What Formula 1 is Doing to Attract American Fans
Written by Morgan Holiday, Edited by Tanishka Vashee
Formula 1 has long been regarded as the top step of motorsport, the pinnacle of racing, the crown jewel of motorsport. And yet, so many average Americans have never even heard of this racing series, thinking of motorsport as purely NASCAR, and maybe Indycar. For many years, Formula 1 has struggled to gain an audience in the United States, but recently that has been changing. Thanks to many efforts by the sport, American interest in Formula 1 has been growing over the past couple of years.
One of the reasons Formula 1 has struggled to attract new fans is because of the complicated nature of the sport. Between all the technical regulations and the complex driver and team dynamics, it’s not something you can just jump into with no information. And so, Formula 1 found a way to give prospective fans an easy way to get to know the characters and rules of the sport through the Netflix show Drive to Survive.
The currently three season long Netflix original show has played a huge part in attracting American fans to the sport. Since 2019, American viewership of Formula 1 has increased by 41%, and it’s clear that Drive to Survive has had a huge part to play in that increase. Currently Formula 1 averages 946,000 American viewers per race, with no real reason for such an increase other than the Netflix show. Drive to Survive, while criticised for its dramatization by hardcore fans, provides new viewers with the background information that they need to fully enjoy a Formula 1 race, and pulls them into the world with its exciting depiction of the world surrounding the sport.
Another reason that Formula 1 has struggled to gain traction in the U.S. is because the vast majority of its races take place in Europe, and the time difference means that all those races are being broadcast at any time from 1am to 9am, not ideal viewing times. America currently hosts one race on the Formula 1 calendar, at The Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
But coming in 2022, Formula 1 is adding a new race into the calendar, at a brand new circuit in Miami, Florida. The Miami Grand Prix has been put in place by Formula 1 as a calculated measure to get more Americans interested in the sport. Having a second Grand Prix in the United States, especially a place like Miami, a city that could attract fans from all around the country, will undoubtedly boost awareness and support of Formula 1.
Formula 1’s CEO, Stefano Domenicali has said “The USA is a key growth market for us, and we are greatly encouraged by our growing reach which will be further supported by this exciting second race.” The inaugural Miami Grand Prix is set to take place on May 8th, 2022.
Formula 1 has also expressed interest in having an American driver, as a part of gaining a larger U.S. following. American drivers have always been few and far between in Formula 1, in fact, only 19 American drivers have ever started more than 10 races in motorsport’s highest tier. Mario Andretti, one of America’s two world champions, was the last American to win a race, in 1978. Formula 1 hasn’t had a driver race under the American flag since 2015, when Alexander Rossi took part in five races for Marussia.
It’s undoubtedly true that Formula 1 would benefit from the raised interest that an American Formula 1 driver would bring. Domenicali has talked about the subject, saying “We are working with teams to try to understand what is really the possibility for American drivers to come to the attention of Formula One teams in the short term”. Unfortunately for American fans, having an American driver in Formula 1 in the near future does not look likely. While teams could look to Indycar for drivers like Colton Herta, the truth is that the driver market has been overflowing recently, with not many teams looking for new drivers outside their current pool. Formula 2, the main series for Formula 1 talent spotting, has no American drivers currently racing, although Formula 3 boasts four Americans: Juan Manuel Correa, Logan Sargeant, Kaylen Frederick, and Red Bull backed Jak Crawford. While it’s true that the near future of Formula 1 and American drivers doesn’t look promising, between some talent in the lower categories and Formula 1’s dedication to bringing in American fans, it’s looking like it won’t be terribly long before there is someone racing under the American flag once again.
It would be remiss to talk about America and Formula 1 without mentioning the Haas F1 team, America’s only team on the Formula 1 grid. Haas is also the youngest team on the grid, having only competed since 2016. Owned by the American Gene Haas, the team saw a decent amount of success in its first few years, but has been clearly struggling since. Set to finish dead last in the championship this year, they’re hardly the picture of patriotism Formula 1 wants to market to prospective American fans.
Recently, there have been talks of new teams joining Formula 1; Audi, Porsche, and Volkswagen among the names being thrown into conversation. But there have also been whispers about Andretti Autosport entering Formula 1. Owned by the Andretti family and currently racing in seven different series including Indycar and Formula E, the American based team would certainly fit Formula 1’s agenda of attracting American fans. While Michael Andretti has stated that the team has no official plans to join Formula 1, it is certainly something they would be interested in in the future. Starting a Formula 1 team is no small undertaking, but should the Andretti group decide to test their luck, it seems likely that Formula 1 would jump at the opportunity to appeal even further to the United States audience.
With the highest tier of motorsport being almost unknown in such a large country as the United States, it’s clear to see why the people in charge have been putting such an effort to tap into the American audience. So far, they’ve had major success with their American aimed projects, and more U.S. related Formula 1 ventures seem imminent.