F1 can kiss U.S. support goodbye as leader adds to list of offenses

OTHER VOICES

June 24, 2005|By Ed Hinton

AN OPEN LETTER to Formula One czar Bernie Ecclestone ...

Dear Bernie:

Regarding Formula One's despicable display at Indianapolis on Sunday, let me speak for America by borrowing from our late cultural touchstone Ray Charles: Hit the road, Jack. And don't you come back.

No American has loved the siren songs of F1 cars more than I. They are the loveliest, most high-tech cars ever. For the past 30 years, no mainstream American journalist has been a stronger advocate of, and apologist for, Grand Prix racing.

But enough is enough.

Take a hike, F1.

And Bernie, take your medieval sexist remarks about women and Danica Patrick with you.

Take your carnival - also known as the world's most glamorous, most popular form of motor racing - where the fresh suckers are: Beijing, Bahrain, Budapest, Kuala Lumpur.

Those guys don't yet realize their wallets are missing.

Tony George is desperately searching for his. Potentially, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway boss could be out $140 million before this is over.

Worse by far though, is your insult to the small but loyal community of F1 fans in this country. You've made them the laughingstock of their NASCAR-loving neighbors. The fans who traveled to Indy feel like they were robbed. They were.

Sunday's sorry promenade of six cars "racing," after 14 cars had parked before the start, was worse than if you'd just canceled the event. And "winner" Michael Schumacher dared to call this mess a Grand Prix.

How much did Indy fork over in sanctioning fees for this one race? Nearly $15 million, right? Now the class-action lawsuits have begun, seeking ticket refunds of maybe $13 million (that would wipe out any profits credited against the sanctioning fees) and claims for fans' travel expenses could top $125 million.

The Paris-based Federation International de l'Automobile (FIA), the world's governing body for all racing, is threatening to take the refund money out of the hides of the seven striking teams. But that pompous, bungling bureaucracy, plus the slowness of the U.S. courts, ensures that this will be an ugly mess for years to come.

What a place to show your underwear - right in the middle of the backbone for all your billions of dollars in sponsorships. What would you do without the American corporations?

Most of all Bernie, understand this: F1 is finished in the U.S. for a lot more reasons than the Indy debacle.

This was just the culmination of your own 27-year record of pillaging through the United States - a market you've lusted for, but never understood since you seized power in 1978.

Indy has learned the hard way what Long Beach, Detroit, Dallas, Las Vegas and Phoenix - American towns you've exploited through the years - already knew: You take everything, give nothing back, leave the local officials outraged and humiliated, and move on to your next victim/venue.

It's been that way since you deserted Watkins Glen, N.Y. - the only real home the U.S. Grand Prix ever had - because the village couldn't pay the exorbitant fees you demanded.

Then last week, you blamed Indy for the dwindling attendance, from 220,000 when you first revived the USGP there in 2000 down to 100,000 or so Sunday.

You said Indy doesn't know how to promote a race. But Indy has conducted a fairly well-known event called the Indianapolis 500 since 1911, 19 years before you were born.

By the way, twice a year, Indy hosts two American-style races, the 500 and the Brickyard 400, which draw 300,000 people each - larger than any crowd F1 has ever drawn anywhere.

But you couldn't stop with that nonsense. You had to offend women by telling a group of reporters at Indy, while discussing Patrick's sudden stardom in American racing, that "women should be dressed in white like all the other domestic appliances."

Then you made it a thousand times worse. You phoned Patrick, supposedly to apologize, and ended up saying the same thing all over again, directly to her, the Indianapolis Star reported.

You can take that rancid rubbish back to the medieval societies, Bernie. It wasn't funny in the least. It might play in Kabul, but not here. Maybe you can try it again when you emcee the wet-burqa contest at your first Grand Prix of Afghanistan - the sort of venue you're headed for at the rate you're going.

Ed Hinton writes for the Orlando Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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