Until recently a parochial spectacle mainly associated with wealthy Europeans, Formula 1 has zoomed from obscurity to obsession in America. U.S.-based Liberty Media, which acquired the racing circuit in 2017, set about penetrating America’s consciousness through new events here. The sport has also benefited from a wildly successful Netflix documentary-style series, “Drive to Survive." The show reveals that open-wheel racing is full of glitzy drama in exotic locales; dashing young stars; and stimulating competition between them, their teams, and the high-tech grease monkeys behind their machines.
How Formula 1 zoomed from obscurity to obsession
In America, where auto racing has traditionally meant good ol' boys in stock cars turning circles on Deep South dirt tracks, F1's popularity is demonstrating an untapped appetite for twists and turns on urban streetscapes, creating fans who once thought auto racing wasn't for them.
According to F1, event viewership in the U.S. increased by 58% last year. And its sponsors are racing to the bank. The sports and entertainment consultant firm Navigate earlier this year published a study indicating that “Drive to Survive” generated $42.2 million in sponsorship exposure value in the first two weeks since Season 4’s release on March 11, with last year’s Constructor champion Mercedes team leading the way with nearly $6.5 million in exposure value for its main sponsor, the Malaysian energy company Petronas. Young-consumer focused brands like Gopuff and crypto exchange FTX have jumped on board recently, reflecting a “land grab” opportunity, notes the sports marketing firm FanAI.
Earlier this year, ABC’s telecast of a new U.S. race, the Miami Grand Prix, attracted record U.S. viewership. F1 is poised to renew its rights deal with ESPN for $75 million to $90 million a year through 2025, up from $5 million annually in the existing deal, Sports Business Journal reported. The sport is hardly tapping the brakes: Another new U.S. Grand Prix—which will set Ferraris, Red Bulls and Mercedes screaming at 200 miles-per-hour down the Las Vegas strip—is set for 2023, and “Drive to Survive” was extended for two more seasons.