Danica Patrick may have to wait for Formula One bow
Formula One has never let the truth get in the way of a good story and the recent, somewhat feverish, speculation about Danica Patrick is a case in point.
Lewis Hamilton delivered the goods as the sport’s first black world champion and the next big breakthrough has to be getting a woman back onto the starting grid as a driver rather than parading in a swimsuit while clutching a pole with some man’s racing number on it.
The sport’s 78-year-old commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone may have won few friends in America some years back when he put it to Patrick that women should all be dressed in white like the other domestic appliances, but he is as keen on the idea as anyone.
Patrick, wonderfully photogenic and by far the most bankable driver in the U.S. Indy Car series, would certainly tick most of Bernie’s boxes.
So when the organisers of a proposed new USF1 team, planning their entry for 2010, hinted that they would like her to drive for them it was party time for the headline writers.
“Patrick’s star quality offers lifeline for flagging Formula One,” declared the UK’s Guardian, salivating at the prospect of the boys’ club opening its door to the glamour girl famed for posing in the Sport Illustrated swimwear edition.
“Woman driver set for F1 grid,” declared the London Evening Standard.
Whoah, hold your horses.
Firstly, team USF1 has yet to put any flesh on the bones of a website that is steadily ticking down to a promised launch next Tuesday.
They need to secure an entry, raise tens of millions of dollars of funding in the most hostile commercial climate since the days when Henry Ford was tootling around in a Model T and hope the rules change as well.
All this in a country that Formula One has struggled to penetrate and at a time when the sport has no races in North America and no U.S. drivers.
In the excitement, it is easy to overlook another rather fundamental question: Looks are all very well, and I can think of one or two male Formula One drivers who would definitely have been ruled out if that were a key criteria, but is Patrick actually good enough?
It may all run to plan but even under the most conservative estimate, those behind the team will need to raise at last $60 million to go racing and even then only if cost cuts are rammed through by the governing body to open up the sport to independent teams.
It’s not as if they are the only ones looking for sponsorship, however compelling their argument. All the teams are feeling the pinch.
Honda, who had also made vague overtures to Patrick in the past, struggled to find any significant sponsors as a full manufacturer team before the Japanese firm announced that it was quitting in December.
Renault, twice world champions, will be seeking a new title sponsor to replace ING at the end of the year while BMW-Sauber have a big empty space where Credit Suisse were once prominent.
They don’t call it the Piranha club for nothing.
PHOTO: IRL race car driver Danica Patrick arrives on the red carpet at the 2008 ESPY Awards in Los Angeles, July 16, 2008. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok