Formula 1's CEO talks about expanding races to other U.S. cities

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Ahead of the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin on Sunday, Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali told CBS News that America has a "huge potential of growth" for the sport.

Although most races around the world happen during morning hours in the U.S., recent data shows more Americans are tuning in to watch F1 cars speed around the tracks. This season is averaging 916,000 viewers per race after 15 races – a 51 percent jump than the COVID-19 plagued 2020 season (608,000 per race) and 39 percent higher than the first 15 comparable races in 2019 (660,000 per race), according to ESPN, which airs the races in the U.S. In addition, six of the top 10 most-viewed races on cable have happened this season.

The U.S. Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas already sold out and expected to be a celebrity-filled event, Domenicali said, and it will reportedly have around 360,000 fans at the track, breaking a fan attendance record. Miami is also slated to have a race in early 2022, marking a return to Florida, where a Formula 1 race hasn't been held since 1959.

"I think that that we are in a good place and that therefore, next year to raise [awareness] in the U.S will represent a very important step into the U.S. market," said the Italian-born CEO of Formula One Group.

Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda driver Pierre Gasly (10) of France pursued by McLaren Renault driver Carlos Sainz (55) of Spain at turn 15 during the the F1 United States Grand Prix held November 3, 2019, at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX. / Credit: Allan Hamilton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda driver Pierre Gasly (10) of France pursued by McLaren Renault driver Carlos Sainz (55) of Spain at turn 15 during the the F1 United States Grand Prix held November 3, 2019, at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX. / Credit: Allan Hamilton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As the sport's popularity grown, more U.S. cities are being considered for the F1 circuit. Las Vegas, which added the Raiders and Aces to their city in recent years, has become a popular next choice and once held an F1 race in the early 1980's. About a decade ago, plans were introduced to build an F1 track just outside New York City for 2013, but it never got off the ground. While Domenicali said he would "love to dream" for a race in Manhattan, he noted the complexities of having a race there.

Still when asked about adding it, Domenicali did not shut it down.

"If we keep working in this direction, space is the limit," he said.

The rise in popularity in the U.S. has been partly attributed to Netflix's "Drive to Survive" series, which gave viewers a closer look at F1 drivers and behind-the-scenes drama that often follows their pursuits. The series' third and most recent season attracted its largest audience to date.

While Domenicali said it was "unfair" to give Netflix all the credit, he acknowledged the streaming giant's hit show gave the sport "a big boost" among younger viewers.

The sport appears to be resonating with those fans online. Formula 1 in 2020 had the greatest growth of any professional sporting entity in engagements across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, showing a 99% increase, according to USA Today.

Stefano Domenicali, CEO of the Formula One Group stands on the grid for the national anthem next to Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP and Valtteri Bottas of Finland and Mercedes AMG Petronas before the F1 Grand Prix of Portugal at Autodromo Internacional Do Algarve on May 02, 2021 in Portimao, Portugal. / Credit: Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
Stefano Domenicali, CEO of the Formula One Group stands on the grid for the national anthem next to Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP and Valtteri Bottas of Finland and Mercedes AMG Petronas before the F1 Grand Prix of Portugal at Autodromo Internacional Do Algarve on May 02, 2021 in Portimao, Portugal. / Credit: Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

Still, the sport itself faces questions about its inclusivity. It's only Black driver, F1 superstar Lewis Hamilton, commissioned a report identifying factors why there aren't more Black drivers in the sport. The report made several recommendations — among them for F1 teams to adopt a diversity and inclusion charter, teams and motor racing businesses to expand apprenticeships and to establish scholarship programs to help Black students into the sport.

Domenicali has been supportive of the report's findings and said now it's part of the sport's larger mission.

"The point on diversity and inclusion is very, very important," he said. "Because you'll see more and more, all the teams are working together, you know that that this will be an asset and a value for the future of our sport."

With only a few weeks left in the season, Hamilton trails rival Verstappen by six points, setting up for a dramatic finish. Hamilton is tied for the most Formula One World Championships.

"It's a great moment for Formula 1," he said. "We are still six races to go, means that there is a lot of points to score. And with the actual situation of the championship, there is such an intense fight."

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