F1 drivers: American driver crucial to US success

ISTANBUL (AP) — Formula One's drivers welcomed the return of racing to the United States, noting its success depends on putting an American driver on the starting grid.

F1 will race the United States GP in Austin, Texas, starting in 2012. Teams have pushed for a return to the U.S. market since the GP was last held in Indianapolis in 2007.

The deal includes the construction of a purpose-built track that will host the race through 2021.

"It has not fully arrived, but quite honestly you cannot expect those things to happen overnight," seven-time F1 champion Michael Schumacher said Thursday from the Turkish Grand Prix. "You have to give it continuation, and this continuation hasn't happened for a long enough time. Plus, maybe we haven't yet got a known or successful American driver in our group that would be quite helpful for this."

Scott Speed was the last American driver in F1 until Toro Rosso dropped him in 2007.

The race was dropped after an eight-year run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 2000-2007 with mixed results. The most notable blemish occurred in 2005 when 14 of 20 drivers pulled off the track before the race started as a protest about tire safety.

"We should never have stopped racing there," Williams driver Rubens Barrichello said. "Even though the fans don't know Formula One, it's a great opportunity to show them."

The announcement came as F1 traveled to Istanbul, a track that provides a stark example of how difficult things might be if an American driver not be found. Turkey is probably the least-attended race on the calendar.

"The Turkish GP needs Turkish drivers. The nationality is important — to have a GP you have to have at least one local driver on the grid," Spanish driver Pedro de la Rosa said. "I don't think the area is so important, but you need an American driver. More important is where are you going to find an American driver? The spectators will care."

Even without an American driver, the F1 could still count on support from Latinos in the United States and possibly draw fans from as far away as Latin America.

"If you think of how many countries like Brazil, Argentina — all those countries in South America — how many we had of those (fans) in Indy, then we should have even more, because logistically it's easier to go to Texas than all the way up to Indy," Schumacher said. "Certainly, it's one of the beautiful places around the world to go to and enjoy some good times, lots of great opportunities."

Marketing-wise, all teams stand to win.

"It's a huge market, we know that," Red Bull driver Mark Webber said. "We've seen in the past that it has worked OK at Indy, and it can be exciting in Texas, so let's see how it goes."