When Formula 1 returned to the United States in 2012, in Texas, the world’s highest class in international motor racing was taking a big step forward in a country it had abandoned five years earlier.
A decade later, F1 is here to stay in the United States.
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Sunday’s United States Grand Prix will fulfill F1’s initial 10-year contract with the Circuit of the Americas, and the series has a new 10-year deal for the Miami Grand Prix starting next season. New American fans were drawn to F1 by the Netflix “Drive to Survive” docuseries.
It took a decade for F1 to gain a foothold, even without an American driver, many insisted that the series had to survive in the United States in the long term. The thrilling championship fight between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen has been captivating and the sold-out crowd on Sunday is expected to be the largest in race history.
“Huge, huge F1 fan,” defending NASCAR champion Chase Elliott told reporters on Thursday while wearing a shirt supporting McLaren driver Daniel Ricciardo. “You know, it’s super fun to watch and they have a lot of traction right now.”
The addition of Miami to the calendar starting next May is expected to increase F1’s presence in North America to four stages: Montreal and Mexico City both return to the 2022 calendar, and Austin is among 23 dates announced even as President of the track, Bobby Epstein, is seeking a new multi-year contract.
“I’m pretty optimistic we will come to a new deal in the future,” Epstein said. “The track became the global brand we wanted it to be. The architects who designed it were right, the city as a destination was validated. There were a lot of people who doubted and couldn’t see why this would work in Austin. We have proven it to be successful.
Epstein even thinks there is enough interest in other stops in the United States. Liberty Media, a US-based investment firm, has been running F1 since 2017 and President Stefano Domenicali has recognized the country as a “key growth market”.
Hamilton said he was excited about the expansion.
“It’s such a huge country,” Hamilton said. “Having just one race here is definitely not enough to really be able to tap into the sports culture here and really wrap the fans and have them travel with us.”
Few would have expected the show to take off the way it did.
The Circuit of the Americas was just rolling through the scrubland outside the capital of Texas when F1 announced their return to the United States five years after the end of their eight-year run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It seemed risky to build a $ 300 million facility to welcome F1 and its open-wheel teams to a country where the NASCAR stock car series reigns supreme.
Texas lawmakers softened the deal by allowing Epstein and race promoters to dip into state money to cover F1 rights costs – a tab that stands at more than $ 25 million per year. Organizers have asked for $ 35 million in public funds for this year’s race.
Epstein turned race weekends into full festivals with celebrity concerts featuring Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake and Pink. Billy Joel is the headliner for Saturday night in the track’s huge infield.
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NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin, three-time Daytona 500 winner, complained about the sparse crowds during last week’s playoff race in Fort Worth. He suggested that NASCAR copy the festive approach of the United States Grand Prix to attract more fans.
“I would love to see us take a closer to F1 approach to a race weekend and how we do hospitality, parties, just all of those things,” Hamlin said. “There just has to be more to showing up and running like we are doing now. “
F1 drivers praised the Austin circuit itself and took every opportunity to take advantage of the United States while promoting the race. Sergio Perez kicked off the festivities last weekend with a demonstration in his Red Bull in downtown Dallas that drew more than 10,000 spectators. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly were seated next to the court for the NBA season opener in Milwaukee, and Mick Schumacher, son of F1 legend Michael Schumacher and American Team Haas driver, was at the Stewart-Haas Race booth at Sunday’s NASCAR race.
“I can see the passion for the sport is growing here which is great,” said Perez. “Five years ago it wasn’t as popular as you see it now. I think Formula 1 will only get bigger in the United States.
What the American market still lacks is a victory – even a podium – for an American driver or team.
There has been no American driver in F1 since the end of Alexander Rossi’s limited run with Sauber in 2015. He switched to IndyCar, won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie, and did not return to IndyCar. F1.
American businessman Gene Haas entered F1 in 2016 to expand his machine tool construction business internationally. He has so far refused to develop an American driver and is currently presenting cars for Schumacher, German and Russian driver Nikita Mazepin.
Haas chose experienced and financially supported drivers, although the result was five winless seasons without a single podium. Worse yet, Haas collapsed from a middle team in 2018 to last place this season.
Michael Andretti, son of former F1 champion Mario Andretti, has openly said he would like to expand the Andretti brand into F1 and will be in talks to take control of Sauber. The American even inquired about the possibility of getting Colton Herta in an F1 for the first practice session on Friday.
The 21-year-old Andretti star is currently in IndyCar and is expected to move up to F1 if Andretti gets a squad. Herta tried the development path of F1 and moved to London on his own at age 15, but was back in the US two years later when the opportunities did not materialize. He landed in IndyCar and became the youngest series winner at age 19 – on the Circuit of the Americas – in 2019.
The pursuit of one of the 20 places on the F1 grid is expensive and requires a massive commitment from the drivers from an early age. Perez was a teenager when he left Mexico for Europe to train for F1.
“(An American driver) would be nice to have, but from my point of view it’s very difficult to be successful in Formula 1,” said Perez. “We are the ones who have to get out of our homes and we have to do it at a very young age.”
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