- Dan Knutson
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Judging by the reception Speed got from the fans and the media at the U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis, F1 has moved up a notch in popularity in this country.
But, in the longer term, it would be ideal to have a totally American team in F1. That's the view of Germany's Norbert Haug, who is the vice president of motor sports for Mercedes-Benz.
Haug met with select U.S. media for breakfast in the McLaren-Mercedes hospitality area at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on the day before the United States Grand Prix. ESPN.com was there.
A U.S. F1 team was just one of the wide range of subjects discussed.
"F1 should have an American team in a couple of years, with an American engine manufacturer and an American driver," Haug said.
Haug said such a team would raise the profile of F1 in the U.S. So, too, would a second Grand Prix in this country in addition to the race in Indianapolis. Haug said possible venues could be New York, Las Vegas or Detroit.
As for F1 czar Bernie Ecclestone saying F1 does not need to have a race in America, Haug says that was just Bernie being Bernie and using negotiating tactics.
"Bernie has a kind of British sense of humor that is quite special," Haug said, "and when it comes to negotiations, he says 'I don't need you' and that means 'I need you.' He is an expert in negotiating.
"You can say we don't need a race in the U.S., which in one way is the truth. You can say that about France or Germany or whatever. But is it the right thing to do? Definitely not. If I could develop prospects for the future, I would say that we need to have a second race."
While an American driver will help raise the profile of the United States Grand Prix and F1, Haug says the reverse is true, as well. An F1 race here will inspire American drivers, too.
"We used to run in front of 5,000 spectators in Spain," he said, "and now it is packed. Who knows, without F1 going to Spain, there might not be a World Champion like Fernando Alonso from Spain right now."
Born in 1952, Haug worked as an auto racing journalist before joining Mercedes-Benz in 1990. A longtime racing fan, Haug still recalls the day his wife casually dropped a bombshell that a famous driver was part of the family.
"My wife said, 'My sister is married to Dan Gurney,' and I said, 'What?!'"
Gurney raced against Mario Andretti, who was America's last world champion in 1978. Haug says Mario's grandson Marco Andretti has the potential to make it in F1 and should go to Europe to race in the feeder GP2 series.
"If he plans to go to Europe," Haug said, "that should be the next step. I think he is impressive and has the talent. It would be great if he would come over to Europe to learn more."
Speaking of links between the U.S. and Europe, DaimlerChrysler is currently the only manufacturer in both F1 and NASCAR.
"That is a very clear commitment to motor sport," Haug said. "It belongs to our heritage. No company has a longer tradition than ours, especially Mercedes-Benz, but also Dodge is a classic brand in NASCAR with the likes of Richard Petty."
Between Grand Prix events and attending the German touring car DTM races, which Mercedes is also heavily involved in, Haug is away from home 30 weekends a year, so he doesn't get a chance to go to NASCAR races. He once drove a stock car around Daytona, and he keeps in close contact with the Dodge guys in NASCAR.
With budgets up to $400 million annually, F1 is staggeringly expensive.
Mercedes-Benz has been one of the leaders in calling for costs to be slashed by 50 percent. Still, Haug says being involved in F1 pays very good dividends.
"We want to show our willingness to compete amongst the best manufacturers in the world," he said. "The manufacturers here in F1 build 50 percent of the world's production, and so this is a tough business to compete against each other."
Market research figures, Haug said, show DaimlerChrysler gets back "100 times more than we are putting in in terms of budget."
"You get worldwide coverage," Haug said. "That only works perfectly if you are amongst the best ones. If you use your presentation to show what you are capable of not achieving, that is not so good!"
Dan Knutson covers Formula One for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.