Formula One is heading to the Streets of Las Vegas this weekend, a highly controversial race for many reasons. From a questionable start time for the U.S. TV audiences to the massive headache the race has been for fans locally to a questionable racing product, this race raises a question about F1’s sustainability in the U.S. Will F1 continue to be NASCAR’s chief competition in the U.S., or will the F1 fad wear out?
The Las Vegas Grand Prix
The Las Vegas Grand Prix has been a headache in a lot of ways for many local residents. Like all street races, there are the typical headaches including street closures for those traveling to Las Vegas. There was also the controversy about F1 considering blocking the views of hotels not willing to pay a fee for views of the race.
On top of that, the gargantuan ticket prices make it difficult for the average fan to attend the race. Now, ticket prices have dropped, but they are still massive with race day tickets being over $1700 according to Front Office Sports.
Some may look at these ticket prices and the issues with the local community and wonder whether or not F1 is sustainable in the United States. However, Formula One is also promising returns for the local community, and there are community events available for those who want to participate in race weekend. Clark County recently announced three watch parties for fans to watch the race despite not being able to attend the race. On top of that, Formula One promised $1.28 billion in economic impact for the area including $5 million to local schools and $1 million to local nonprofits.
At the end of the day, NASCAR’s running of the Chicago Street Race shows that these are not uncommon issues for a street race. NASCAR even made community outreach during the Chicago Street Race, while facing some local and political backlash as well. At the end of the day, if you want to look at whether or not Formula One’s interest in the U.S. is either growing or not, we have to look deeper.
TV Ratings and The Racing Product
The Las Vegas Grand Prix has a start time of 10 p.m. Pacific Time, which is 1 a.m. on the East Coast of the United States. That start time is not friendly to many fans in the United States. This is the case for many races throughout the season, which start at odd times due to it being a worldwide Championship.
Contrast that with NASCAR, which only has races in the U.S., at least for now. Because of that, U.S. fans have a racing series that caters better to them start time-wise. Now, fans may look past the strange start times if the racing product is good, but, in Formula One, it’s not always competitive.
This year, Max Verstappen has won 17 of the 20 races, which is a far cry from how competitive NASCAR is. If the actual racing product is not as fun to watch, then how long will fans stay? This year, F1 TV ratings in the U.S. have stagnated
According to Adam Stern of Sports Business Journal, Formula One’s first half of the season averaged 1.24 million viewers per race, which is down from 1.3 million in 2022. If the viewership stays at that level, that is not even close to NASCAR, which routinely pulls around 2.5-3 million viewers per race. In that respect, if F1 keeps up its’ plateau like this, then NASCAR will likely weather that competition as long as they gather the key demographic, which F1 has beaten NASCAR in before, with one example being the Kansas weekend earlier this year.
This is the one piece that gives NASCAR true competition in Formula One in terms of fans. If Formula One continues to win in the younger demographics, then NASCAR will continue to have to compete with F1. Eventually, that younger demographic will take over a larger share of the race viewership, and who knows where NASCAR and F1 will be in the future. However, with the current viewership plateau, that happening is very questionable.
American Manufacturers in F1
The one place that NASCAR may have to compete with F1 for is manufacturer support. Back in February, Ford announced they would be joining Formula One in 2026 to partner with Red Bull Racing. On top of that, General Motors, which owns Chevrolet, announced they have registered to join F1 to manufacture power units starting in 2028.
NASCAR has been searching for a new OEM with the Next-Gen car, but they have not found one. At some point, could Formula One overtake NASCAR in terms of priority for Ford and GM? That likely depends largely on viewership, but it does mean NASCAR has to find a way to stand out.
It makes sense why NASCAR has to listen to what manufacturers want because if NASCAR does not, the manufacturers could go to F1 to test things they want to test. It is far too early to see if this will impact NASCAR in any way, but it is something to watch. Now that two major American manufacturers see value in F1, NASCAR needs to make sure they stay valuable to those manufacturers.
At the end of the day, Formula One still does not have quite the overall popularity NASCAR has, and their viewership has plateaued. Maybe in a few years, NASCAR and F1 will not be competing for the same viewers as closely as initially thought, but the manufacturers will be interesting to watch as Ford and GM join Formula One in a few years.