Stefano Domenicali’s theory on why Formula 1 initially failed to crack United States
Formula 1 may be enjoying a great popularity surge in the United States now, but that was not always the case.
The likes of Sebring, Watkins Glen and Indianapolis have all featured in Formula 1’s past visits to the United States, as has racing around the Caesars Palace car park.
Throughout though Formula 1 was not always finding it smooth sailing to nail down a consistent home and fanbase for their activity in the United States, and one event in particular served to greatly damage the relationship between sport and nation.
That was the 2005 United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis, where all Michelin tyre runners withdrew before the race start on safety grounds, leaving only six Bridgestone cars to contest the race.
However, all of that is but a distant memory now, with Formula 1 under the stewardship of Liberty Media having seen America very much get on board with the F1 circus, with the upcoming debut of the Las Vegas Grand Prix marking an increase to three United States-based rounds on the F1 2023 calendar.
The catalyst for this popularity boom was undoubtedly the emergence of Netflix’s fly-on-the-wall docuseries Drive to Survive
And F1 president Stefano Domenicali offered his opinion on why the sport’s past efforts to crack America went nowhere near as well as this.
“The reason why we have always been there but were not a great success was because we were too arrogant to pretend that the American fans would understand who we were without really taking the time to explain with the right language, with the right narratives,” he told Speedcafe.com.
“We’re going there for the weekend, three days, pretending everyone was really interested in us – big mistake.
“So we changed completely the other way approach.
“Of course, being an American company, we have the privilege of understanding better.”
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To that point of a reversal in approach, recently Red Bull principal Christian Horner branded Formula 1 the “Kardashians on wheels” these days as the entertainment side of the product beyond the on-track action grows in important with this new wave of fans.
And Formula 1’s first visit to the United States of 2023 for the Miami Grand Prix brought about a new initiative, one which did not go down well with most of the drivers, which was to give them their own individual pre-race introductions, complete with rapper LL Cool J on the mic, a live orchestra, entrance ramp and pyro.
But Domenicali pointed out that this is all about connecting with this new fanbase checking out Formula 1 to see if it is for them, and respecting that the American culture is not always compatible with just putting the F1 product in front of them and expecting that to simply be enough.
“We need to stay focused on understanding that the American fans have a different way of living the events and talking about Formula 1,” said Domenicali.
“We have the opportunity, now we are capturing new fans, much younger, more diversified, to get into the details of explaining what Formula 1 is.”
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Of course, Domenicali is fully aware of the “duty to respect our avid fans” in all of this, Formula 1 a sport that is now becoming less of a Europe-dominated entity, as alongside the increase to three US rounds, the emergence of the Saudi Arabian and Qatar GPs represent further steps into the wider market.
And with that does come the need experiment, though 10-time F1 race winner Gerhard Berger did recently warn Formula 1 not to “bend” its “European culture”.
“Now with Liberty Media at the helm, we have finally managed to get America behind Formula 1,” he said on ServusTV. “I’m happy for Formula 1.
“I say that Formula 1 basically has a European culture. You must not bend this culture. This pronounced show component of the Americans, which sometimes dilutes the whole thing a bit, I personally don’t like it that much – including the Netflix documentary.”
It remains to be seen how Formula 1 will continue to approach this balancing act, though there is now a wait until October before Formula 1 returns to the nation for the United States Grand Prix.