Not to keep driving the point home, but this year’s United States Grand Prix was packed with fans. As in, more fans than people have seen at an American Formula One race in ages. While some folks attribute it to the Drive to Survive influence, others tried to argue that the biggest culprit was the fact that it was the first US GP in two years. But new data is showing that a majority of folks at the race were attending their first-ever F1 event.
Twitter user Joe Pompliano reported that, in Liberty Media’s earnings call, the company claimed that 70 percent of the 400,000 people who attended the US GP were first-time racegoers.
Now, Liberty Media — the company that owns F1 — has been a little opaque about how it’s measuring attendance figures. F1 counts attendance by the amount of people who go through the gate each day, not by ticket package sales. So, if you showed up with a three-day weekend pass, you would be counted three times: once on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
To get to its 400,000 spectators figure, then, F1 likely counted some folks multiple times — and to get to its 70 percent stat for first-time fans, the same thing would have happened. Even then, though, we’re still talking about one hell of a lot of brand-new fans splurging on race tickets.
F1's record-keeping has been hit or miss through the years, and there are no real events to compare it to. There were two Australian weekends that clocked higher numbers, but those events were in the 1990s, ran for four days instead of three, and also didn’t take place during the middle of a global pandemic. We also don’t know how many first-time fans attended those events.
From the perspective of someone on the ground at the event and who has attended the US GP five other times, I can tell you that the vibe was entirely different in 2021 than it had been in past years. Sure, I can agree that this being the first F1 race in America in two years likely had an impact — but I talked to a ton of people who were at a race for the first time. Some were DTS fans, but some were just local to Austin and had actually heard enough about the event to want to check it out.
That last part is pretty huge. I lived in Austin for four years, and the most F1-related marketing I saw was in 2014 when the US GP transformed the streets of downtown Austin into a festival with tons of racing activations and cool cars. Every other year, though, you were lucky to see more than a billboard. The fact that people in Austin had read about the race via a local publication, on Twitter, or by some other means was kind of astounding. Most folks in Austin have no idea there’s even a race track nearby.
I’ve stated it before, but it can be hard to judge whether or not F1 is really getting a strong foothold in America until we see how the US races fare in 2022. But Pompliano also noted another stunning statistic: the Miami Grand Prix has 275,000 people waiting to buy the 80,000 available tickets, and over $9 million has been generated by the 1,800 fans that bought $5,000 hospitality tickets. Again, that could come down to the fact that Miami is a new venue — but I think it’s safe to say that F1's popularity is growing in America, and the world is starting to pay attention.