Formula One’s second race at the Circuit of the Americas will show whether it can gain a foothold in the USA, says Alexander Rossi.
The Californian, who is set to drive for Caterham during practice in the Austin race, told F1 Fanatic that Formula One’s return to America last year was “a step in the right direction”.
But he added this year’s race will show whether F1 can sustain its popularity for the long-term in a market it has struggled to crack:
“How the turn-out is this year and how the response is this year I think is kind of the true test, to see if people enjoyed it enough to come back for another year.”
However he believes the sport has a core fan base it can tap into in America: “I think that the motor sports fans, the petrolheads, have appreciation for Formula One and the fact it is the highest form of racing, the best technology in the world and the best drivers in the world. I think there is an appreciation for that.”
F1’s new television package in America has also helped make it “more accessible”, he feels. “I think a lot of that is due to not only Austin but the NBC coverage as well because before it was an elite channel to watch F1 so people if people weren’t really interested they certainly weren’t going to pay money to do watch it.”
Rossi added he’s very keen to see next year’s planned race in New Jersey go ahead: “I think the plan that they have and the market they have would really get US blue-chip companies interested in it because it’s not only happening in their back yard, but I think they’d do a very good job with the event, the exclusivity of it and making it a very kind of corporate event.”
Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.
It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.
“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”
In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.
With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.
In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.
“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.
“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”
Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.
“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said. “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”
Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.
“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.
“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”
Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.