OPINION: America’s ready. Bring on F1 in Vegas

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OPINION: America’s ready. Bring on F1 in Vegas

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OPINION: America’s ready. Bring on F1 in Vegas

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I know these past 18 months have been strange times, but the last few weeks have been really encouraging to see from a Formula 1 perspective – not only the United States, but the Americas as a whole.

Fans had been starved of live F1 action since 2019, and they turned out in force at their first two real opportunities. After the reported 400,000-strong crowd at Circuit of The Americas for the United States Grand Prix, there was a further 372,000 in Mexico City for the following round.

Across the two events, that’s over three quarters of a million spectators pouring into a racetrack to watch F1, all in the space of two weeks.

Remember when COTA was worried it was going to lose the major Mexican fanbase that would make the trip to Texas to support Sergio Perez once his home race was added to the calendar in 2015? We’re long past those sort of concerns.

And that’s why the addition of Miami in May next year is clearly not going to be the end game for F1 in the Americas.

The timing of that new event helps keep the two U.S. races as far apart as realistically possible on the calendar, while also ensuring there’s a larger gap between Miami and Montreal than there currently is between Austin and Mexico. But there’s room for both, and on the recent evidence the States can handle even more.

It’s only fair to highlight Montreal and Mexico City in this discussion, because both races are massive events on the calendar and should not be compromised by the desire to capitalize on the interest from within the U.S., but F1 is definitely not resting on its laurels when it comes to its American expansion.

The past two races might have led to increased certainty within the sport that it can have multiple successful races in the region, but the wheels were already in motion long before that to try and add a third grand prix.

The crowds at Circuit of The Americas and Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez (above) have swelled attendance to over 770,000 across the last two F1 events in the United States and Mexico. Zak Mauger/Motorsport Images

There had been discussions with a number of interested cities across the States, but it’s Las Vegas that has emerged as the clear favorite to get across the line.

In Austin, Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei was understandably slightly distracted by the Atlanta Braves — another Liberty asset — making their way to the World Series, winning the NLCS just a few hours after the USGP had taken place. But while he was sporting a Braves shirt and face mask at the track, he was still discussing plans to pull off a race in Vegas during the weekend.

While Las Vegas’ state Governor Steve Sisolak had tweeted about his discussions with F1 prior to Austin, there are multiple reasons why the concept will have been gathering even more momentum in recent weeks.

Vegas has already been prioritizing sports in order to try and expand its appeal, with the NHL’s Golden Knights, the NFL’s Raiders and the WNBA’s Aces all giving Sin City its first professional sports teams in the past five years. While further expansion could be seen in the NBA or MLS in the near future, F1 would open Vegas up to an even wider audience.

While that’s not something that you might think Vegas needs, it’s about the image it is portraying. Everyone outside of the States knows Vegas first and foremost for casinos and The Strip. If you want to show that there’s more to the region than gambling, then you need a fresh way of drawing people in, and that’s the role that sports can provide.

With the recent successful events on the U.S. timezone, any desire from Nevada to get the deal done will only have increased, as they have been able to see the potential that F1 offers more clearly.

Only last week, Liberty also confirmed the interest in all aspects of ticketing for the Miami Grand Prix, with pre-sale registration suggesting they could sell the race out at least three times over. That’s not actually all that surprising for a new race, but it’s just further confirmation of the footprint F1 is gaining in the region.

And it could be as early as 2023 that we’re seeing a third grand prix in the U.S., which would be a lot quicker than it took to get that Miami event approved.

With Miami due up on next year’s calendar, a future race in Las Vegas could potentially mean three F1 events in the United States and five in North America. Charles Coates/Motorsport Images

The one danger of doing things so quickly is the potential damage to Miami early on as it tries to establish itself, but we’re talking about major cities that often compete with each other for sporting events, entertainment dates and the tourist dollar. They know how to identify a unique selling point and make it work.

As someone based in the UK, I often see the local excitement about Silverstone and focus on a big crowd in England, but both COTA and Mexico City always stand out as massive weekends that attract huge numbers. They feel like the kind of events Liberty Media wants to replicate 23 times over on the calendar, and they’ve shown exactly why this year.

Whether the Vegas project comes to fruition or not, all of the key indicators are showing that the sport can push ahead with plans for more U.S. races, rather than take time to consolidate after the addition of Miami.

Money obviously plays a part, but when we’re looking at the balance of a calendar and the markets the sport needs to be in, Liberty will be keeping its shareholders happy with its race-hosting fee income. But it needs to keep monitoring where else fan demand remains high.

After Brazil this weekend, F1’s about to head back to less convenient timezones for the American audience with the final three races taking place in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi (albeit all three finishing under floodlights to be a little bit more reasonable), and it’s clear that the Middle East has enough races for the crowds that it attracts.

Everything we’ve seen at Circuit of The Americas and the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez suggests F1 is a long way from a saturation point on this side of the Atlantic, so as the sport moves away and finishes the season, the hard work needs to continue behind the scenes to find ways of satisfying that appetite.

 

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