21st April 2021
On Sunday morning, before the trials and tribulations of an eventful Imola GP, there was only one talking point up and down the paddock. Formula 1 has finally delivered its long-anticipated deal – the Miami Grand Prix will join the calendar in 2022.
Billed by F1 President, Stefano Domenicali, as ‘the direction for a great future in F1’, there was a huge amount of noise about the announcement, with social media hype videos and Grand Theft Auto style posters galore.
It’s not the only new circuit to be recently announced. We’re off to Zandvoort and Jeddah this year, rumours around the Vietnam Grand Prix still abound, and the upended 2020 calendar saw F1 return to some of the most historic circuits, such as Mugello and Imola.
So, what marks out Miami as being so special and why is a second U.S. race so important to Formula 1?
When you think of Miami, what comes to mind? Sandy beaches, art deco style, Cuban cigars, multiculturalism, a place to see and, perhaps more importantly, to be seen. It’s a destination city. It naturally has that glamorous, monied Formula 1 ‘vibe’.
For any American viewers, and to an extent those outside the U.S., Miami and sport are synonymous. Adding Formula 1 to Miami’s sporting calendar feels like a natural step.
More significantly, Formula 1 considers the U.S. to be a key growth market thanks to the huge potential audience of over 320 million. Of course, there is already an existing U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, Texas but the hope is that an additional race stateside will ramp up the U.S. audiences’ interest. No doubt there’s a lot of money to be made from new advertisers, sponsors, ticket sales and merchandise across the commercial sport behemoth that is the USA.
Miami will be the 11th U.S. location to host an F1 race since the championship began in 1950 and, back in the late 70s and early 80s, F1 routinely had more than one American race take place. Yet despite this, America is still not one of the biggest markets for the sport and gaining traction is still considered to be a challenge. No country has had as many F1 host venues as the U.S., so it does beg the question - are American fans just really not that interested?
There are positive signs; whilst 2020 was an unprecedented year, Formula 1’s TV audience figures still showed a +1% increase in the USA with no local time zone events, and no US Grand Prix.
So, if Formula 1 has this market pegged as the future for the sport, what can they do to increase its presence beyond its commendable Netflix and social media efforts?
Well, an American F1 driver would certainly help to compete against NASCAR and IndyCar. Lewis Hamilton could bring the required star power, but he has not yet committed to staying in F1 beyond the 2021 season.
Spreading the races across the calendar would help extend the conversation in market, giving broadcasters and audiences more opportunities to interact and talk F1 beyond the window of the Austin GP. Speculation is already rife that one of the U.S. races could be positioned around the Canadian GP in June.
F1 could also throw weight behind the teams eager to engage with U.S. audiences – McLaren would be an obvious choice for an all-star activation given its presence in IndyCar.
Domenicali has confirmed that F1 is still looking at a 23-race calendar for 2022. The sport is also said to be eyeing a race in Africa and there are still questions around the not-yet-raced-at Vietnam GP, which would imply that a European track might be culled in favour of a second U.S. race.
New tracks may bring new eyeballs to the sport, but they also bring a large amount of risk. Will it be an exciting race? Will overtaking be possible? Is it all glamour and hype off-track but a snore-fest on track? There are already questions about whether the relocated Stadium track will be as exciting as the original circuit based around Miami’s iconic Bayfront area.
Besides Monaco, no fan wants to regularly watch a race where the F1 cars resemble the South West Trains Sunday service with overtaking only made possible thanks to the manufactured DRS zones; especially not having been treated to some of the most exciting and action-packed racing in recent times.
With 2020 TV audiences up +28% YoY in the Netherlands, +10% YoY in the UK, +71% YoY in Russia and up +5% YoY in Germany, and significant pay-to-view multi-year broadcast deals already in place across most markets, it’s going to be a tough job rearranging the calendar.
The U.S. might be the future but it’s going to be a careful balancing act to keep the series’ global audiences engaged.
Photo credit: © Formula 1