Will F1 make a success of its return to America?

2012 United States Grand Prix

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F1 is back for another attempt to win over the American public. But will the Circuit of the Americas provide the springboard for success the championship is yearning for?


The major difference between F1’s tenth attempt at holding a race in America and those which have gone before is that in the Circuit of the Americas it now has a dedicated, purpose-built venue for Formula One racing.

Drivers have praised the track which already looks among the best recent addition to the calendar. Its impressive gradient, high-speed corners and ample character make it a venue worthy of a round of the world championship.

Since F1’s return to America was announced, some F1 teams have visited the USA for promotional activities. Red Bull visited Austin (as well as the planned venue of the postponed 2013 race at New Jersey) and McLaren did an event with Lewis Hamilton and NASCAR driver Tony Stewart.

There is plenty to be positive about in F1’s latest attempt to crack the American market.


F1 needs more than just a good track and an annual presence in America to gain major national recognition there. While local media have given considerable coverage to Austin’s race, it seems to have registered little more than a ripple country-wide.

Caterham’s American test driver Alexander Rossi gave some perceptive views on why F1 struggles to win widespread popularity in America: “Part of what makes F1 so special is the exclusivity and the mystery but at the same time that is the one thing that repels Americans the most.

“In NASCAR and IndyCar you can go into the paddock and the drivers are more human, they’re more approachable. Americans quite like to feel that they can be close to the people that they’re supporting but in F1 it’s very much an exclusive sport and the drivers are very much on a pedestal.”

F1 has made life more difficult for itself by scheduling its American round of the championship on the same weekend as the last round of the NASCAR championship. “We’re not involved in setting the calendar,” said Martin Whitmarsh at the team principals’ press conference yesterday, adding: “I think it appears to be a bit unfortunate.”

Nor had they realised that the FIA’s provisional calendar for 2013 has the Austin race clashing with the same NASCAR round. “To be honest I have to say that I didn’t know about that,” admitted Stefano Domenicali.

I say

F1 needs to be realistic about what it can achieve in America. It is unlikely to ever be able to rival the likes of NASCAR, even if America’s most popular form of motor sport has declined slightly in popularity in recent years.

Formula One already has a small but significant following in the USA. Americans are the second-largest group of visitors to F1 Fanatic by country and more people turned up to watch the first day of practice at COTA than for race day at Yas Marina. But there’s clearly a long way to go to make this a sport with major national recognition in America.

The teams who have made the most effort to promote F1 in America are those with sponsors connecting them to it: It’s a huge market for Red Bull and McLaren’s lubricant supplier Mobil 1. But where is the initiative from Formula One Management and the FIA to promote Formula One in this vital market which it has repeatedly failed to crack?

So far this year I have received 1,050 emails from NASCAR. The 1,051st dropped into my inbox shortly after I began writing this article. In contrast I’ve had perhaps a few dozen from the FIA about F1. And it’s not as if I run a site called NASCAR Fanatic.

NASCAR and IndyCar are so far ahead of Formula One when it comes to communication it’s embarrassing. The uptake of social media such as Twitter by F1 in recent years has been encouraging but again this initiative is coming from the teams, not FOM or the FIA.

The teams are doing what they can and COTA are straining every sinew to make the event a success, but I don’t see a fraction of that effort from the sport’s governing body or commercial rights holder. That has always been F1’s problem and there’s no sign it has changed.

You say

Do you think F1’s tenth attempt at breaking America will be a success?

If you’re in America, have you seen any coverage of the race weekend? Have your say in the comments.

Debates and polls

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Images © COTA/Rizzo, Tom Pennington/Getty

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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44 comments on “Will F1 make a success of its return to America?”

  1. So far this year I have received 1,050 emails from NASCAR. The 1,051st dropped into my inbox shortly after I began writing this article. In contrast I’ve had perhaps a few dozen from the FIA about F1.

    And that says it all.

    1. I always have to chuckle when people call Bernie a “visionary”; FOM is a relic from the Middle Ages.

    2. It says that a lot of fans probably set up all NASCAR emails to go in a junk folder.

    3. Sadly it really does. The fact that Nascar actually markets itself makes such a difference. Bernie seems to believe that F1 is something aspirational so shouldn’t whore itself out to just anyone when it comes to marketing (to the fans, sponsors is another matter!).
      I believe that NASCAR also has its own youtube channel.
      And it is near-on impossible for new fans to get hold of old footage of F1 as it is clamped down on so rigorously. Does FOM really think that stopping people casually browsing old F1 incidents damages sales of their fairly insipid end-of-season reviews, and also what about historic seasons such as the 1960s/70’s?

      Bernie may have been “visionary” when snaffling all the TV deals having understood the growth of television, however he has been sadly lacking when it has come to internet.

      1. Chris (@tophercheese21)
        17th November 2012, 12:55

        But in a sense, I really like that Formula 1 isn’t being “whored out”, simply because I don’t want the cars and coverage to eventually be drowning in sponsorship. Just like the Aussie V8 Supercars here.

        Everything in the V8’s has a sponsor. The cars are pretty much just a collage of advertisements.

        I.e. “The Pedders and Penrite Safety car”

        Or “the jack Daniels lap counter”

        It’s just unnecessary, and I’m glad formula 1 hasn’t gone down this road.

        1. You forgot to add “thanks to Shannons”

          1. Chris (@tophercheese21)
            17th November 2012, 14:15

            Exactly. Lol

      2. Correct me if I’m wrong, but FOM only owns the rights to the 1980-present material, anything from 1950-1979 is, well, “free”.

        Maybe a good sign are the recent documents like Senna and 1 (or whatever it’s called) where the creators were allowed access to archive footage. In the future maybe we could get access to some of this stuff as well.

      3. May I repeat again @james_mc, Bernie was not visionary with the TV deals, he was just lucky to have a product to sell when the technology arrived to transmit globally. What Bernie is really good at is negotiating deals to his own advantage, nobody can say that they made a killing out of a contract with FOM but sometimes wringing the last $ out of a partner and sending them bankrupt is not good business.

  2. I sure hope it does.

  3. No because F1 cars no more great as before and it is all about aerodynamics not power and machinery.

    1. Despite the fact that the track looks great (fortunately as it is brand new circuit), they won’t be that much overtaking and it could well be as a procession as in India. So, that is really what U.S. fans dislike and so it won’t be a success in that view, aswell as the marketing point (only McLaren made efforts) because that is the Nascar Sprint Cup Series Finale this day.

      1. they won’t be that much overtaking and it could well be as a procession as in India

        At least that fear got proven wrong today. The race was a big selling point today. But now FOM needs to follow up on that.

  4. really hope so, it has huge scope and there are places in america with a massive passion for cars and motorsport. Clashing with Nascar dont help but I think with the right marketing and some us talent or Perez f1 can a big splash in america.

  5. It depends on how you define success. I think it’s stupid to have the race on the same day as NASCAR (didn’t they just change date for Silverstone so it doesn’t clash with Wimbledon final?), but then again, how many of the usual NASCAR fans would watch F1 anyway? As the Friday’s attendance already shows, there’s clearly interest (like in Indy, was it something like 210,000 people in 2000?), they just need to do something with it; get a few American drivers, do some large promotional campaigns, get a proper TV coverage and so on.

    1. didn’t they just change date for Silverstone so it doesn’t clash with Wimbledon final?

      No, they were both on the 8th of July. I remember having to flick between channels to check how Murray was getting on but I lost interest after he lost the second set!

    2. It does depend on how you define success. Here are several definitions (not mutually exclusive):
      1) The track sold out, attendance was great, and the promoter made money.
      2) The race was exciting and fun to watch.
      3) The sponsors were happy with the coverage and reached their demographic.
      4) The free to air broadcasters had a good audience and made their advertisers happy; the pay per view broadcasters had enough audience to pay for broadcast rights and make a profit.
      5) Bernie made money (this always happens anyway).

      I live in the US of A and have followed F1 for too many years to even think about. I’ve attended GPs in the US and Europe. Will F1 be successful here? No way. There is no media coverage and no one even knows there is a race. In fact, almost no one over here knows what F1 is. If I were a sponsor aiming for the American market I would stop wasting money. Until F1 starts marketing themselves here any sponsorship aimed at the US is wasted. There is very poor TV coverage; I watch all the races on the interwebs. It’s pretty pathetic. I think F1 is too egocentric for its own good.

      1. +1 A quick Google search for F1 TV times provided zero national public broadcast stations with scheduled F1 airtime including Fox, NBC, ABC, and CBS. If there is, then it shouldn’t be that hard to find. Until advertisers want to pay for airtime on the big networks then this will continue to be a problem. Everybody seems to be trying to compare F1 to NASCAR but it really doesn’t help that qualifying is scheduled on Saturday which is college (American) football game day and the race is on Sunday, the same day as NFL game day. American football + NASCAR removes most of the people who might be interested in F1 if it wasn’t scheduled in Fall. Reschedule the race for spring/early summer in the US around the Canadian GP. You still have NASCAR to deal with but I would be surprised if even NASCAR fans watch every race during the middle of the season…

      2. SteveR is quite right, Bernie always makes money because Bernie makes sure that ALL expenses are somebody ellses problem, everybody pays to be involved in F1 except Bernie/CVC this is the main problem in F1 today.

    3. One level of success could be defined as being able to make your ticket sales work. From my two days at the track, I can say that the other American fans who were at the track were all super-knowledgable about F1. Even had an great chat about the old Toleman era with a couple of fans while waiting in line for the Lotus autograph session. I’d reckon that there’s enough of a hardcore fan base here that filling the seats for this inaugural race wasn’t an issue – we’ll have to wait to see the attendance figures at the third or fourth iteration of this race to determine if ticket sales are strong enough to be considered a success.

      Outside of the hardcore fan base who were at the race, F1 faces quite a bit of an awareness challenge. Apart from local Austin residents who were aware of the F1 circus hitting town, most people I spoke to in Michigan (being the motor city and all) didn’t seem to be aware of the fact that F1 was returning to the US this year. Like many others have pointed out, media coverage and clashes with other sports have hurt awareness of the USGP.

  6. I still remember going to cover a Indy race at Jacarepaguá track in Rio de Janeiro. The photographer from my agency was standing by me in front of the Newman Haas box when Michel Andretti showed up with the helmet on, got in the car and the mechanics helped him with the straps. But the he saw the photographer and inmediatly made a sign of “wait” with the hands and lifted the visor of his helmet (so the picture would to show the eyes). He waited ten seconds (i could hear the photogtapher counting…), and he closed the helmet and went.
    Let me tell you this by my own experience (i am a reporter and covered F1 many times): such a small but significant gesture will NEVER EVER happe in F1, even if you are a cool lad like Webber or Rubens. NEVER. EVER.
    As Keith says: it’s embarrasing.

  7. It will require a dedicated and concentrated effort to make F1 gain a strong and permanent following in America. However, this is going to be true for any new track. While I have no doubts that viewership will be high for this years race, what happens from the second year on will matter. Look at Korea and India. Attendance has dropped this year by quite a large amount. Agreed that with India it may not be too big to cause worry, but the sign is clear.

    I understand that the onus falls on the organizers to ensure attendance, FOM must find ways to make F1 more accessible to the public. Ultimately F1 will never always be about the races or the cars or the drivers individually but how they all come together to provide 3 days of entertainment to the public.

  8. Chris (@tophercheese21)
    17th November 2012, 12:47

    I think most effective way of Formula 1 succeeding in America will be through the media. Because according to the comments on James Allen’s blog, if you lived in America, and you didnt have internet access, you wouldn’t have a clue that Formula 1 even existed.

    It’s tough because the majority of the nation are too much in love with the ‘Big 4’ sports NFL, NBA, MLB and NASCAR, to even know about the happenings of other sports around the world.

    Of course this could change if TV stations would report more widely and more often on other sports instead of those four. Even though I’m a huge NBA nut.

    1. There are a dozen sports at least that get better coverage than F1, and that a fair number of poeple will watch a match or two of even if they don’t follow regularly. Hockey and golf get major coverage, everyone follows the grand slam tennis matches (men’s and women’s) and the triple crown horse races, college basketball and football are huge, but even the college hockey finals gets more attention than F1. I’m not in a racecar-friendly corner of the country, but I talked to a lot of people about the finish of the Indy 500 this year. Skiing doesn’t get a lot of airtime, but the top american skiers are household names, and the X-games take over ESPN for a week each season. No one watches Major League soccer, but it’s still better known than F1, and the men’s and women’s national team games are broadcast. The Premier league has a pretty big following and the Euro cup games were all shown live this summer. Plus various olympic sports like gymnastics and ice-skating that everyone follows once every 4 years. A lot of sports have made room for themselves. Some of them might be ignored if there weren’t high-placing americans, but men’s tennis and the premier league do without (the top US men’s tennis player is ranked 14th, I think the top Premier league team with american players is Everton) F1 isn’t fighting for 5th place, it’s failing out of the minor leagues.

    2. I always thought the NHL was America’s 4th most popular pro league, but I looked it up and estimates say NASCAR is indeed ahead and this year’s lockout isn’t going to do much good. F1 is nowhere to be found, but even a marginal share in the USA is probably worth more than a big share in many other countries.

  9. “In NASCAR and IndyCar you can go into the paddock and the drivers are more human, they’re more approachable. Americans quite like to feel that they can be close to the people that they’re supporting but in F1 it’s very much an exclusive sport and the drivers are very much on a pedestal.”

    This is one of F1’s major problems. The way F1 drivers are turned into corporate sponsorship zombies and are unable to sell there personalities is slightly distressing. I wish the drivers were allowed to be themselves, as I’m sure that would only bolster F1’s popularity among the general public.

    1. F1 can’t be like that though. NASCAR for all it’s greatness, is still only an American championship. It’s close to impossible to replicate that openness when you only visit the country once a year.

      1. @mike that’s a good point. Besides, almost all the drivers are American (if not all, not sure), so they have much more in common. They all live there, they are part of the American population, so it’s obvious they’ll always be much more closer to the public.

  10. I’ve always been very critical about how F1 handles the new stuff like Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and all. While there are tons of NASCAR and Indy videos on youtube, F1 constantly blocks them.

    Indycar even uploads the whole of the races to youtube. And that says a lot. F1 could well not do that, but they should at least upload highlights, onboard videos, interviews or whatever by themselves, so no random user would have to do it, only to get blocked by the site.

    The F1.com site is painfully outdated in comparision too. All that stuff works against F1. If I was an American and I was trying to take a look on F1 before buying my ticket to COTA, the chances of me finding something appealing (outside the torrents world) would be quite slim.

  11. I think it’s a real shame that the Formula One Teams Association has split up. Ferrari has such a strong car sales market in the US and having them on board to present a united front on behalf of all the teams would surely guarantee that the race at the Circuit of the Americas is a success. (I really hope this comment about FOTA and COTA wins COTD).

    1. @danielh, agreed, the teams should demand more of FOM after all they have to raise and spend hundreds of millions of dollars to provide the package that earns all the money only to have FOM siphon half of the revenue off to pay for the debt incurred to buy out Bernie. Unfortunately with the the sums of money involved it is to easy for Bernie to divide and conquer.

  12. Being a big motorsports fan i don´t miss any F1 race , Nascar or even other series so i was one of those you really liked the idea of F1 going back to the States but when i saw the schedules of both races almost at the same time it was like doing one step foward and another one back, it just doesn´t make sense, how can you call attention to an american fan doing that kind of stuff.
    we must understand that Nascar for US american motorsports fans will allways be their number one so they not going to switch off a nascar race to watch F1 just like us doing the other way around. I just hope tomorrow´s race will be exciting ( like abu dhabi for example ) that´s the only way the americans will pay a bit more of attention next year and maybe other US cities wont to join the circus.
    Finnaly great job and most of all the efort the texans put into their F1 track.

  13. Traverse Mark Senior (@)
    17th November 2012, 14:09

    Will F1 make a success of its return to America?

    No. Americans just don’t care about F1, just like us Brits couldn’t care less about NFL (the whole annual Wembley gathering is just a gimmick to please sponsors, honestly, no-one gives a flying fig!). This initiative to convert Americans to the dark side (F1) should’ve happened a long time ago, I fear that it’s too little too late…

  14. This might be somewhat tangential, but the discussion of relative degrees of accessibility reminded me: I went to Silverstone this year, and it was my first grand prix ever. I will almost certainly never have the opportunity to go there again. I did read through posts in the forum on this site, looking for first-race tips, etc., but I think I must have missed some important details — for example, the fact that there was going to be a signing session at some point during the weekend. I didn’t find out about that until I went back to my room the evening after qualifying, went on the internet, and saw various drivers and teams posting photos from the signing session. This was not mentioned anywhere in the official program; apparently, it was for those “in the know.” The same appears to be true of the Thursday track walk, which a friend told me about on the Saturday (“Oh, yeah, didn’t you know about that? Hm, I guess I didn’t either, until I went to Spa and my friend told me.”).

    Now, maybe with the amount of time I spend on the F1-related internet, I should have been in the know about these things, but I wasn’t, and why should anyone have to be? Why??? I’m guessing that at a NASCAR race, you don’t have to know the secret handshake in order to learn about where and when drivers will be signing autographs — they probably just make sure everyone knows about that! (That’s just a guess, though. Maybe someone will tell me I’m mistaken.)

  15. I don’t think it’ll be very successful because of the lack of television coverage. And I don’t just mean the race.

    Here in Canada, at least, the races are normally broadcast on TSN (essentially a copy of ESPN, but owned by Bell Media), but there’s never any pre-race or build-up. The broadcast picks up the world-feed with BBC audio about 5 minutes before race start and ends right after the podium. This is completely unlike NASCAR coverage on any of the major stations in North America. They find a way to have two hours of pre-race coverage and an hour of post-race. And that’s pretty much every week!

    But for this week in particular, TSN is not showing the race. The Canadian Football League playoffs are on. Now, TSN is the sole broadcaster of the CFL, and it has a much larger audience, so I’m fine with that. That’s the whole reason for TSN2. But TSN2 has the NASCAR finale. This kind of coverage issue, with two sporting events bigger (in Canadian audience) than the F1 race happened the weekend of the Canadian Grand Prix as well. That weekend, though, Bell showed the race on CTV. That’s like having the race on NBC in the US. A national network with a station in just about every major city. No cable required.

    But this weekend, there’s ANOTHER sporting event that will draw in a bigger audience. The NFL. The National Football League has a huge fan base in Canada. There are arguably more NFL fans in Canada than there are CFL fans (that might be an exaggeration, but not by much). Despite the same game being broadcast on FOX, an American network that’s carried by every cable provider in Canada anyway, CTV will be duplicating the FOX broadcast but with Canadian commercials.

    Nope, this weekend, the F1 race is being broadcast on CTV Two, a channel I didn’t even know existed before last night when I looked it up. I don’t have that channel. My cable provider doesn’t even offer that channel. The other cable provider in my city ALSO doesn’t offer that channel. The only way I could watch that channel is through Bell Satellite. So Bell has made it so the only way to watch the race live on television is to have satellite television from Bell. Unbelievable.

    One might think this would be a non-issue if I had SPEED. SPEED is available to me in one of the upgrade packages from my cable provider, and they’re broadcasting the race in the US, so if I subscribed to it, one would think I could watch it that way. One would be wrong, though, as Bell saw fit to blackout the channel for the two hours of the race so that it doesn’t draw audience away from a Canadian channel. Utterly ridiculous.

    Thanks for listening to my rant. I went a little bit off-topic, I guess, but I find it ridiculous that it’s easier for me to watch a race that’s on at 6AM than it is one that’s on at noon.

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  17. I think no, F1 will not make a success of its return to America.

    On the short-term, or initially, that is. By ‘success’, I mean a number of factors.

    Take TV viewers. I agree with the opinions that most of the American households, even if turning on to the F1 race will definitely switch to the NASCAR season finale – the fact that this is a finale, and a nail-biting one makes it even worse for F1. Viewer numbers are key figures and will be cited often, I think – and if it will be low, which is likely, the event will be deemed unsuccesful. Same goes for 2013 if the FIA will not change date for the race – I heard it will once again collide with the NASCAR finale.

    Take battles for the lead. As a lot of you has said, and as Keith mentioned in the article, a one-stop race is likely as is an umpteenth Vettel pole and a processional race is in sight. Worst case scenario – not that F1 can’t produce great battles for the lead, in fact I think a few, but main lead changes (such as Hamilton’s retirement in Singapore and in Abu Dhabi) is remembered and cherished more than the few dozen, but unfollowable lead changes and battles of a Daytona or Dega race. But certainly, F1 races can be considered dull for a pilot performance, if it will turn out to be processional. Just not the kind of first impression it would want, I think – I think F1 could have gained a lot of fans with Abu Dhabi or Valencia, IMO. Or NASCAR with Texas or Phoenix. All these events defined what the serieses are about.

    Only ticket sales and attendance, which I think is another key figure of measuring ‘success’, fared well, I heard. But if the excitement, described above will not be there, this could also go down rapidly in the next few years.

    Purpose-built circuit, good layout, promotional events? I think they will be weighted less. F1 abandoned a purpose-built circuit due to low attendance and/or financial issues before (Istanbul Park) and a good layout was not able to keep hold of a race before in America (Riverside, Watkins Glen) either. Promotional events could be key, but I agree that FOM should organise it more efficiently and not leave them to teams and sponsors individually.

    So my final verdict is no, I am sceptical.

    1. You are right, as usual the circuit owners have done everything asked of them but have been let down by Bernie/FOM who believe their responsibility ends once the contract is signed and the cheque is in the bank.

  18. How do you measure success? Are you trying to overhaul established sports or should you rather try and compliment them? I’d go with the latter. F1 doesn’t need America so let’s not pretend it does, sure it’s a bonus but by no means a necessity. F1 should be wary of trying to attract new fans by making too many concessions to them. I didn’t have F1 handed to me on a plate, I had to go out of my way to find it (not far admittedly) and wake up at all the hours God sends to follow it. Don’t treat the US fans like a charity case and don’t shamelessly plug the sport and warp it to fit one commercial entity. Let it develop of its own accord and evolve like any other sport.

    I think it will be a success if you can measure success by a consistent, if not small fan base.

    1. @andrewtanner, before that can happen the circuit owner has to be able to generate enough income to stay in business and that income comes solely from ticket sales AFTER they pay FOM 20-50 million dollars to race at their track.

      1. @hohum That’s up to them to source the revenue to fund it. Sure FOM and the FA can help but this needs to be self sufficient then grow.

        1. andrewtanner, Its hard to raise revenue when FOM wont allow you to display sponsors names, let alone advertising of any kind during a GP event.

  19. Unfortunately I do not think COTA will be a long term success. The race fee is coming from public money and that will always be a political football, especially for something “foreign” like F1. With the current economic climate and the animosity between political parties I can see these public funds drying up very quickly and COTA will have no way to pay for their race.

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