Americans Need to Pay Attention to Formula 1

By Spenser Walters
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

As an American Formula 1 fan, I often find it difficult to find an audience with which to discuss the sport that I am so passionate about.

The NASCAR crowd can relate to the love of a motorsport, but they don’t normally understand the grand and global scale of F1. Too often they use the predominantly European culture of the sport as a reason to call it elitist and quickly direct their attention back to the oval tracks.

Americans should care about Formula 1, though. They should care about a sport that inspired a handful of investors to get together and turn a pasture near Austin – Bergstrom International Airport into a state of the art racing facility in less than two years.

Attention should be paid to a sport that can draw a crowd of over 117,000 fans to an inaugural event at a brand new track. The first US Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas was a roaring success. The drivers and constructors loved the circuit, and the event generated an enormous amount of buzz in and beyond its host city of Austin, Texas. The pieces are in place for a golden age of F1 in the United States to begin.

One of the biggest challenges to the growth of Formula 1 in the US has always been exposure, which as I see it is a two-sided issue. You have the live and in-person experience that gets people excited about a sport, and you have the TV and media side of it.

Prior to the birth of Circuit of the Americas and the return of the US Grand Prix, the only real chance an American F1 fan had to see a race in person was the Canadian Grand Prix in Quebec. With COTA now hosting a race, the opportunity for relatively easy live viewing has doubled.

The governing body of Formula 1, the FIA, is still working on adding a second race in the United States starting in the 2014 season. In the words of the track announcer at COTA, seeing Formula 1 in person is, “a glorious assault on the senses”. I am inclined to agree, and nothing turns people into believers when it comes to motorsports quite like seeing it live. Though with a sport like F1 that hops around the globe, seeing it in person can still prove difficult which is why TV coverage is so key.

Before 2012, it was a huge pain in the ass to keep up with Formula 1 in America because of the lack of coverage. The international nature of the sport made it next to impossible to see a race due to time zone differences. Unless you’re like me and intentionally destroy your sleep schedule so that you can be awake to catch a race on the SPEED channel at 3:00 A.M., you weren’t going to get to catch the action. Of course the internet is a magical thing so you can look up the Race Edits on F1’s website and get a highlight reel of the latest events, but it wasn’t satisfying enough.

Now however, NBC has brokered a four-year deal for the exclusive US media rights to Formula 1. NBC’s flagship network will now broadcast four races per season; the Canadian Grand Prix along with the final three races on the schedule, which for 2013 will be the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, US Grand Prix and the Brazilian Grand Prix. The other 16 races, along with all practice and qualifying sessions, will be available on the cable channel NBC Sports. That means that over 100 hours of Formula 1 will now be even more accessible for American fans of the sport.

Overcoming the exposure barrier is huge for the future of Formula 1 in America. The dragon has been slayed and now the time has come for the American people to open their hearts to the most popular global motorsports series in the world.

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