When Liberty Media purchased Formula 1 they said they would like to bring more races to the USA and with last week’s announcement, they’ve done just that. With Austin still on the calendar and Miami added this year, the Las Vegas Grand Pix announcement last week will see three US-based races in 2023.
Austin is a purpose-built race track and Miami will be a circuit created around the Hard Rock stadium. Las Vegas will be a street circuit racing partially on the “Strip”. It will do so with a late start time of 10pm so unfortunately our European friends will once again be subject to what is typical for American viewers…very early morning races.
While most of the world enjoys a cocktail and a race, Americans have long associate Formula 1 with coffee and a race. Some Americans are very particular in which coffee they choose for which race.
Reading an article over at Motorsport, I was intrigued about the question of dilution with three races in the US. While many Americans were elated to hear that Liberty Media would try and expand F1 in the US, it seems that some are asking if the inclusion of three races is too much for one country to host.
As an American, I can say that three races is not too much from a racing standpoint in aggregate. We have many Indycar races, NASCAR races and even our our Paul Charsley, and the Heart of Racing team he works with, participate in numerous IMSA races here in the US.
The question was put to F1 boss, Stefano Domenicali, and he said:
“No dilution, it’s an added value for everyone, because we are hitting the different targets in terms of demographics and location,” Domenicali said.
“The beauty of the growth of our sport in this country is we are reaching a lot of young people that are starting to be thrilled by our sport.
“We have seen before our eyes the drivers, [they are] very young. They have the possibility of sharing through the social channels also who they are, promoting our sport.
“Through them, I think there will be a great connection to develop the sport in the right dimension with the right ideas.”
To be perfectly fair, timing is everything and much to F1’s credit, the Drive to Survive series that harvested the souls of numerous COVID lockdown bingers has seen immense growth in interest of the sport. Those who found the F1 world fascinating are now keen to see a race and experience what it is like in person.
I’ve not seen the metrics but my hunch is that they biggest growth in new fan interest may be in the US and that hasn’t happened to F1 since the days when Americans were in love with the European sports cars in the mid to late 60’s. There was also room to re-engage those who were invested in other series like Indycar, IMSA and NASCAR.
Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei applauded the three-race presence for the US saying:
“One of the things that is special about Formula 1 is the global nature,” Maffei said.
“The audience that shows up in Miami will be a global audience, the audience that shows up in Austin already is a global audience.
“I’m absolutely positive the audience that shows up in Las Vegas is going to be a global audience, it’s not just going to be a US audience.”
Our friend Greg is careful to suggest that these races would draw and international crowd and not just a bunch of Americans, and he is right. Having spent time at several USGP’s in Austin, it does bring an international crowd. With 400,000 at the last race in Austin, this is explosive growth that Liberty and F1 are trying to capitalize on.
That being said, F1 has always been interested in the US market but previous owners were lukewarm about what they would be willing to invest to grow the sport here. It wasn’t until the Netflix series that F1 invested ahead of revenue to try and create a much broader appeal in one of the world’s largest markets.
Having said that, what F1 does while it has America’s attention is the key. Stefano seems to rely on the young drivers, their social media and Drive to Survive to carry water for them. That may work but I would argue that they should take a deeper look.
There were many fans in America long before the Netflix series. I am one of them and have been a fans since watching Emerson hustle his Lotus 72 around the wet streets of Monaco when I was a very small boy. I am still a fan and have been all these years.
The question is, what kept Americans in a state of an engagement for all those years? How does F1 keep their new, much younger fans engaged for decades to come? The Drive to Survive stickiness will fade in time so how does F1 retain? That’s the key now.
Could three races be too many? Could it dilute the F1 appeal? In aggregate, as I said above, I don’t believe it will but if the races, circuits and amenities are lacking, it could place a residue on the sport.
Ease of access to the circuit, lodging, and other key elements are important but from a pure race perspective, if the street race in Vega or parking lot race in Miami isn’t that good it could be harmful to the series and not just in the US.
If there are three races in the US, that means there will be two less races elsewhere in the world because the calendar can only accommodate so many races. F1 said that with the influx of new races, some legacy circuits and other races are not assured in the future. That’s concerning. Especially if one of the US races is a boring ho-hum affair but it takes the place of a much more exciting circuit or race elsewhere in the world.
If you’re new to F1, one thing you may not be aware of is that F1 chases the money. It goes where people are willing to pay. Vietnam, China, India, Malaysia, South Korea, Turkey and other locations were all races on the F1 calendar and they no longer exist. At the time, the money was there to lure the sport in but it didn’t last and the series moved on.
What you will also find is that there are absolutes in F1 driven largely by fan appeal, history and driver affection. Circuits such as Silverstone, Spa Francorchamps, Monza, Monaco and Suzuka have stood the test of time and they are circuits that carry much weight in their legacy to F1 as well as challenge to the drivers that they tend to be “must-have” races.
In short, f1 will tap this new energy in the US and if it continues, they will mine the revenue they can capture. When that mine runs dry, they will move on just as they have done in the past with Detroit, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Dallas, New York, and others.
If I were working at F1, I would take a longer view of how to create fans for life, not just races for their ability to pay the sanctioning fees. F1 missed two generations in the US and they would do well to not miss two more if they truly want to build alternate revenue streams that are long term. They should do less strip mining and dig deep to find the mother lode.