Hanging off a ledge above the Mediterranean Sea, Daniel Riccardo contemplated his future in Formula 1 racing.
After an impressive win at the Monaco Grand Prix, arguably the most prestigious race in what is inarguably the premier auto racing league on Earth, Riccardo’s future with his Red Bull team seemed certain. The Australian was in peak racing form, and paired with his wunderkind teammate, Max Verstappen, Red Bull believed they had a championship team.
Then Riccardo leapt into the sea.
His plunge into the water, which foreshadowed his decision to leave Red Bull for Renault (now known as Alpine), was featured in the first season of Netflix’s “Drive to Survive,” an F1 documentary-style show that is largely responsible for the explosion in Americans’ interest in the sport. Each season — the fifth premiered a few weeks ago — focuses on several drivers, but that first season belonged to Riccardo, a wildly popular and charismatic driver who hadn’t yet reached his full potential.
Formula 1 has represented the pinnacle of auto racing since its inception in 1950. However, it’s only in the last 5 years that F1 has started to become truly popular in the United States. According to ESPN, the 2022 F1 season was watched by more Americans than ever before.. The first-ever Miami Grand Prix last year peaked at 2.58 million viewers and became the most-watched race of the year.. With the 2023 season now in full swing — the third race of the season, in Australia, will be run on Sunday — , this season has the potential to be even more popular in the U.S. than last year. American interest in the sport is growing faster than the cars can race…well, almost.
“‘Drive to Survive’ has been,” says Matt Dennington, the Executive Director of Partnerships and Accelerator at luxury automaker McLaren who also works closely with the brand’s F1 team, “the single biggest growth driver for the sport.”
That said, the Netflix show is not the only reason for the sport’s skyrocketing U.S. profile. Dennington also credits the rising number of races held in the U.S.; this year they’ll be held in Austin, Miami, and Las Vegas. The only other country to host more than one race per the 22-race season is Italy at two.
This year will be the first race in Vegas, and according to Caesar Palace’s Director of Player Development Nick Palazzolo, the city is eager for a huge influx of tourists.
“There’s talks [of] around 170,000 people attending daily, and it could potentially be the biggest event for the year,” said Palazzolo. “This analytics study I received predicted that the economic impact of F1 in Vegas will be double of that compared to the Super Bowl in Vegas in 2024.”
Logan Sargeant, a rookie driver for the Williams team — a British F1 racing outfit that has nine World Championships, second only to Ferrari — is the first driver from the United States to be on the racing grid since 2015. In the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 6, he finished P12 (twelfth place), higher than fellow – and far more celebrated – rookies Oscar Piastri and Nyck De Vries. For Americans desperate for the first-ever F1 champion, Sargeant represents the first real hope in many years.
In the meantime, 2022 F1 Champion Max Verstappen managed to secure his first win of the season in the Bahrain Grand Prix. After extending his lead early, Verstappen was able to maintain his dominance and cruised with relative ease to P1. Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez finished second, followed by Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso. In the second race on March 19, Red Bull and Aston Martin preserved their dominance while teams like Mercedes and Ferrari continued to look for adjustments that increase the speed of their cars. Heading into Australia this weekend, Red Bull looks to pull away from the pack in the battle for the championship. With reports suggesting it may rain, the conditions will play a huge role in which team emerges victorious.
Riccardo’s fortunes unfortunately do not mirror F1’s. After an unimpressive few seasons with McLaren and Renault/Alpine, he was released and is not even on the grid this year; instead, he’s a backup driver for Red Bull, the team many now believe he never should have left in the first place. The job could lead to Riccardo returning to competition next year, and “Drive to Survive” would no doubt be eager to showcase that. After all, the only thing Americans like more than cutthroat competition is a great redemption story.