Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Circuit of the Americas, 2019

F1’s US audience continuing to grow in third year under Liberty

2019 United States Grand Prix

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In the third year since its sale to American group Liberty Media, Formula 1’s popularity in their home market is rising steadily.

Last weekend’s United States Grand Prix highlighted the progress which has been made. A sold out crowd of 120,000 fans attended the race on Sunday, at which Lewis Hamilton won his sixth world title.

Circuit of the Americas chairman Bobby Epstein partly attributed the growing interest in the race success to the Netflix series “Drive to Survive” which launched earlier in the year. A second season is in production.

American television viewership has steadily risen since coverage of the championship moved from NBC to ESPN at the beginning of last year. From 2017 to 2018 viewership rose by 20%, and over the year to date all but three races have increased their viewership figures over last year.

This promising growth has led ESPN to extend their contract with Liberty Media through the end of the 2022 season. Sunday’s race, broadcast on ABC, was watched by 861,000 viewers watched, a 9% increase compared to last year.

Formula 1 has long wanted to crack the American market but the change in ownership three years ago has brought a new focus to their efforts. Robert Kubica says the difference to his visits to F1’s previous American race at Indianapolis, which ended in 2007, is clear.

“I don’t remember such a big interest or knowledge of the people,” he said. “Many people stopped me, they recognised me, they want a picture, which I was surprised about. Normally I would say F1 is not as popular but this is good. It’s a big country with a bit different culture of motorsport but still it is a big country and there are a lot of motorsport fans.”

Adding a second American race is a top priority for Liberty Media. Max Verstappen, who participated in The F1 Fan Fest in Los Angeles which took place before last weekend’s grand prix, backs the goal.

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“I think it’s good for the sport, the owners as well, they want more races I think in the US. What we’re doing, at the moment, is trying to make the sport more popular and more well-known in the US.

Circuit of the Americas, 2019
COTA saw its second-biggest F1 crowd last weekend
“I enjoy being here. It doesn’t matter if it’s in Austin or LA or Miami or wherever in America, I think it’s just a very cool place to be. I think one or two more races, they wouldn’t hurt, as long as they are exciting of course and a lot of fans are attending.”

However pinning down a location for a second race has proved difficult. An agreement in principle for a Miami Grand Prix on the 2021 F1 calendar has been announced, but faces significant local opposition. Efforts to bring about a return to Las Vegas, where F1 briefly raced in the earlier eighties, have so far also been unsuccessful.

“We’ve talked about adding a race here in the US, certainly that is something we’ve talked about for a while and we are actively engaged in a couple of opportunities here,” said Formula 1 Chairman and CEO Chase Carey last week.

“We think the US is an exciting growth opportunity and as we’ve done more in areas like the digital world, we can see there’s a lot more interest and a lot more fans here in the US than people would expect on the surface.”

Efforts to secure a second race may have received an unexpected boost this week following the unexpected news Penske has purchased Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

F1 raced on the road circuit at the famed oval between 2000 and 2007. Penske indicated he will look at whether the F1 race should be revived. As the only track in the country besides the Circuit of the Americas which meets the FIA’s standard for an F1 venue, this could prove a quick win for the championship to add its long-awaited second US round.

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Josh Holland
USA-based Josh joined the RaceFans team in 2018. Josh helps produce our Formula 1 race weekend coverage, assists with our social media activities and...

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31 comments on “F1’s US audience continuing to grow in third year under Liberty”

  1. Indianapolis Motor Speedway would be a perfect place for the second GP in the USA. However, the track layout must be carefully designed and Pirelli tyre testing must be done there. 2005 USA GP was a horrific misunderstanding that damaged F1’s popularity in the USA. Miami GP can wait a bit longer as there are too many uncertainties about it by now.

    1. The layout of the GP circuit was tweaked a few years ago when the GP track was added to the Indycar season. The banked corner has been cut in half effectively, so there’s no more risk for F1 tires there. The new layout also seems to promote better racing, at least from what i’ve seen in Indycar

      1. Thanks for the good news! Let’s hope for a soon F1 return to Indianapolis.

  2. I am not sure how the GP circuit of Indianapolis would suit the new cars, it was not a very special place in their last run there, but I am sure it will beat any streetcircuit around a stadium parking lot with regards to atmosphere!

  3. As far as I remember, the last time F1 raced at Indianapolis the race was, with the exception of the bit run on the oval, horrible — flat, boring and rather uninspiring. So, if F1 really wants a combined (road + oval), instead of Indianapolis, why not do it at Daytona? It’s a more interesting track, it would be different and never-been-done before in F1, and it’s a world-famous venue.

    But my favourite track would be Road America with its gorgeous setting and proper old-school layout. There’s a variety of corners, from slow to fast and flowing, elevetion changes and long enough straights for overtaking. Sure, the track probably needs a few changes to be F1 ready, like better padock facilities, grandstands, resurfacing, etc, but the changes would not strip the soul our of it.

    Unfortunately, Liberty seems set on adding US tracks that are in the middle of busy, well populated areas, like Miami. So, Road America seems unlikely, just like other legendary tracks like Laguna Seca or Sonoma.

    1. Not just the US. The move now is for tracks closer to the population centres. More paying customers, less carbon footprint.

      1. I wouldn’t give ESPN too much credit for the ratings growth. NBC is doing just fine growing IndyCar ratings. It seems to me start times have been much later in the morning than they were a few years back. That helps a ton.

        F1 back at Indy? Mr. Penske is too smart for that. The rest of the GP hosting world would be upset if they saw the deal he got from F1 to host again.

    2. @gechichan F1 couldn’t run at Daytona for the same reason Indycar don’t, Banking is way too high for that type of car & there is no road course configuration that cuts out the T3/4 banking.
      Indycar ran a ‘compatibility test’ in 2006 & the tyre loads were way too high to safely race there even with them using a shorter circuit that cut out the T1/2 banking.

      Road America is a non starter as it would need a lot of work. They currently don’t have any pit/paddock buildings, Virtually no spectator facilities & the local infrastructure is nowhere near been ready to handle the sort of crowds F1 would bring. And i’m not sure they could even make some of the improvements needed due to planning restrictions of the surrounding area.

      I think the IMS road corse is the only permanent circuit in the US that is ready & able to hold an F1 race with no work been required to track or facilities. Charlie Whiting said Watkins Glen would be ready with little work needed but I honestly don’t see that as that place is nowhere near ready for F1 & TBH I don’t think would even be suitable for modern F1 cars. Laguna Seca has good pit/paddock facilities but the surrounding infrastructure is nowhere near ready.

      There is a circuit in Utah called ‘Utah Motorsport Campus’ (Formerly Miller MotorSport Park) that actually has fantastic F1 level pit/paddock facilities & the ability to put up a lot of grandstands that would have very good spectator facilities & the circuit itself is rather good. They built the place looking at potentially going after F1 in the future so with some work it could get the required grade & easily pass all the FIA checks. Problem is the place hit financial issues & was sold at one point so now wouldn’t have the finances to get it ready to host F1.
      They held some ALMS races just after it was built but when the hit the financial issues they stopped hosting the bigger categories. It’s a shame to have this good track with some great facilities just sort of sitting out there.

  4. “Adding another race in the US is a priority”. OK, agreed, but don’t do JUST ANYTHING to have another race, or you will have a failure that will damage the popularity of F1 in the US!. A race in a FLAT PARKING LOT in Miami is a horrible idea!

  5. Not yet the fourth year, though. In September, three years had gone since LM first came in, and three years will have been passed in late-January since the ‘full’ takeover took place.

  6. However pinning down a location for a second race has proved difficult

    1. blasted commenting system… I meant to say it’s too bad there aren’t any fantastic road courses anywhere in the US /sarcasm Road Atlanta please!!

      1. That would be wonderful but as has been widely reported already, in it’s current state Road America would not be suited to stage an F1 race by F1’s current standards, so the track and it’s support infrastructure would have to be changed quite a bit and nobody wants to destroy this treasure as it is.

      2. There are many fantastic tracks in the US. Road Atlanta is one but IndyCar has never raced there as they feel it would be too dangerous, so I doubt F1 would ever consider it even with millions in upgrades. Road America is definitely one of the best tracks on earth, but would need many upgrades to host an F1 race and it’s in the middle of no where.

  7. They could spend 20 races a year in the USA and they won’t build a much larger audience. It’s a waste of time & money and dilutes the DNA essence of Formula 1. People in America don’t care about Formula 1, it is put on the last page of the Sports section in the newspaper. Let’s be real about the LA Live event, they barely attracted more people to the Festival than are regularly on Hollywood Blvd. on any given day. Plus, in the end it didn’t matter as, even the timing of it, was to get it on the 6pm newshour. Which it barely did, not many outlets beside ESPN partner ABC carried the story. Because this is not how they drive, the car is complicated and the sport is filled with foreigners with funny name. Plus, there isn’t an American beating everybody & reinforcing to the audience that they are part of the army of one. USA! USA! USA! Come on, real F1 fans all over the world, is this what any of us want for the sport that we care so much about??

  8. bring back watkins glen

  9. There are many fantastic tracks in the US. Road Atlanta is one but IndyCar has never raced there as they feel it would be too dangerous, so I doubt F1 would ever consider it even with millions in upgrades. Road America is definitely one of the best tracks on earth, but would need many upgrades to host an F1 race and it’s in the middle of no where.

    1. Richard Cantelo (@)
      9th November 2019, 10:43

      Yeah, Road America is a great circuit in need of modifications to host F1 races. Also greater public transport infrastructure would need to be in place….costing millions. So I”ll just drive it on my Xbox!

  10. Growth in the fourth quarter … that is what racing fans want! …. excuse me whilst I vomit.

    1. @nullapax – exactly. in between checking the rate on the 10 year convertible bond…

  11. I appreciate the efforts to add new races and the push into streaming and digital. But they gotta do better in ol’ fashioned broadcast television. Sky coverage is nothing if not comprehensive but we only get the barest of bare bones coverage on ESPN and ABC in the US. It’s essentially back to pre-NBC Speed Channel coverage except even they had a US-based broadcast team. I think you can safely say ESPN puts less effort into Formula 1 than Fox Sports does with Formula E. ESPN produces absolutely zero original content nor are we privy to the ancillary programming from Sky. I like Ted – give me some Ted’s Notebook on one of your many channels instead of the 8th SportsCenter before 10am. Practice, quali, and race only for F1 and F2 on the ESPN app (with cable tv subscription). And F3 is extra on top of a $150 monthly cable tv bill. It’s worse on the primary TV cable service. Some sessions are time-delayed, some not shown at all, almost none are shown on ESPN but spread across ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN News. Four races were shown on ABC this season, only three of them live. And you need both the app and the cable service. The app is higher-rez but you can’t pause or rewind live feeds and they disappear after a couple weeks, at least with the interface on my PS4. You also can’t save or record with the app, so you need the cable box, which has a DVR. It’s a mess. But I really miss the NBC programming around F1 – seeing David Hobbs drive the Gurney Eagle in a corporate car park, Steve Matchett’s tech segments, Sam Posey’s features. NBC’s coverage was like a cozy restaurant where they served you medium rare racing with accoutrements; watching it on ESPN is like walking into a Walmart and buying a can of F1. Disney can do better than this.

    1. Disney/ESPN can totally do better. Liberty Media should be upset with the job ESPN is doing. I have a Spectrum cable subscription and I now can not view/access FP1, 2, 3, Quali, or any F1 programs other than the race itself at weird hours.

      I also access the ESPN app via Rocku. I use to be able watch FP 1 & 2, Quali and 1/2hr pre-show race about a 1/2 day later after live but now they stopped showing them all together about three races ago and now get a message saying I need to upgrade to an even higher sports package if I now want to see them.

      They’re making it extremely hard to watch all the F1 in the US even though the content is available to show.

      ESPN only shows the extreme limited amount, just the race almost always not live or during normal hours and No re-broadcasts. It’s as if ESPN doesn’t care or doesn’t want to show it especially when you see the type of terrible content being shown on the multiple ESPN channels while F1 is on live like badminton or a corn hole tournament (I’m not kidding).

      Is F1 fan base that small in the US that ESPN would rather show anything else?

      Bring NBC back or anyone else for that matter if they’re willing to show more F1. I have no issue with SKY but I have zero love for ESPN and happy to cancel my sports cable subscription.

      1. I have Comcast and we get all the F1 programs. P1, P2, qualy, race on one of the ESPN channels. I agree that they should have a US broadcast team, but it’s fun to listen to the Sky team. The big problem here is the competition with college football in the fall. Plus as someone else said there are a ton of motorsports options all over the country, local and on TV.

      2. As a Spectrum Internet subscriber, I can relate. Further pain is inflicted that it was once TimeWarner Cable & over two years we never had a single issue. After Liberty (yes, the same) bought TWC outright, merged it with their Charter TV business & then re-sold the redundant TWC TV business, using the proceeds for their down-payment on F1, the re-branded Spectrum Internet regularly drops it’s signal at least once a day. And, from your experience, does not make it easy for a TV subscriber of this now cobbled together Spectrum to even watch the sport, that they also own. It really does seem that Liberty used F1 to acquire US based core-business assets that it had been coveting rather than buying F1 itself.

  12. Meanwhile in the UK… a Brit has just won a remarkable 6th world title and practically no one cares. People aren’t talking about it. People aren’t posting about it. The buzz and excitement has drained from the UK since the live coverage diapered behind a paywall which offers a poor value product, inferior to what we got for ‘free’ previously.

    I know Liberty have acknowledged this is not good for the sport in an indication that no similar deal would happen again, but that is years away. They need to act sooner, even if it is at great short term financial cost, before F1 becomes an utter irrelevance here with a whole generation of potential viewers lost.

    1. I agree, the pay-to-view business model doesn’t really makes sense except for the companies trying to charge the fee’s for it.

      In the UK and for any other major F1 viewer market with a decent economy should be able to have non-fee based coverage (at the least the basics). If F1 is as successful as we think, the viewership numbers being boasted and with the bright & popular future as Liberty Media is bragging about then shouldn’t F1 be treated the same as other popular tv sports?

      Unless of course, no one is really watching it? Then I understand having to charge to watch it like F3, Rally or Supercars etc as the viewing numbers are low and not enough to cover the costs but F1 should be doable, Right ?????

      How can F1 grow and increase market share when it’s contained within the small group that has to pay to watch it?

    2. It also doesn’t help that Mercedes and Lewis have been dominant for so long or that Lewis’ persons turns off a lot of would be fans. When Lewis was young and earnest people loved him. When he turned into a glitterati be turned off a lot of people. It also doesn’t help that all the drivers today, besides Daniel and Kimi, are about as interesting as soggy toast. And Kimi is interesting mostly because he hates doing media/publicity And now its most interesting and charismatic driver is stuck in a crappy chassis with a manufacturer that is probably the worst in the paddock at marketing and whose board wants out of F1. I like Vettel’s thoughtfulness when interviewed, but like Kimi, he wants to be out of the public eye. The remaining drivers are boring as hell. I route for Bottas, but imagine him as champ. He’d be terrible for F1 in terms of marketability. He has nothing to say.

  13. That’s troubling news that people in the UK have tuned out. Further declines are more likely, as the younger British driver’s are far from challenging for a title. A lot of younger people like Lando Norris, though many of them aren’t fans of the sport. Which is opposite to Lewis, who I do not believe was ever that popular in the UK, his highest profile being when partnered with Jenson Button. We all know the Sky deal was a Bernie and done for big money, when social media coverage was scant and heavily controlled. Apart from being at an event, it was once the next best thing. Not sure if that is the case anymore…

  14. It’s a Catch-22 with UK TV. The teams and sport need the revenue, but F1 needs to be available to the whole public to continue being relevant. Probably a hybrid model in which the top ten most popular races are free to air and the top ten least popular are pay package that hardcore F1 fans will all get. The problem too with pay TV is that I’m sure many people just easily get around it with pirated streams or downloads. I forgot what the situation was, but I remember there was one season where I had to download sessions all the time (I’m in the US).

  15. Also, F1 is soooo tiny in America, I can’t think what or why any city or state would get out of hosting F1 or why they’d ever pay the enormous hosting fee. If anything, only mid-range cities like Charlotte which are attracting business investment and a whole new demo of skilled, young and urban work force would get anything out of putting their name in lights. Only by alienating hosts who pay huge hosting fees and waving or drastically slicing the hosting fee for an American city, are they going to interest a glamarous city or convince a city to pay for track upgrades. And, the existing F1 base in America, I believe would prefer to visit a foreign GP than attend an American GP.

    BTW, I don’t think the article gave ESPN any credit. Only that they were impressed enough to actually bother extending the agreement. ESPN does absolutely nothing and I watch exclusively via the ESPN app because they’re terrible about even putting the sessions on TV and it’s almost always some hard to find ESPN 744 or whatever. I’m happy with sky team and if I want extra F1 features I just go to YouTube.

    1. That’s funny, I just got back from flying into Austin, paying a huge hotel bill, eating a ton of Texas barbecue, and attending a packed grand prix. Didn’t seem tiny to me, especially when our Uber driver got bribed out of picking us up and taking someone else back for more money.

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