F1 dismisses worries of U.S. oversaturation while adding third stop in Las Vegas for 2023

F1 three races America
Formula One
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LAS VEGAS — As F1 announces three races in America for next year, it’s instructive to review the last time Formula One ventured into Sin City for back-to-back Las Vegas races staged in the parking lot of the Caesars Palace hotel 40 years ago.

The European-headquartered series raced in Las Vegas in 1981 and 1982, then packed up with little incentive to return — until the past five years. Then came new ownership, slick marketing, a Netflix docuseries and a historic championship battle that all helped F1 explode in popularity throughout the United States.

The United States will be the only country on the 2023 calendar to play host to three F1 races in one season following Wednesday’s announcement of a Saturday night race down the famed Las Vegas Strip. F1 has raced at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, since 2012, and in May it will make its debut in Miami.

Barring any surprises, existing races in Mexico City and Montreal will bring F1 to North America five times next season.

Is it too much for one market?

Bobby Epstein, president of COTA, believes there’s enough interest to sustain three U.S. races. He could barely draw 100,000 spectators over a three-day weekend five years ago; COTA had more than 300,000 last year and is already sold out for its October race.

F1’s first race in Miami this May sold out in one day.

“Before we opened, there was very little interest or awareness in America about Formula One because they had no presence here,” Epstein told The Associated Press. “The first few years, it’s hard to know if you have a bright new shiny object or you have something that people really love and come back for and aren’t just curious about.

“What you can’t buy is history and you can’t buy tradition. You have to make it and earn it. The crowds here have told us we’re absolutely doing something right.”

NASCAR is the top U.S. series and already races 13 miles away from The Strip at the oval at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. NASCAR last week made its second appearance at COTA.

IndyCar is the American version of F1 and the most diverse series in the world with its mix of road and street courses, as well as ovals. But the open-wheel series never has challenged F1, even as European drivers are now migrating to IndyCar.

F1 didn’t much focus on the U.S. until Liberty Media Corp. bought the rights to the series in 2017. The American company has since targeted U.S. expansion and received a massive boost from the Netflix docuseries “Drive To Survive.”

Season four dropped ahead of the F1 season opener this month and Netflix said the behind-the-velvet rope peek inside the series ranked No. 1 in 33 countries its opening weekend. ESPN, meanwhile, said viewership for Sunday’s race in Saudi Arabia broke the week-old record for the network and was ESPN’s largest F1 audience since 1995.

“The momentum of Formula One has been demonstrated over the last several seasons and we’ve seen that potential turn into a reality as we watch our fanbase really grow around the world, but especially here in the U.S.,” Greg Maffei, President and CEO of Liberty Media, told The Associated Press.

F1 will promote the event alongside Liberty, which is taking on the additional role because of its belief in the market. F1 signed an initial three-year contract for the race, but the exact race date was not revealed beyond that it will be a Saturday night in November on a temporary 3.8-mile street course that will utilize the iconic Las Vegas Boulevard.

“This is somewhat different for us in that we’re taking a larger role because of our belief in the opportunity and our belief in Las Vegas,” Maffei said.

Added Stefano Domenicali, the CEO of F1: “The best racing on the planet will be in the entertainment capital of the world. Formula One has huge momentum and we are growing around the world and the United States is a massive focus for us, there is no doubt about it.”

No other country hosts more than two races a season. Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak said the city expected 170,000 visitors on race weekend to account for 400,000 nights of hotel rooms and an estimated economic impact of half a billion dollars.

But as F1 chases the U.S. dollar, it does so with very little American representation.

Michael Andretti, son of 1978 F1 champion Mario Andretti, is desperate to land a two-car team and a $420 million takeover of the existing Sauber team collapsed late last year. Andretti since has applied for expansion to the 10-team grid.

He’d like to bring to F1 driver Colton Herta, the Californian who turned 22 on Wednesday and is an IndyCar title contender. Herta has signed a testing contract with McLaren and will be evaluated by that team later this year.

Maffei was quick to point out that F1 already does have an American team; Haas F1 is owned by American businessman Gene Haas, who operates part of the organization alongside its NASCAR operation in North Carolina.

But Haas was the worst team in F1 last year and Andretti has publicly called on Haas to sell the F1 team to him. Haas has refused to sell and through the first two races appears to be a much improved team.

Gene Haas was forced to drop both his Russian driver and the sponsorship Nikita Mazepin brought from his father’s fertilizer company following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine two weeks before the season opened. The team has somehow emerged stronger and scored points in the first two races of the season.

F1 and Liberty agree the series needs more American representation – teams, drivers, sponsors, all of it – but Domenicali said it cannot be an artificial effort. F1 won’t admit a team owner just to further its growth in the U.S.

“It’s important, but it has to be real,” Domenicali told AP. “People are making a difference, they are the protaganist. But it has to be real, (the driver) has to be quick, because otherwise it would not work. It is a journey that is not easy to accomplish. It will take time, but for sure, is in our focus.

“From the commercial point of view, from the organizer, or promoter point of view who wants to develop the business in the U.S., an American woman or man driver would be very good.”

Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.