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U.S. goes from F1 wasteland to land of promise

Sauber Formula One driver Kamui Kobayashi (R) of Japan drives ahead of team mate Sergio Perez of Mexico during the second practice session o
Sauber Formula One driver Kamui Kobayashi (R) of Japan drives ahead of team mate Sergio Perez of Mexico during the second practice session o

By Steve Keating

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Once a Formula One wasteland, the United States is suddenly being viewed as a land of promise for the world's glamour circuit with F1 commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone calling for up to three races in the U.S.

After a five-year hiatus, F1 makes its long-awaited return to America this weekend, resurrecting the U.S. Grand Prix and along with it hopes that the series may finally be ready to conquer a market it has long coveted.

With the newly constructed $400 million Circuit of the Americas providing the spectacular beach head, a successful race in the Texas capital could pave the way for even more grands prix in the U.S. with possible races in New York and Los Angeles.

F1 teams up and down the Austin paddock could not hide their delight at being back in the U.S. while Ecclestone gushed a new found enthusiasm for a market he had once dismissed.

"The Americas are probably big enough to have five or six grands prix," Ecclestone told reporters. "We're trying to get something sorted out in New Jersey/New York, we've had a lot of requests.

"Maybe we can do something in LA (Los Angeles) in the future.

"It's a shame it (New Jersey) didn't go through as planned, it won't happen in 2013 and hopefully we can resurrect it in 2014."

Unable to find a permanent home, F1 has barnstormed its way around the U.S. with Austin becoming the 10th city to host the series after Sebring (Florida), Riverside (California), Watkins Glen (New York), Phoenix (Arizona), Dallas (Texas), Detroit (Michigan), Las Vegas (Nevada), Long Beach (California) and Indianapolis (Indiana).

But with the country's first purpose built F1 track already drawing rave reviews and a 10-year contract in place, the series appears ready to take up residence in Texas while looking to spread the F1 gospel to the rest of the country.

"It is imperative to stay here a long time and consider this as a starting point," Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali told reporters. "We have the duty to teach the American public the sport.

"For me the most important thing from now, this weekend forward, is to make sure our American friends speak about Formula One every day."

Teams would not be against three stops in the U.S., which is the biggest market for many outfits, including Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes Benz.

"It's crucial for Formula One to be a true world championship you've got to have a race in America, said Red Bull team boss Christian Horner. "For the first time ever we've got a circuit that's been specially made to bring out the best and showcase Formula One cars.

"It's a crucial race for Red Bull. America is Red Bull's biggest market."

Certainly, F1 will have to produce more than one good race weekend if it is to stake out a place on the ultra-competitive U.S. sporting landscape.

Ecclestone admits he does not know why F1 is so popular in some countries yet virtually ignored by others, including the U.S.

"It's a strange thing I don't no, no idea," said Ecclestone. "When I arrived here the guy at customs said, he had not heard of Formula One."

In Texas, NASCAR is king and it is likely more eyeballs and television remotes will be focused on Homestead, Florida where the Chase championship will also be decided on Sunday.

Forcing their way into the U.S. sporting spotlight will not be easy but it is fight F1 teams say they are up for.

"We have to make sure, as Formula One as a whole that we put on a show this weekend and over the coming years we build this into a fantastic event, which clearly the foundations are here," said McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh.

"This is the country of the automobile and we've never come here and done a good enough job to create interest.

"We have a very different product from NASCAR, I see NASCAR reaching their exciting finale this weekend which is an unfortunate coincidence but I think we have to work very hard to be as commercially smart as NASCAR to compete.

"We've got to now work very hard we sell it (Formula One) in America in a way we haven't done in the past."

(Editing by Julian Linden)

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