As the world moved into the 21st century more than 20 years ago, sports columnists called NASCAR “America’s fastest-growing sport.”
Now, that title arguably should go to another form of motorsport: Formula One.
Even a few years ago, the idea of F1 gaining ground in the United States would have been laughed at. Competing only on road and street circuits, the single-seater racing series has long been associated with Europe, the Far East, Mexico, Canada, South America and other global hotspots.
The American public only cared about stock car racing and the only single-seater race casual sports fans knew about was the Indianapolis 500.
But if Wednesday’s announcement of a part Formula One race on the famed Las Vegas Strip in November 2023 has proved anything, it’s that F1 has found a new home in America.
And it’s here to stay.
Las Vegas will be the third event in the US to join the F1 calendar, joining the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, and the new street race in Miami, which takes the green flag on May 8.
While Wednesday night’s announcement came as a surprise, planning for the race had been ongoing for several months. And it’s no surprise that Liberty Media, Inc., which bought ownership of the F1 Series in 2017, is based here in the good old United States of America.
In addition to three exciting events in the United States, American fans will soon have one of their own to root for on the track.
Twenty-two-year-old Colton Herta, already a star and proven race winner in IndyCar, will test a McLaren car later this year and is already one of the expected drivers for a potential new (or potentially merged) F1 entry. . by his IndyCar owner, Michael Andretti.
If Andretti’s foray into F1 happens, it will become the second American team in the series. The US also has an existing Formula One team in Haas F1, which debuted in 2016. Haas currently sits fifth out of 10 entries in the constructors’ standings after the first two grands prix contested so far this season. .
With the sudden influx of interest in F1 from US fans, teams and competitors, outsiders might be scratching their heads to see how such a foreign sport has suddenly become so popular in a country not traditionally known. concerned about international competitions.
The answer can best be described with three words: Netflix and ESPN.
Making its debut in 2019, Formula one: drive to survive has become one of the most popular shows on Netflix. The streaming service signed an exclusive deal to produce a documentary series providing a behind-the-scenes look at the sport the previous year, and the series has been credited with bringing new fans to the sport, especially here in the US.
Naturally, many of the new F1 fans created through drive to survive decided to follow the sport more closely.
As a result, ESPN arrives.
In the late 2010s, it seemed that the “World Leader in Sports” was about to leave motorsports altogether. ESPN did not renew his NASCAR contract at the end of the 2014 season, and his NHRA and IndyCar coverage concluded after the 2015 and 2018 seasons, respectively.
However, F1 came to ESPN in 2018, and the new broadcast partnership (which F1 offered ESPN for free) introduced a concept unknown to American sports fans: commercial-free coverage.
The partnership has clearly worked. Formula One is experiencing its highest ratings ever in the US. Last season was the most watched in US broadcast history, with an average audience of 949,000 viewers per race.
Last weekend’s Saudi Grand Prix was also the most-watched F1 race on ESPN since the network acquired the rights in 2018, and the most-watched F1 event on cable. since 1995.
The broadcast averaged 1.445 million viewers and led all of US cable for multiple key demographics, including the all-important 18-34 age group.
With ratings on the rise, multiple races in the United States, and the likely inclusion of an American driver and another American team, F1 will continue to enjoy growth in popularity here in the US.
One has to wonder what the rival and smaller NTT IndyCar Series will now do with F1’s biggest invasion of its American backyard. Rumors have swirled for years that IndyCar could hold a race in Europe: England’s Brands Hatch and Belgium’s Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, also known simply as “Spa,” have been rumored as potential IndyCar racing locations.
However, talk of a European IndyCar race slowed down considerably once the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In an Autoweek story earlier this week, IndyCar president Jay Frye said an international race was unlikely in the immediate future.
“Right now, there’s still enough opportunity for us in North America,” Frye told Autoweek. “To get to where we need to be or where we need to go next, really, the focus has been on North America.”
But with the news on Wednesday night, plus four of F1’s current tracks having host deals with the series set to expire at the end of the year, one has to wonder if IndyCar can suddenly dust off those European plans now.