Formula One’s Unquenchable Thirst for the U.S.

The FIA and Formula 1 executives have always tried to gain a foothold in the U.S. for Formula 1, and recently, they have been ramping up their efforts.

Red+Bull+driver+and+current+championship+leader%2C+Max+Verstappen%2C+alongside+7-time+world+champion+Lewis+Hamilton.

Hakan Ekberg

Red Bull driver and current championship leader, Max Verstappen, alongside 7-time world champion Lewis Hamilton.

By Niklas da Silva Ekberg, Staff Writer

Over the past few decades, FIA and Formula One’s directors have tried to gain a foothold in America for Formula 1. Now with the announcement of two U.S. races for the 2022 season in Miami FL and Austin TX, and the exploded popularity of the sport thanks to its Netflix series in America, their dream may be coming true. 

Formula One’s growth in the U.S. hasn’t gone unnoticed, with the 2021 United States Grand Prix breaking the record for the highest attendance at a race weekend, reaching 400,000 people. Despite the success in COTA and the race in Miami being confirmed for the 2022 season, the FIA and Formula One’s directors want more. 

One way for Formula 1 to have a greater U.S. fanbase, is to have an American driver, and former Italian born, American racing driver, Mario Andretti, seems to agree. “Quite honestly, I think F1’s fanbase in America is somewhat understated, but it needs to be perked up – and the only thing it’s really missing is an American driver,” Andretti said. 

However, American drivers who compete in IndyCar and NASCAR have trouble getting into Formula 1, as the super license requirements disallow them to compete in the series. 

It is easier to get into Formula 1 from Formula 3 than from NASCAR, and it is easier to get to Formula 1 from Formula 2 than from IndyCar despite IndyCar having much faster cars. This system of points has drawn criticism from many American drivers including Andretti. 

Andretti does seem to be trying to get an American driver on the Formula 1 grid, as he was supposed to purchase 80 percent of the Alfa Romeo F1 team. The deal broke down, but this doesn’t mean Andretti won’t stop trying. “If you could get an American driver in F1, producing results, you’d have America going crazy for F1,” said Andretti. 

There is some interest for American drivers trying to get into Formula 1 from some Formula 1 teams. Williams Racing, a British Formula team, has recently signed American Le Mans and Formula 3 driver, Logan Sargeant into their driver academy.  

“Yes, Formula 1 would like an American driver and we would like an American driver, but at the moment obviously we are looking into it,” said team principal of the American based Haas F1 Team, Guenther Steiner, in an interview with F1 Paddock Press. 

I think the American market is big enough where if you have three Grands Prix there, it’s not at the saturation point”

— Otmar Szafnauer

The FIA are looking for than just American drivers to further their influence in the U.S., as they are also looking to have more U.S. tracks on the calendar. The Formula 1 calendar used to hold multiple U.S races back in the 80’s, however due to their unpopularity, Formula 1 tracks in the U.S. virtually disappeared for most of the 90’s. 

The FIA have made previous attempts to have multiple races in the U.S., including racing in a street circuit in New York in 2011. However, the New York Street circuit did not come into reality, as the track could not be funded and therefore cancelled. 

On April 18, 2021, it was announced that a circuit in Miami would join the Formula 1 calendar alongside the race in Austin Texas. “We are thrilled to announce that Formula 1 will be racing in Miami beginning in 2022,” said Stefano Domenicali, President & CEO of Formula 1. 

Two U.S. races on the calendar doesn’t seem to be enough for the FIA officials, as they have entered discussions with the Nevada Governor about having a street circuit in Las Vegas. “I’ve had the opportunity to meet with F1 leaders and I’ve appreciated their time on this topic,” said Nevada governor Steve Sisolak. 

There’s also support for the races from Formula teams as well. “I think if we were to add another Grand Prix—say we have three of them there (in the U.S.) and they’re spaced correctly—I think the American market is big enough where if you have three Grands Prix there, it’s not at the saturation point,” said Otmar Szafnauer, team boss of the Aston Martin Formula 1 Team, in a Zoom interview with U.S. Media. 

Thanks to the growth of Formula in the U.S by Liberty Media, Formula 1 executives see to capitalize on the growing Popularity. The future looks bright for American Formula 1 fans, with three races rumored to be on the 2023 calendar and Andretti’s interest in forming a Formula team. 

“There’s lots of other Formula 1 fans in the States. Drive to Survive being as popular as it is, I think that’s driven a much wider and more diverse audience. I think our product is so entertaining and enticing, once you start getting the flavor for it and start understanding it, then I think the Formula 1 audience in the States can grow significantly,” said Szafnauer.