The first real clues that F1's US strategy is paying off - The Race
Formula 1

The first real clues that F1’s US strategy is paying off

May 21 2021
By Scott Mitchell-Malm

Formula 1 seems to be on a never-ending quest to gain a stronger foothold in the United States of America, with its history littered with examples of fresh efforts and failed plans.

But two US grands prix on the 2022 F1 calendar, an American team still on the grid, US ownership of F1 itself and two teams (McLaren and Williams) securing major investment from US companies in the last 12 months would suggest that Stateside influence in F1 has never been stronger.

And that, buoyed by the popularity of the Netflix Drive to Survive series, appears to be translating into greater interest, judging by the line of commercial deals being done with American companies.

Red Bull has underlined the potential F1 sees in the US this week with the announcement of partnerships with Cash App and Tezos – names that you might not be familiar with, but that have major US client bases – to follow up previously revealed affiliations with the likes of Oracle and Walmart.

And the timing’s not a coincidence, based on Cash App’s claim that “with the recent announcement of the Miami Grand Prix being added to the 2022 race calendar, it is clear that the US is a priority for Formula 1”.

“The US is a crucial market for Formula 1,” says Red Bull team boss Christian Horner.

“It’s great that the interest in the US is growing and it’s fantastic to see more and more sponsorship and investment.

“Recently we’ve announced two new partnerships coming into Formula 1 from the US as a direct impact of the popularity of the sport growing there and I think obviously there are discussions about more races.

“Bringing in Miami in the future as well is going to be a fantastic addition, and of course for Red Bull it’s also Red Bull’s biggest market in the world.

“Strategically, it’s a vital market to embrace and monitor and I think Formula 1 has never quite managed to capture the imagination of the American public previously.

“There’s a real opportunity to do that now, and of course one of the key factors to do that, I think longer term, is to see a really competitive American driver or drivers coming through and running at the front in Formula 1.”

Red Bull’s not alone in celebrating big US tie-ups. McLaren boasts Coca-Cola as one of its sponsors, has a major partnership with Arrow Electronics (which also includes title branding on its fledgling IndyCar entry) and of course secured investment from MSP Sports Capital last year.

World champion team Mercedes has a partnership with American cybersecurity technology company Crowdstrike that includes the rebranding of the safety and medical cars it supplies to F1.

Mercedes F1 safety car

And like Red Bull, the rebranded Aston Martin team has prioritised massive companies from the US, bringing in IT consulting company Cognizant as a title partner and striking other deals with the like of SentinelOne (an American cybersecurity start-up) and NetApp (a computer software company specialising in cloud data).

Asked by The Race if he’s noticed more interest from the American side in recent years, Aston Martin F1 team principal Otmar Szafnauer said: “I have. I don’t know why that is. Interest in our sport is growing in America. I wouldn’t doubt that the Netflix series had something to do with that. And then also more races in the states will naturally make it more popular, and therefore more attractive to American companies.”

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Monaco Grand Prix Thursday Monte Carlo, Monaco

That’s manifesting in different ways. Several teams, including Red Bull and Aston Martin, are now starting to commit to non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and blockchains as a way of broadening how it engages with fans.

Red Bull having an official blockchain partner in Tezos represents buzzwords that mean little to certain people – including me – but are huge sources of interest to others.

A very basic comparison would be that such tokens are the digital equivalent of a collectible item. This article from the BBC, which covers the basic questions in good detail, describes NFTs as “certificates of ownership for virtual or physical assets”.

The arrival of such partnerships and the proposed items around them might seem an unnecessarily complex addition to the F1 fan offering for anyone else not clued up on them. Especially as there are sceptics who see such digital exploits as part of a bubble that will inevitably burst.

But they are (curious) examples of a bigger, broader pursuit of new markets that F1 can have a greater impact in with the right tie-ups. And that will invariably mean more US affiliations. Which brings us back to the beginning.

F1’s chasing a bigger footprint in America and that’s rooted in something reasonably simplistic, a little bit of a ‘build it and they will come’ mentality.

In this context, you could view it as F1 prioritising an entire market rather than specific industries within it. with the intention of first establishing the championship as a source of interest, and then as the audience grows companies within the States are encouraged to get involved.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Monaco Grand Prix Thursday Monte Carlo, Monaco

“Dorilton is very excited to have Miami, having a second US Grand Prix,” says Williams CEO Jost Capito.

“Within their portfolio there are a couple of US companies, so there are chances also for us to work with those companies, who you’ve seen on the car recently.

“Also you’ve seen that we have on the car the new Dorilton Ventures, which goes very much in the same direction.

“The popularity of Formula 1 in the US is growing a lot and not least because of the Netflix series. It brings new fans to the sport. I think a lot of female fans came to the sport.

“Formula 1 in the US is on a really good track and that’s important for all of us.”

Sponsors based in different countries come and go in F1 so it’s a little premature to believe F1’s ‘cracked’ America, if ever such a thing is even achievable.

But there are some clear signs of growth from the teams’ perspectives and initiatives like Drive To Survive and dogged pursuit of a second US race in Miami are being widely cited as key factors in that.

That will undoubtedly bolster F1’s confidence that prioritising the USA is the right strategy.

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