“It’s four in the afternoon, and I’m in the middle of a nightclub,” Mercedes Formula 1 driver George Russell laughed, admiring the impressive gold paneling just behind him — an obvious sign of the wealth and party atmosphere that will be accompanying 2023's Las Vegas Grand Prix.
I had a chance to catch up with Russell during this past Saturday’s Las Vegas fan festival, where F1 took over the Las Vegas strip as part of an activation designed to continue growing the sport’s hype in America. That American growth was, of course, one of the many things I wanted to discuss with the driver.
“I think how the sport is growing on a whole across the globe is incredible, but especially in America,” Russell said. “It’s more than just a race now — it’s this mega event for the fans at home, for the fans at the races, and to have the addition of Las Vegas is going to be pretty spectacular.”
Anyone familiar with the F1 scene knows that Netflix’s docuseries Drive to Survive has played a huge role in introducing the international sport to an American audience, but Russell also credits F1's rulemakers with part of that change.
“Formula 1 had put a lot of emphasis on trying to make the racing as exciting as possible; as crazy as it may sound, that’s never actually been done before in the history Formula 1,” Russell said. “Past regulations were never made with the sole purpose to make the racing better for the fans. This year was the first attempt at it and there’s already been a real uplift in how exciting a race is going to be, and I think it’s only going to get better and better.”
Russell is referring to the ruleset introduced for this 2022 season; amid the normal slew of technical regulations emerged a new goal to make the racing more competitive thanks to things like budget caps, aerodynamic alterations to enable closer racing, and more. Mercedes didn’t exactly get the formula right for 2022 — in fact, Red Bull Racing largely dominated the season — but Russell is correct in noting that there’s been an uptick in competitive battles, if only further down the field.
But one big question has started to emerge: How long will F1's popularity grow before it plateaus — or plummets? Even with three races in the United States, will the sport have enough grasp on the fanbase of Average Joes to retain F1's newly prominent place in the public consciousness? Over 43,000 fans turned up for the Las Vegas fan festival alone — but will those fans end up burned out?
So, I had to ask Russell what F1 can do to retain these viewers, and his answer was almost refreshingly simple: “As long as the racing is good, people are going to be interested.”