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MIAMI – Driven by record ratings and new American races on the calendar, including the first Grand Prix in Miami this weekend, Formula 1 has never been so popular in the United States.
In a country where motorsport is very established, with the house disciplines IndyCar and Nascar, Formula 1 has long played “I love you, me neither” with America. But in recent years, the honeymoon is confirmed.
On the Formula 1 program since 1959, the United States have been absent from the calendar on several occasions. Back since 2012 in Austin, Texas (October 23 this year), F1 will experience a new playground in Miami (Florida) with, as a result, a commercial success: the places have all been sold (at a high price )…in less than an hour!
And the discipline does not intend to stop there: destination Las Vegas in 2023, for a third race on the calendar.
“It’s really amazing to see that we have succeeded and that there is a growing love in the United States”, rejoiced Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), seven-time world champion, who saw at the start of his career a “gap between the United States and the rest of the world, in terms of passion”.
The turning point dates back to 2017, when the American group Liberty Media acquired the commercial rights to F1, making the United States one of its priority markets.
Sport has been modernised, rejuvenated, via social networks and Netflix with the “Drive to Survive” series.
As a result, audiences in the land of Uncle Sam reached a historic record in 2021. The season attracted an average of 934,000 viewers per race, i.e. 54% more than in 2020 and well above the previous record (748 000 in 1995).
The United States GP welcomed a record 400,000 spectators in 2021 and recorded the best viewership of the year, with an average of 1.2 million viewers on ABCdespite the time difference (broadcast in the early morning).
For the epic finale of the duel between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton in Abu Dhabi, nearly a million Americans were there, compared to 523,000 in 2020 for the same race.
This growth “has had more significant consequences than an increase in the number of fans”, notes on SportBusiness.com Lizzie Isherwood, the agency CSM Sport&Entertainmentspecializing in marketing.
“From a commercial point of view, we are seeing a proliferation of American brands in F1,” she explains, estimating that of the 127 agreements of sponsoring across the entire F1 landscape last year, nearly 40% were concluded with US-based brands.
European races under threat
The calendar colonized, the public won over, all that remains is to have actors “made in the USA”. Because currently, Formula 1 has only one American team – the modest Haas, last in 2021 – and no driver. The last titled American dates back to 1978 with Mario Andretti.
The Andretti dynasty also intends to make its name shine again in F1 since the son, Michael Andretti, a short-lived former F1 driver and owner of the eponymous IndyCar team, is seeking to join the championship with a new team. With potentially an American driver, Colton Herta, who in 2019 became the youngest winner of an IndyCar race.
But this conquest of the west is not without turmoil. Some historic European circuits are under threat. The GP of France, Monaco or Belgium have not yet signed with F1 for 2023.
Competing with newcomers from America, Asia and the Middle East – who pay a high price for their arrival (55 million dollars per year for Saudi Arabia against only 15 for Monaco, according to the specialized press) – these circuits see emerge the idea of a work-study program, every other year, so as not to disappear completely.
“Obviously there are financial interests in going to new places, in the end F1 is a business. But for us (…) it is our passion”, recently regretted the experienced driver Sebastian Vettel.
“It would be horrible to lose some of the circuits,” said the four-time world champion, calling for “a mix of exploration, but also preservation of places that have a history”.