The Formula One world typically looks forward to the United States Grand Prix because Circuit of the Americas is known for producing exciting races. But the event seems to have taken on more of a central role in the 2017 world championship, as the sport is in the midst of a new kind of American revolution.
F1 has a checkered past in the U.S., but the sport seemingly is making headway stateside thanks to the influence of its new American owners, as well as American executives within various teams. What’s more, this culture change is helping the series ditch its reputation for being unaccessible among its established followers.
Ahead of the 2017 season, Liberty Media purchased a controlling stake in the single-seater series, and has pledged to enhance the spectacle that is F1. It already has implemented multiple changes to that end, drawing inspiration largely from ideas that American sports organizations employ.
To entice more people to attend events live, for example, F1 hosts concerts during race weekends, and now offers ride-alongs — something NASCAR long has done — using two-seater show cars. In addition, in the buildup to the British Grand Prix, Liberty conducted a live demo show in the heart of London, marking the first event outside of a race weekend that was attended by all 10 F1 teams.
Arguably the biggest change that Liberty has made to F1, though, involves its digital strategy.
Since former CEO Bernie Ecclestone’s forced retirement, F1 has amended its guidelines, allowing drivers and teams to post from within the pit lane during sessions. It even partnered with Snapchat to have six races appear on the app’s “Discover” page, allowing fans at home to soak up the race-day environment vicariously through people at the track.
Liberty’s efforts to “American-ize” F1 not only are aimed at broadening its reach abroad, but also at growing its fan base in the U.S. And two individuals in particular have helped with the latter, by catching the attention of avid American race fans: Gene Haas and Zak Brown.
The co-owner of NASCAR’s Stewart-Haas Racing gave Americans a home-grown team to cheer for in 2016 when Haas F1 Team entered the sport. His reputation in NASCAR gave Haas credibility stateside before either of its cars had ever turned a wheel, but the team’s success in its first season, and continued growth in 2017, have helped it become a well-respected independent operation.
Brown, by contrast, as McLaren’s executive director, has helped grow the established British brand stateside, in spite of McLaren-Honda’s woeful performance the last three years. And he did so by partnering with one of the biggest names in American racing to enter McLaren’s world champion driver in the “Great American Race.”
Fernando Alonso’s Indianapolis 500 bid ultimately has been invaluable for McLaren, Andretti, F1 and IndyCar. Michael Andretti and Brown’s working relationship has since spawned a 2018 entry in the Virgin Australian Supercars Championship in the form of Walkinshaw Andretti United, allowed McLaren to reconnect with part of its history by returning to the Brickyard, turned F1 fans on to IndyCar and vice versa.
Although F1 still isn’t nearly as popular in the U.S. as NASCAR, it’s making progress. After all, if Alonso feels so welcome here that he is using his one allotted helmet change to thank fans during the U.S. Grand Prix, F1’s American revolution clearly is having a noticeable impact.
Thumbnail photo via Red Bull Racing