In March of 2019, Netflix published a documentary series “Drive to Survive”. This show followed the 2018 Formula 1 season, and since that time two more seasons have been published. 50 million people have watched the series in 2021 alone. The aftermath of this sudden success is two American races being added to the F1 circuit in 2022.
NASCAR is the easiest example utilized to explain F1 to Americans. NASCAR and F1 are similar in nature but differ in technicalities. A NASCAR driver is enclosed in the car and the overall car weighs around 3,250 pounds. F1 cars are open and weigh around 1,500 pounds. F1 cars are built to optimize air resistance and focus on aerodynamic designs.
The shapes of the tracks are also different. NASCAR races are held in oval tracks meaning the driver never does anything but turn left. F1 tracks “can be any kind of shape as long as they eventually form a loop” according to F1 Chronicle.
NASCAR races include 330 laps around the track whereas Formula 1 races only consist of 78 laps. NASCAR cars make more pit stops and are allowed to refuel. Formula 1 cars make around two pit stops and refueling during a race isn’t allowed. 40 cars participate in each NASCAR race, where only 20 cars participate in F1. The true difference between the two sports is the fans.
NASCAR is a primarily U.S sport. F1 is an international sport with Grand Prix’s held all over the world. In an oversimplified example, if you curved NASCAR’s tracks, made the car more aerodynamic, and put the tracks all over the world with international fans you would essentially have F1.
F1 was formed after World War II. In 1947 the Federation Internationale de L ’Automobile or the FIA was founded. This group created races around the world called Grand Prix’s. The highest level was named Formula A, known today as Formula 1. When the FIA formed the only rule to participate in the races was that the engines couldn’t be bigger than 2.5 litters and had to be naturally aspirated. Since that time there have been countless regulations added to make racing fairer to smaller teams and safer overall.
The first official American F1 race that counted toward championship points was the Indy 500. Technically this is where America’s relationship with F1 started but most constructors didn’t travel to this race. Therefore, American drivers and constructors nearly always won.
For this reason, there are technically over 200 American F1 drivers but most only ever drove in the Indy 500. There are only two American’s who have won the Worlds Drivers Championship in F1 history. The Worlds Drivers Championship is awarded to the driver with the most points at the end of the season. Mario Andretti and Phil Hill are the only Americans to earn the title. In the last three decades, there have been nearly no American F1 drivers.
“The reason why this is is because it’s very difficult to convince parents to move their lives while their kid is 12-15 years old, drop out of school, for the most part, be homeschooled and go live and race in Europe,” Alex Rossi, current Indy Car driver, told the Motormouth podcast.
In America, there are many paths for kids who want to take sports seriously. Most sports can guarantee a child a full ride to a university if taken seriously enough. F1 would force a young kid to drop out of school and move to Europe to even pursue that passion. When they could have played basketball, soccer, hockey, golf, or even raced in IndyCar or NASCAR instead.
Most F1 drivers start “karting” locally when they are five. They compete with karts that their parents help construct and if they win races, they move up the “F1 ladder”. Young drivers are hopeful to get signed as a junior driver to a team like RedBull or Mercedes where they move up the ranks from F4 to eventually having a seat at F1.
Backing your home countries driver is a huge part of the sport. The 2022 World Champion Driver, Max Verstappen’s, home race was a flood of orange in support of his home country the Netherlands. For American’s to truly be sold into F1 an American driver will need to rise to success.
“Americans are very patriotic people, and it’s hard to get behind a German guy, a Spanish guy, a British or French guy, they want to cheer for an American,” Rossi said.
The most recent American to win Grand Prix was Mario Andretti. Andretti was born in Italy and became an American citizen in 1964. He won the 1978 Dutch Grand Prix.
“I think F1’s fanbase in America is somewhat understated, but it needs to be perked up – and the only thing it’s really missing is an American driver,” Andretti told Autosport. “We’d need the American driver with a top team, not in the back with no chance. If you could get an American driver in F1, producing results, you’d have America going crazy for F1.”
In 2017 Liberty Media an American Company bought F1 for 4.4 billion dollars. When they bought the league, they immediately changed the logo, had a producer compose a new fanfare, and increased their social media presence. The group also initiated the Netflix series “Drive to Survive”. All these changes were made to drive consumers to the platform. The company said when buying the platform their goal was to draw American fans.
F1 consists of 20 of the most advanced cars in the world driving 78 laps on the most challenging tracks in the world. It is one of the most expensive and intense sports and yet, American’s have let it slip through their fingers. As Liberty Media adjusts the league and American drivers are given a chance to join the sport, there is hope fans will grow in the United States.