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Formula 1 has found its American barnum

Pdriven by a record audience for the last season of its series Drive to Survive On Formula 1, the streaming giant Netflix will return for a fifth and a sixth season, announced Thursday the video platform and the promoter of the world championship, Formula One.

“The series has grown in popularity over time, season 4 (released in March, editor’s note), reached the largest audience to date, entering the weekly Top 10 in 56 countries”, explained the two organizations in a joint press release. A timely announcement on the eve of the opening of hostilities this weekend on the other side of the Atlantic, in Miami for a formula that has always struggled to establish itself in the United States.

But with the new American owner of Formula 1, Liberty Media, things have already changed. Series Drive to Survive from Netflix has allowed a willingly esoteric discipline to break down barriers and reach the general public and younger generations. With record ratings and new American races on the calendar, including the first Grand Prix in Miami this weekend, Formula 1 has never been more popular in the United States.

In a country where motorsport is very established, with the home disciplines IndyCar and Nascar, Formula 1 has long played “I love you, me neither” with America. But in recent years, the honeymoon is confirmed.

On the Formula 1 program since 1959, the United States have been absent from the calendar on several occasions. Back since 2012 in Austin, Texas (October 23 this year), F1 will experience a brand new playground in Miami (Florida) with, as a result, a commercial success: the seats have all been sold (at expensive)… in less than an hour!

And the discipline does not intend to stop there: destination Las Vegas in 2023, for a third race on the calendar.

“It’s really amazing to see that we have succeeded and that there is a growing love in the United States”, rejoiced Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), seven-time world champion, who saw at the start of his career a “gap between the United States and the rest of the world, in terms of passion”.

Hearings at the zenith

The turning point dates back to 2017, when the American group Liberty Media acquired the commercial rights to F1, making the United States one of its priority markets. The sport has been modernized, rejuvenated, via social networks and Netflix. As a result, audiences in the land of Uncle Sam reached a historic record in 2021. The season attracted an average of 934,000 viewers per race, i.e. 54% more than in 2020 and well above the previous record (748 000 in 1995).

The United States GP welcomed a record 400,000 spectators in 2021 and recorded the best audience of the year, with an average of 1.2 million viewers on ABC, despite the time difference (early morning broadcast) .

For the epic finale of the duel between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton in Abu Dhabi, nearly a million Americans were there, compared to 523,000 in 2020 for the same race.

This growth “has had more significant consequences than an increase in the number of fans”, notes on Lizzie Isherwood, of the agency CSM Sport & Entertainment, specializing in marketing.

“From a business perspective, we are seeing a proliferation of American brands in F1,” she explains, estimating that of the 127 sponsorship deals across the F1 landscape last year, nearly 40 % were concluded with brands based in the United States.

Monaco or Las Vegas, the wheel of legitimacy

The calendar colonized, the public won over, all that remains is to have actors “made in the USA”. Because currently, Formula 1 has only one American team – the modest Haas, last in 2021 – and no driver. The last titled American dates back to 1978 with Mario Andretti.

The Andretti dynasty also intends to make its name shine again in F1 since the son, Michael Andretti, a short-lived former F1 driver and owner of the eponymous IndyCar team, is seeking to join the championship with a new team. With potentially an American driver, Colton Herta, who in 2019 became the youngest winner of an IndyCar race.

But this conquest of the west is not without turmoil. Some historic European circuits are under threat. The GP of France, Monaco or Belgium, major and historic events, have not yet signed with F1 for 2023 and are suffering from the outbidding of new contenders.

Competing with newcomers from America, Asia and the Middle East – who pay a high price for their arrival (55 million dollars per year for Saudi Arabia against only 15 for Monaco, according to the specialized press) – these circuits saw the emergence of the idea of ​​a work-study program, every other year, so as not to disappear completely.

“Obviously there are financial interests in going to new places, in the end F1 is a business. But for us (…) it’s our passion”, recently regretted the experienced driver Sebastian Vettel. “It would be horrible to lose some of the circuits,” said the four-time world champion, calling for “a mix of exploration, but also preservation of places that have a history”.

lukewarm pilots

The race relationship has also changed in nature, behind the scenes taking on at least as much importance as live. Since the 2018 season, Netflix, known for not disclosing its audiences, has been filming the sidelines of the queen category of motorsport. During the last season, the documentary series notably followed the intense fight for the title between the British Lewis Hamilton and the Dutch Verstappen, even if the latter refused interviews with Netflix, believing that the series was mounting false rivalries.

Verstappen is not the only one to criticize the series: his teammate at Red Bull Sergio Pérez believes that the last season “probably went too far” in the dramatization of F1.

“I really thought they had the best season in Formula 1 (to work on) and I feel like they probably missed some of the story in the way they presented it,” he said. reacted the Mexican to the American site ESPN. Enough to make Netflix react in the future?

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