Party in the USA: Formula 1-style

By Elaine Kharbanda

We all know the saying ‘go big or go home’ – and Formula 1 certainly doesn’t seem to be leaving its newest target audience, the United States, any time soon. From the inaugural Miami Grand Prix in May 2022 to the launch party for the 2023 Las Vegas Grand Prix six months later, recently Formula 1 has been pulling out all the stops for their American fans. The addition of the Las Vegas circuit will bring a total of three United States Grands Prix to the roster, with ultimately five out of 23 Grands Prix scheduled to be held in North America in the 2023 season. Of course, adding more races is a plus for all Formula fans, and the constructors have gotten in on the action, too, by increasing the events, launches, and partners focused on the US. But is Formula 1 just another American media trend, or are these foundations built to last? And what’s the impact of this increased “Americanization” on the sport and on American culture? The future of Formula 1 in the US is likely a combination of both, and an American long-time Formula fan shares her take.

It’s no secret that the hit Netflix docudrama series “Drive to Survive” caused the popularity of Formula 1 to skyrocket stateside and brought the sport to the American audience like never before. When the first season launched in 2019, the subsequent COVID pandemic gave American Netflix afficionados a chance to understand the pinnacle of motorsport like never before, and in a uniquely intimate way. Americans devoured the fast-paced series, and the numbers prove it – essentially every performance metric soared as Formula 1 established a foothold in American sporting culture. This makes sense: historically North American audiences have loved action-packed drama films – after all, The Fast and the Furious franchise is one of the top 15 highest-grossing franchises of all time in the US and Canada. Now put that in the format of an easily digestible recurring series, with a captive audience, and stars they can follow on and off the screen, and you seem to have a recipe for lasting success. After all, what’s not to love about the combination of glamor, drama, speed, and sport? And that’s not to mention the eye-candy in the likes of Charles Leclerc and George Russell that gave rise to a new subgroup of Instagram Grid Girls (and guys) doting on drivers – myself included.

As a result, since 2018 American viewership of Formula 1 races has increased by 110% by 2022, and a study from Nielsen shows that 34% of American Drive to Survive viewers became fans of F1 racing after watching the series. This suggests that a significant part of newly anointed American fans actually block out their Sunday mornings to watch the races, instead of being content to just participate in the peripheral drama and fanfare. Regardless, the major corporations involved in Formula 1 are giving American fans plenty to get jazzed about aside from the races themselves.

These American races seem to tactically play to the audience resulting from the Drive To Survive phenomenon – an audience focused on everything surrounding the racing, aside from just the racing itself. In fact, as I boarded the plane to the inaugural Miami Grand Prix last May, a fellow spectator informed me that the Miami race was commonly referred to as “a music festival, but with racing.” Not that that’s a bad thing – that sounds perfectly justified for a Miami audience! And of course, no one in their twenties or thirties can complain about the star-studded lineup including Zedd, Post Malone, Cedric Gervais, Tiesto, Maluma, and The Chainsmokers – not to mention the additional DJs headlining the pre-parties, after-parties, and parties-in-between all weekend long. Even the Las Vegas Grand Prix launch party in November 2022, a year in advance of the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix in 2023, was full of photo-ops with DJs, casinos, and nightclubs in addition to the likes of Lewis Hamilton.

Testaments to the power of the American audience keep coming in, and for the first time ever Oracle Red Bull Racing hosted the launch of the RB19 in the US – specifically, in New York City. And the cherry on top was the announcement that Ford, the all-American icon, will return to Formula 1 to partner with Red Bull in 2026. With Oracle and Ford taking front row seats investing in a Formula 1 team, it seems that major American conglomerates are betting on the fact that the American audience is here to stay.

The impact doesn’t stop with the festivities surrounding Formula 1, though. Prior to the 2019 season premiere, American viewership of motorsport could be found mostly at IndyCar and NASCAR races. The Indy 500, one of the classic American racing events, traditionally lacks this sort of over-the-top fanfare, but even so I wouldn’t be surprised to see that change to incorporate more peripheral events and fanfare, as the ripple effect of Formula 1 has even increased Indy 500 viewership by 36% over the last year, according to the Washington Post.

In the end, is increasing commercialization in America so bad for the sport? It provides a new economic avenue and entertainment value – and what’s so wrong with that? The secret’s out about Formula 1 in the United States, and once it’s out, it’s hard to put the cat back in the bag. Strategically harnessing American interest is also great way to broaden the reach of the sport, and the added fanfare increases the festivities. While original hardcore Formula 1 fans might not be thrilled about the rise of these less hardcore fans who are more interested in who Lando Norris is currently dating, it’s still a great way to spread the love of the sport. As long as the sport remains true to itself, the expansion of the industry is just a way to engage more fans and further diversify the experience, making Formula 1, the pinnacle of motorsport, available to all.

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Tim Silvey
Tim Silvey(@speedytim)
1 year ago

The US is finally loving F1!

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