For a long time, it was Indy car racing that set the hearts of American auto fans racing. But over previous seasons a new form of high-octane entertainment has started to make some real inroads too.

It may have taken some time for the Formula 1 carnival to come to town in the US – but now it has undoubtedly arrived.

There are a number of reasons for its growing popularity, but also a few warning signs that the American public might also turn away from the sport unless some fairly major changes occur.

The races

The F1 season now runs all the way from late February to the beginning of December. And, within that almost year-round schedule, there are now no less than three different races in the US that have established themselves in the calendar.

For 2024, May sees the first of these take place in Florida at the purpose-built Miami International Autodrome. This winding 3.36-mile circuit has hosted the race since 2022.

Then, in October, the action shifts to Austin, Texas and the Circuit of the Americas. This is the longest running of the races, the first being held there back in 2012.

Finally, late November will see the streets of Las Vegas come even more alive as the teams compete in the third-to-last race of the season. Inaugurated in 2023 this event had a few teething problems caused by raised manhole covers on the circuit with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz being the main victim.

Who’s watching?

As the sport has gradually gained popularity across the country this has been reflected in the numbers of people both attending the grand prix events and watching on TV.

In the case of the latter, in 2021 viewing figures averaged 949,000 per race. In 2022 there was a 28% uplift in this figure with over a million fans tuning in to watch the action. This figure was more than doubled for the 2022 Austin race when 2.58 million watched remotely and a record-breaking 440,000 people attended over the practice and race days.

High-speed drama

One of the driving forces behind the growing popularity of the sport in the US has come from an unexpected source.

In March 2019 Netflix premiered their documentary series Formula 1: Drive to Survive. This provided a behind-the-scenes look at a sport that many Americans were introduced to for the first time. The fact that we’re now up to series five gives a clear indication of its popularity.
One of the reasons behind its success has been the long-running rivalry between the Mercedes and Red Bull teams which gave season four of the series something of a soap opera feel.

For many seasons Mercedes, led by driver Lewis Hamilton, were dominant. But the last couple of years have seen Red Bull overtake them thanks to a better car as well as the genius of their lead driver, the Dutch Max Verstappen.

While the drivers battle it out on the track, the respective team principles, the cool and calculating Toto Wolff of Mercedes and the more emotional Christian Horner of Red Bull carry out a psychological battle royale.

It makes for gripping viewing, wherever your loyalties lie.

As well as this show putting F1 in the spotlight for Americans, the increasing availability of sports betting also means people are looking for alternative sports to bet on. F1 is an obvious choice and, with many incentives like for example, in Virginia, many betting operators offer sports betting promos to redeem on bets placed - there are some very compelling reasons to get involved.

The fact that there is now even an American driver and team to get behind – Logan Sargeant at Haas – may be an even bigger incentive to start wagering on the sport.

Looking to the future

However, there are a couple of red flags that some observers believe might mean that the sport’s popularity could start to decline.

Anyone who followed the 2023 season will be aware of Max Verstappen’s total dominance of the sport. In winning 19 of the 23 races, he smashed his own previous record of 15. While this is great for followers of the Red Bull team it doesn’t make for very interesting viewing.

Add to this that the Haas team has failed to make any major impression on the sport to date and these factors may well have a damaging effect among patriotic race fans.

On the plus side, a major movie starring Brad Pitt and being made by a production company owned by Lewis Hamilton is in the works right now. This promises to be a shot in the arm for the sport, especially as the person slated to direct is Top Gun: Maverick’s Joseph Kosinski. If anyone can make an already exciting sport look even more gripping, he will be able to.

So, it will be interesting to see where F1 in America goes from here. But, whatever happens, it’s sure to be quite a ride.

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