F1 in America will fail unless it does more to attract fans

F1 Grand Prix of Miami
Fans enjoy the atmosphere at the start during the F1 Grand Prix of Miami at the Miami International Autodrome on May 08, 2022 in Miami, Florida (Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images)

With a third race on American soil confirmed in the form of Las Vegas in 2023, F1 seems to have overturned the stigma it had going for itself in the United States to quite some extent.

Liberty Media taking over the sport from British business magnate Bernie Ecclestone in 2017 has a major part to play in this paradigm shift that has happened in the way the sport is perceived in the US. A bigger share of the pie, however, goes to Netflix for their runaway hit docuseries Drive to Survive, which has opened the sport up to an audience that previously did not care about motor racing as a phenomenon.

F1 has not had the easiest way into the hearts of the average US sports and racing fan. Having raced at 11 different venues across the vast nation, only a few races linger with good memories, with Watkins Glen International, Long Beach, and Circuit of the Americas being the most prominent highlights. The sport has prior experience running on street circuits across the country just as it aims to add another one to Las Vegas next year with the likes of the Detroit Grand Prix and the Caesar's Palace Grand Prix.

Drivers struggled to race in Detroit due to the extreme temperatures and the road surface disintegrating under their cars, whereas the Caesar's Palace GP was held in the car park of the famous hotel/casino. Talk about makeshift arrangements!

One of the most talked about incidents took place during the 2005 F1 US Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the sport was once again caught with its pants down. A total of 6 cars ran the race after the majority of the runners were unable to cope with the steeply banked last turn at the historic track. The disgruntled crowd booed the drivers and threw beer cans on the track.

Unsurprisingly, these past events were by no means resume-worthy for F1 and did not live up to the US market's expectations. In today’s day and age, the sport has mostly clawed its way back into the country and started to overturn its past image.

So how might F1 fail in the US with its current trajectory?

Anyone who looks into F1's plans for its future in the US of A can see what Liberty Media and are trying to achieve with the sport. The circus is trying to bring the party to fans by setting up street circuits in culturally significant hotspots such as Miami and Las Vegas instead of far-fetched permanent facilities.

While this does make sense for a lot of people, the by-product of this approach has come in the form of F1 not just marketing a race weekend, but a whole event, with parties, concerts, and exhibitions accompanying the race. This has caused a significant change in demographics for the events. People visited the 2022 F1 Miami Grand Prix for concerts and parties, not for the race itself. This phenomenon snowballs into rising ticket prices, with a focus on VIP appearances in the paddock.

An F1 weekend is a huge boost to the surrounding area's economy, with fans turning up in hotels and restaurants, which is great until we look at the other end of this double-edged sword. Hotel room prices skyrocket during race weekends like they did in Miami and are expected to do so in Las Vegas, a city that is the best place to go if you plan on gambling and staying in one of the casinos/hotels. It's referred to as Sin City after all.

This shift in focus from the purity of a race weekend that one might witness at a place like Circuit of the Americas or Spa Francorchamps, to the glitz and glamor of celebrities and A-listers might alienate die-hard fans of the sport. This also leaves a significant chunk of the population without access. Not everyone can afford a flashy vacation on the Las Vegas strip in a $150,000 hotel room accompanied by the view of a race from the balcony. Is F1 in the US trying to one-up the Monaco Grand Prix in terms of flashy glitz and glamor, or has it done so already?

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Edited by Anurag C