Max Verstappen ‘may have done some damage’ as F1 break new ground in America

Max Verstappen wins third consecutive Formula One world championship

Formula One’s steep rise in popularity in America has continued to hold up despite the season becoming a one-horse race from the outset. Max Verstappen was able to clinch his third consecutive World Championship with six races to spare as the Red Bull driver went on to win a remarkable 19 Grand Prix out of a possible 23.

But even though the Dutchman enjoyed almost total dominance this year, the growth of the sport in the USA has been a real win for F1’s American owners, Liberty Media.

With a clear strategy to expand the popularity of the sport on the other side of the Atlantic, F1 staged three races in America this season, the only country to hold more than one race this year.

The Miami Grand Prix was followed by the US Grand Prix in Austin, Texas before a third and final instalment played out in the most spectacular of surroundings under the lights of the Sunset Strip.

That was a $600 million gamble that has paid off for Liberty Media, with the spectacle proving to be one of the best races of the year, despite some early challenges.

From a TV perspective, the results are more complex. According to ESPN spokesperson Andy Hall (as per NBC), the 2023 season has hosted three of the four most-watched F1 broadcasts in US history. However average viewing figures across the season stand at 1.12 million per race. That is down from an average of 1.21 million viewers last season.

Hall said in an email: “Did the Verstappen dominance hurt viewership? It’s possible and some feel it may have but we have no way to quantify it. But just a couple of weeks ago we set a viewership record for the Mexican Grand Prix, the eighth race this season to set a viewership record.”

Despite average viewing figures being slightly down on last year, the numbers are still a huge increase on the average of 554,000 in 2018 when F1 first returned to ESPN.

Elevated interest in the past two seasons can be attributed to the presence of more US-staged races (last year’s Miami Grand Prix produced a record 2.6million viewers), but also the success of the Netflix TV series, Drive to Survive, which follows the lives of F1 drivers touring the globe. It has proven to be so popular that a sixth series has just been commissioned for next season.

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Niko Hulkenberg, who drives for the American-bass Hass team, has seen F1 get bigger Stateside and is in no doubt that the accompanying TV documentary has more than helped things along the way.

He said: “It’s just obviously grown, the fan base, and mostly due to obviously the Netflix show. And the following has gotten bigger and bigger. And the interest in the sport in America has become much, much bigger.”

Liberty Media and F1 will be hoping that a closer championship race next season will make for an even more engaging spectacle.

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