The appeal of NASCAR has always been the access and intimacy that drivers share with their fans. NASCAR drivers can be approached at almost any time and can be propositioned for autographs, pictures and anything else they desire.
This is far from the case in the ultra-controlled Formula 1 environment here in Austin. Drivers have just a few seconds walk from the garage stall to their paddock quarters and fans are not allowed downstairs without special cause or occasion.
The situation is not much better outside of the venue. Fans had just one opportunity this weekend to get autographs and at the Ferrari tent, Fernando Alonso was made available for just 15-20 minutes for fans who had gathered outside up to three hours prior to his arrival.
Most of these fans didn't even get their favorite driver's autograph, something that they had to have looked forward to all year.
If Formula 1 is going to stick in America, this has to change. Americans will never accept that their favorite drivers are too busy to meet their fans. They are too conditioned from NASCAR and IndyCar. They'll flock right back to the familiar unless they are given a brief glimpse into the glamour of being a Formula 1 driver.
It's perceived as European snobbery on Formula 1's part and won't go over too well as F1 tries to establish itself in America in the long term.
Formula 1's most difficult challenge from a marketing standpoint is driver recognition. The sport often sells itself on the cars -- on Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren -- the driver is somewhat secondary.
Americans want to meet the stars -- to know them and pick a favorite. In Austin, 15 minutes is hardly enough.