Why Vegas is the ultimate differentiator for F1 in the US
This growth can be attributed to several factors, including the impact of the Netflix series Drive to Survive and the expansion of the US Grands Prix to include a second race in Miami and a third race in Las Vegas. In 2023, it also has the added value of an American driver in Logan Sargeant.
However, the series must still establish a foothold in a market dominated by the NFL, NBA, and NASCAR.
The impact of Drive to Survive
Drive to Survive has significantly impacted American perception of Formula 1. Released in 2019, the series takes viewers behind the scenes of F1 racing.
According to F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali, the series has been a “game-changer” for the championship’s popularity in the United States. The series has introduced many Americans and generated new interest among casual fans.
The storytelling in Drive to Survive has helped change the definition of a ‘winner’ for American F1 fans and expand what matters in the championship.
Race-day ticket sales for the first United States Grand Prix held after Drive to Survive debuted in 2019 rose 15% over 2018. Over 400,000 people turned up for last year’s US GP, and one million more watched it on TV.
In fact, the average race viewership in the United States on TV has gone from 607,000 in 2020 to 1.21 million in 2022.
With popularity and buzz comes the money from brands. American brands.
According to Spomotion Analytics, F1 is currently at 97 US-based sponsors in 2023, slightly down from 105 last year.
Zoom out five years and the US brand involvement has more than doubled. A 220% increase to be precise.
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18
Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images
The expansion of the US presence
Not everyone believes Drive to Survive is the primary driver of American success. While Mario Andretti has said this recently, he nearly predicted it if we go back to 2012.
Andretti believed Circuit of the Americas was what American fans needed to buy into Formula 1.
Andretti went as far as saying that it “is a world-class facility, a showcase. It competes with the classics in Europe and will provide stability that does not currently exist for Formula 1 in this country”.
Andretti added: “Formula 1 is, in every other country except the United States, the Super Bowl of that country. Here you have much more competition. And we didn’t have a lot of stability here since the Watkins Glen days… they were popular, but they didn’t have longevity.”
F1 has long struggled to gain a foothold in the United States, but expanding the US GP to include a second race in Miami, and now a third race in Las Vegas, is promising.
Understanding Las Vegas
The diversity of entertainment in Las Vegas in unparalleled, there’s no doubt about it.
Las Vegas has the gambling you’d get in Macau combined with the shopping in Dubai, the parties of Ibiza, the world-class cuisine from all over the globe, and the “anything goes” of Amsterdam all wrapped into one ideal package. There’s a reason people say three nights in Vegas is more than enough.
And for Americans, Las Vegas is that getaway, that escape. It’s extravagant, excessive and exaggerated. There’s a reason why it’s said that “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” The Las Vegas Grand Prix is poised to take American fandom to the next level.
It’s hard to argue with the reality of what F1 is doing: Las Vegas will be the epicentre of the new generation of F1. F1 is promoting this race and investing its money into developing a permanent space for F1 in America.
Logan Sargeant, Williams Racing
Photo by: Williams
The role of American drivers
American drivers have historically been few and far between in F1, and for the new Drive to Survive fans, they’ve never seen an American in the series.
The drivers’ title has been won twice for the United States, with Phil Hill winning in 1961 and Mario Andretti victorious in 1978.
Andretti was also the last American driver to win a race in F1: the 1978 Dutch GP.
And the last time an American drove in a grand prix prior to 2023 was Alexander Rossi at the 2015 Brazilian GP.
That’s why Sargeant’s presence for Williams is significant. It gives old and new American fans someone to wave the flag for.
The challenges ahead
Despite these positive developments, F1 still faces significant challenges in establishing itself as a major player in the American sports market. NFL, NBA, and NASCAR racing are deeply ingrained in American culture and have a considerable following.
F1 must work hard to differentiate itself and carve out a niche among American fans.
One possible way to do this is by highlighting the technology and engineering innovations that make F1 unique. Another is by continuing to increase American drivers and another American team.
But then we come back to Vegas. The ultimate differentiator for the American fan base. An event like no other. A yearly Super Bowl-like extravaganza with which no other sport can compete.