Canada has always played its part in the history of Formula One racing. The Canadian Grand Prix was first raced as part of the championship back in 1967, six years after its appearance. There have also been 15 drivers from the country, with the Villeneuve’s by far the most famous – and successful. But the US has not always embraced F1 as closely.
American motorsports fans have tended to concentrate on NASCAR or IndyCar in the past, while F1 had passed much of the country by as the NBA, Major League Baseball, and online Super Bowl Betting was deemed more important. But there has been a change over the last few years.
After years of Liberty Media, the owners of F1, wanting to ‘break’ the US, it is now a huge draw, with the top drivers known across the country. There are more American Grand Prix now than there have been since the early 1980s – and just about anyone who is anyone in the world of sports and movies wants to be seen at an F1 race. But how did this happen? And how far back does the relationship between the US and F1 go?
A Brief History
It may not have always seemed like it, but the US and F1 have been together from the very start. The first year of the championship included the Indy 500 as one of the official rounds. New cars specifically designed for F1 had to be built, meaning that many of the European constructors didn’t race at all. But for 10 years, the Indy 500 was an integral part of Formula 1.
After that the US Grand Prix moved around a number of different racetracks, making it by far the country to have held an F1 race in the most locations. In 1982 there were even three separate Grand Prix – a feat that will only be repeated this year. But, by the end of the 80s, American interest in F1 had waned, while NASCAR became the go-to motorsport.
A comeback in Indianapolis was planned in 2005, but due to a number of teams withdrawing because of tire problems, only six cars took to the track, causing fans to demand refunds and Bernie Ecclestone vowing never to return. It looked like the US had turned its back on F1 and even the return in 2010 of Austin, with a 10-year contract, didn’t seem to be changing anyone’s minds.
F1 in the US had been at a low ebb. But in 2019 Netflix released Formula 1: Drive to Survive, a behind-the-scenes documentary following all the action and intrigue of the 2018 Formula One World Championship. With access to the lives of the biggest names in the sport – and races in some of the most beautiful places in the world – the American public was hooked.
It is not an overstatement to say that the documentary re-ignited a love for F1 in the US and started off the popularity boost that is still rising today. Every season of the show has seen the ratings grow, alongside the number of people going to, and watching F1 races. ESPN’s ratings have risen dramatically since 2018 and now it is regularly drawing more viewers than NASCAR or IndyCar.
The Cult of Celebrity
European cities and Grand Prix have been used to the latest mega-celebrities being in attendance for decades. All the biggest names in sports and showbiz make sure that they are seen in Monaco and Monza – and it has been exactly the same in the Middle East more recently.
But the Miami Grand Prix earlier in the season showed that the races in the US are an even bigger spectacle for A-listers now. It didn’t hurt that Lionel Messi had just joined local soccer team Inter Miami and was making an appearance. But a whole host of Hollywood names and NFL and NBA stars were trackside to be seen – and to see what all the fuss was about.
The State of Play
As we mentioned earlier, this championship will see F1 visit the US on three occasions for the first time since 1982. But, where back then the Grand Prix shifted around the country, as the sport tried desperately to become popular and earn the love of the American public, now expanding the brand is the key.
Miami is a city perfectly suited to the glitz and glamor of F1 and has held a Grand Prix for the last two years. The US Grand Prix, the unwanted child of the championship for so many years, shunted from track to track, is now a fixture at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. And then there is Las Vegas.
Vegas Game Changer
Las Vegas has enjoyed something of a sporting makeover in the last few years. For so long a pariah of a city, without a pro team to call its own, and looked down on by the major leagues as a den of vice and therefore a public relations disaster waiting to happen, Sin City is not considered sinful anymore.
NHL was the first to arrive, with the Vegas Golden Knights turning the place into an unlikely hockey town. The Raiders were next, as the NFL finally relented and saw Las Vegas as a necessary city in the most popular league in the country. NBA tournaments are regularly held here and there is talk of either a basketball or baseball team – or both – coming to Vegas soon.
F1 didn’t want to miss out on the action and will now schedule the Las Vegas Grand Prix in November. It won’t be the first time there has been a race here. But it is likely to be one of the boldest and most glamorous on the circuit. It may have taken 70 years – but F1 has definitely finally arrived in the US.