For a long time, the United States of America was a dream market for F1 as a sport. Despite hosting several grand prix events in the vast country, the sport failed to build a core fanbase for the sport. With the success of Netflix’s docu-drama Drive to Survive, the current USGP witnessed an audience of approximately 400,000 attendees over the race weekend.
Since the return of the sport to America in 2012 at the Circuit of the Americas, F1 has had a slow progress with building its audience. The American dream for the sport has finally come true after the carnival-like atmosphere and full grandstands at the USGP.
The F1 USGP was a phenomenal success with a record audience of 400,000 fans
The current weekend’s record audience at the USGP has outdone its figures of its most attended pre-pandemic edition in 2018 by 51%. Race Day alone witnessed packed grandstands with 140,000 fans attending the event.
For F1, the US was often a difficult market in the past, given its own motor-racing events like IndyCar and NASCAR that were popular in the region.
COTA Track CEO Bobby Epstein spoke to GP fans saying,
“The fans showed up, they brought the energy and the life to it, and it makes a difference.”
“You have all the things planned and you envisage what might happen, but until the fans come and bring the energy it’s incomplete.”
Speaking of the success of the USGP, Epstein said,
“I’m not sure it was the biggest F1 event ever but I’m sure it was one of the greatest F1 events ever. We are focused on making it a great experience more than we are a big one.”
In the past, F1 in Mexico had a larger audience than the race in Austin, and the sport often struggled to grow its numbers in the US. Therefore, the current success was overwhelming for many, including Epstein, who said,
“What happened was phenomenal. It really exceeded our expectations. To every person that works here, it’s overwhelming that it feels so good”.
Did Netflix's Drive to Survive contribute to the success of USGP 2021?
Unsure whether Netflix helped grow the audience at their F1 event, Epstein commented,
“Would we have had that without the Netflix effect? I don’t know. But the event has legs. Netflix has just put rocket fuel on a fire that was already burning, and on top of it you have a real battle happening on the track.”
Sporting Director of F1, Ross Brawn wrote in his column on the sport's website:
“We’re seeing a very strong engagement with American fans now. For years, F1 was a cult hobby in America but we are now seeing a genuine increase in engagement.”
Describing the audiences at the USGP this time, he said,
“Fans know the drivers, they know the personalities, they know the nuances of F1.”
With a second race scheduled for the 2022 season in Miami, Brawn appreciated F1’s growth in the American market saying,
“It’s very exciting and I think it demonstrates F1 can comfortably have two races in the USA – and maybe more – because of the passion of the fans we’ve experienced this weekend.”
Brawn concluded by describing the F1 weekend’s experience:
“We love races like this. It’s fantastic to be so close to a great city like Austin, and great to see 380,000 fans turn up across the weekend and create a cracking atmosphere.”
The current success of F1 in the American markets has made the COTA race into one of its premier events on the calendar and one of the best transatlantic events. With two races scheduled in the US for the 2022 season, and talks of a third race being considered, the growth of F1 in the US is inevitable. Alas, its attempt at luring the American audience has been a phenomenal success.