The NFL. The NBA. MLB. Formula 1. Several years ago, it would’ve been ridiculous to juxtapose top-level Formula racing with some of America’s favorite pro sports leagues. Spa used to only mean one thing to most Americans, and joking about Ferrari’s clown-tier pit stop planning at the dinner table would be met with blank faces. Now though? F1’s earned its seat at the big table with all of America’s biggest sports. Need more proof? Andretti Cadillac has moved onto the next stage of becoming a real F1 team.
The FIA wrote in a statement, “Following the conclusion of a comprehensive application process for prospective teams seeking to participate at a competitive level in the FIA Formula One World Championship, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile has concluded that the application by Andretti Formula Racing LLC should progress to the next stage.”
While Andretti Cadillac still has to come to a commercial agreement with Formula One Management, this latest development is a huge step in the process of trying to field a scratch-built American F1 team, as it signified formal approval of intent.
So, how did we get here? How did Europe’s most exclusive motor racing series gain a massive American fanbase and attention from American racing teams? Well, the Liberty Media era of Formula 1 has something the series previously lacked: Accessibility. In the Bernie Ecclestone era, it used to be a huge pain in the ass to watch F1. Odd hours, odd channels, and virtually no effort to market the sport to Americans meant that it remained a sport for devotees, the sort of people who’d stay awake at ungodly hours to watch the Japanese Grand Prix and learn about developments from European sports websites. American media just wasn’t incentivized to give much of a shit.
That all changed in 2018, when American company Liberty Media brought F1 back to ESPN, opening Europe’s highest tier of open-wheel racing up to a broader audience. The sort that wasn’t so keen to ply through sketchy streaming sources or always be in the know for where to go (or have NBC Sports). This certainly helped, but the kick-start F1 needed in America was yet to come.
Love it or hate it, the real masterstroke was the soap-ification of the sport. Netflix’s “Drive To Survive” was a masterstroke, a look behind the scenes into the personalities and rivalries of Formula 1. It added a level of humanity to a previously inaccessible sport, then brought it to a wider audience while everyone was stuck inside with nothing to do. Oh, and then Formula 1 capitalized on this new audience by holding a Grand Prix in Miami.
Guess what? According to sports media outlet The Athletic, the Miami Grand Prix was the most-watched Formula 1 race of 2022, with a staggering 2.583 million viewers tuning in through legal American TV channels, and probably many more tuning in through illegal ones. According to NBC News, the 2022 American Grand Prix in Austin, T.X. “smashed the all-time attendance record for a race with 440,000 fans.”
Oh, and F1’s audience, particularly its American audience, is still growing. WTF1 reported in March that the fifth season of “Drive To Survive” was the best-performing yet, with a 40 percent jump in first-week viewing minutes. In addition, the 2023 season opener was the most-viewed F1 race on ESPN ever, with an average of 1,353,000 viewers tuning in on that channel alone.
Sure, it’s a sport made up of teams largely based in the United Kingdom or Europe. Sure, the only current American team, Haas, is comically near the bottom of the F1 ladder and would be there but for the grace of God (or the gracelessness of teams with names that rhyme with Alfa). And, yeah, there are way more Finnish drivers than American drivers in the sport. It doesn’t really matter. America is just one Olivia Rodrigo-level popstar dating Esteban Ocon away from completely taking over.
The latest Andretti Cadillac news is just more proof that Formula 1 has finally gained mainstream acceptance in America. Just like Major League Baseball or the NFL, a Grand Prix is just something normal people put on the TV these days. Hotdogs and apple pie are optional, of course.
Now, who’s staying up for the Las Vegas Grand Prix?
(Photo credits: Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1, Cadillac, BWT Alpine)
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