America Returns to Formula 1 with Scott Speed

NPR's Scott Simon talks to the editor-in-chief of Formula 1 racing magazine Matt Bishop about this weekend's U.S. Grand Prix. There is added excitement around this year's race as there an American driver, Scott Speed, for the first time in 15 years.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

There are some superficial similarities between Formula One Racing and soccer. The competition is fast, and it's popular around the world, and Americans have to be sold on it. The U.S. Grand Prix is held this weekend - do we say Grand Prix? - in Indianapolis. For the first time in 15 years, there is an American hope on the world tour.

We're joined now by Matt Bishop, who's editor-in-chief of Formula One Racing magazine in Great Britain. He joins us from WFYI in Indianapolis.

Mr. Bishop, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. MATT BISHOP (Editor-in-Chief, Formula One Racing Magazine): Thank you.

SIMON: Real naïve question. Stock cars, okay, we understand Indy has racing cars. How's Formula One different?

Mr. BISHOP: Like Indy cars, Formula One is open wheel, of course. So it's not like NASCAR in that way.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BISHOP: In absolute top speed, of course, they don't go that much quicker than your traditional open wheel cars. We're talking about 230 miles an hour. But the thing about Formula One is the breaking and cornering. Driver who's breaking from 220 or 210 miles an hour will hit pedal so hard, and it will be five Gs of deceleration, to the extent that the sweat that's sitting on his face as he breaks will lift off his face and splatter against the inside of his helmet visor.

SIMON: Ahh. Could you tell us about the American driver on the grid now? Scott Speed is his name. Like that name.

Mr. BISHOP: Isn't that the best name that a racing driver could ever have?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Scott? Oh, you mean Scott Speed. Yes, okay.

Mr. BISHOP: Yes. I mean, that is the racing driver from Central Casting, isn't it? But I think he is going to make it, as well. He's only in his first year. He's a rookie. And he hasn't scored a lot of points yet. And he's not in one of the quickest cars, but he isn't at all afraid of ruffling a few feathers. For instance, he had a big, big argument with David Coulthard, a veteran driver of more than 200 Grand Prix's, who made his debut in 1994. They had a disagreement on track and Scott, well, I couldn't possibly tell you what he said to him, because I'm sure this is a family show. But he said everything you can say.

SIMON: All right. I get the idea, I think. Last year at Indianapolis, the same race, only six of the 20 Formula One cars even got to the start. They had problems and had to be withdrawn. Did that hurt the appeal of the sport in the United States?

Mr. BISHOP: The problem was that the cars that had been equipped with Michelin tires were deemed not safe to race, because Michelin had gone too marginal. And in the end, you had those six lonely cars on the grid on their own. What we then saw - I hope it hasn't set Formula One back years and years in the States, but I wouldn't be too surprised it had.

SIMON: Could you mention two cars, two drivers, to watch?

Mr. BISHOP: Undoubtedly, the favorite for this year's race will be Fernando Alonso in the Renault. Don't forget Michael Schumacher, the veteran...

SIMON: Ahh.

Mr. BISHOP: ...the oldest, the most successful, and still the best driver on the grid. And he might well win.

SIMON: Matt Bishop, editor-in-chief of Formula One Racing magazine, thanks so much.

Mr. BISHOP: Okay, thank you.

SIMON: Gentlemen, start your engines.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Twenty-two minutes before the hour.

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