watkins Glen were well attended in the early years, but this gradually declined due to deterioration of the track and lack of hospitality facilities. The infamous ‘Bog’ hospitality area was the scene of rioting, burning cars and rock pelting by drunken mobs of fans.
Following departure from Watkins Glen, other tracks were tried including Detroit in 1982 which was one of three US Formula One events that year. John Watson fought his way from seventeenth to first with some stunning overtaking and lightning progression through the field, leading to a championship fight with Keke Rosberg. A fight eventually won by the Finn. 1984 saw Dallas host the US Grand Prix, but high track temperatures plagued the race and ultimately caused its downfall, making it a Formula One one hit wonder.
Between 1989 and 1991 the Phoenix Street Circuit in Arizona provided an arena for the duelling Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. The Brazilian had had the upper hand for the majority of the 1989 season, but being a track new to everyone, Prost took advantage and overcame his team mate to take the victory. This circuit was unpopular with the drivers and the local crowd, with only twenty thousand fans present to watch a Senna victory in 1991.
Formula One didn’t return to the United States until 200o at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where Michael Schumacher accomplished victory or second place in every race he took part in. This circuit was the setting for the tyre farce in 2005 when, as a result of an explosion of a tyre on Ralf Schumacher’s car, Michelin discovered their tyres couldn’t go the distance in a race, having only a ten lap life. Deemed unsafe to race on the tyres, the race started with only the six Bridgestone runners.
Construction on the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, started in December 2010 and the track will hold it’s inaugural Grand Prix next weekend. It has all the makings of triggering a beginning of a new era of Formula One racing in the United States. Hopefully an era that is one of passion and longevity.