Column | F1's surge in popularity could lead to a third US race

Column | F1's surge in popularity could lead to a third US race

05-11-2021 12:30

Formula 1 announced the Miami Grand Prix back in April, with a ten-year contract set to begin in 2022. The circuit itself will be located at the Hard Rock Stadium Complex in Miami Gardens, comprising 5.41 km of track, 19 corners, and three potential DRS zones. However, with F1’s surge in popularity stateside, there are rumors floating around of a third race in the US in addition to the events in Miami and Austin.

F1’s Increasing Popularity in the US

F1 has long been viewed as a Eurocentric sport, with nine of the teams being based in Europe and a majority of the races occurring there. The American market has generally been disinterested in Formula 1, instead preferring more regional forms of motorsport such as Indycar and NASCAR.

However, F1’s viewership has sharply increased in the past year. ESPN’s live coverage of F1 has averaged roughly 946,000 viewers per race, which is up a staggering 56% from 2020 and 41% from pre-COVID times. Both the French and British Grand Prix had more than one million viewers, setting records for some of the largest cable audiences in history.

What is behind this massive boom? Netflix’s docuseries Drive to Survive has certainly played a part. 74 million households in the US have a Netflix subscription, and Drive to Survive portrays the likeable personalities and intense dramas of F1 in a way that even new audiences can grasp.

ESPN’s director of programming and acquisitions John Suchenski commented on the importance of Drive to Survive to RACER, stating, “I think Netflix certainly hasn’t hurt, right? There’s no way to quantify it, but I think we all would agree that it certainly has helped. It’s brought in a more casual fan that probably was not even a Formula 1 fan. I see people posting on social media, athletes and others, saying ‘I was not a Formula 1 fan, but now I’m engaged and can’t wait to watch the next either episode or season of the Netflix series or watch our races'”.

McLaren CEO Zak Brown expressed similar sentiments in a media briefing, explaining, “It’s got to be the single most important impact in North America. Almost every comment you get out of someone out of the U.S., they reference ‘Drive to Survive.’”

Following the introduction of the Miami Grand Prix, F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali confirmed plans to expand in the US, with a statement saying, “The USA is a key growth market for us, and we are greatly encouraged by our growing reach in the US which will be further supported by this exciting second race.”

A Third Race in the US?

The 2021 US Grand Prix was tipped to be the biggest F1 event in history, and it delivered with record turnout. 400,000 fans flocked to the Circuit of the Americas over the three-day weekend, demonstrating F1’s ascent to popularity in the US. Coupled with record cable audiences, it makes sense for the organizers to seek a third race in North America. In conversation with Sports Business Journal, Stefano Domenicali stated that he “would not discharge [the] possibility” of a third event in the US.

What are the possibilities for the third circuit? Currently, there are only three circuits in the US that are certified Grade 1 (meaning that they are equipped to run an F1 race). Those three tracks are the Circuit of the Americas, the Miami International Autodrome, and the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 

F1 has already visited Indianapolis before from 2000 to 2007. Indeed, one of the most controversial races of all time took place there in 2005; only two years later, we were treated to an epic Hamilton vs. Alonso battle. The senior management of the sport have been in talks with the owners of IMS, although no deal has been signed as of yet.

Iconic tracks such as Barber Motorsports Park, Long Beach Street Circuit, Road America, Watkins Glen, and Laguna Seca are all certified Grade 2 by the FIA. Although they host events for Indycar and other racing series, drastic modifications would be necessary to not only the circuit but also the infrastructure to support a Formula 1 race. 

Currently, sources suggest that F1 is organizing private efforts with Las Vegas to host a race on The Strip. F1 has visited Las Vegas before, hosting two races in 1981 and 1982 in the Caesar’s Palace Car Park. The circuit itself was disappointing, hence why the race was axed. There are still a number of hurdles to address (such as the already strenuous 23 race calendar). If a deal is negotiated for 2023 or beyond, it will nevertheless be fascinating to witness the spectacle of F1 amidst the glamorous backdrop of Las Vegas.

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