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The history of Formula One in America, and will It work this time?

Written by Max Zerny, Edited by William Stephens

Credit: Chandhan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

It goes without saying that this weekend marks the inaugural Miami Grand Prix, and with the Circuit of the Americas already on the calendar, and the Las Vegas Grand Prix scheduled for 2023, you start to question why is this American interest happening now? Well, America have tried before, and now we’ll start from the beginning.

In 1952 a Russian man, Alec Ulmann started a 12-hour race at the Sebring Track in Florida, converted from a military base in the Second World War, to a race track. How does this has anything to do with Formula One, I hear you ask? Well, when Ulmann saw the increasing popularity in car racing in America, namely at three tracks called Riverside International Raceway, Watkins Glen (remember this name), and Lime Rock Park, he felt it was time to stage a race at Sebring which was named the 1959 United States Grand Prix, which Bruce McLaren had his debut win at, with Brabham and Cooper taking their respective championships. Sadly, they were the only successes of the event. The remote location of Sebring made life difficult for promoters, who only just turning a profit.

After that venture, Ulmann tried again at Riverside, although this proved equally unsuccessful, due to a lack of promotion, and being off the back of a well-received race recently.

In 1961, Ulmann gave it yet another shot. With a track called Watkins Glen (told you to remember), which proved a commercial success, running for over 15 years on the calendar. This was well attended, and finally turning a profit. Almost 20 years on from its debut, Watkins Glen began to fall apart. Many drivers complained of a poor track surface, and the surrounding parts of the track became violent, with a place known as the ‘Bog’ a place for setting fire to cars, buses and other assorted items. In 1978, the European Board for motorsports (FISA) demanded that the owners of the track resurfaced the tarmac, and they did. Although, after this, there was still a debt of $750,000 for prize money, and other necessities. The race was included in the 1981 season, but after the debts weren’t payed, and the government denied any funding, it was cancelled.

Jim Clark leads at Watkins Glen in the 1966 US Grand Prix Credit: Alvis Upitis/Getty Images

In the midst of Watkins Glen, another race was held in the United States, at Phoenix Street Circuit. The circuit was widely unpopular with the drivers, and equally so with the population of Phoenix. Like Baku, it was largely made up of slow, ninety degrees corners, providing little opportunity to overtake, or follow whatsoever, after predominantly poor races, 3 years since its inaugural race, it was cut off the calendar. Ecclestone, the owner of F1 said at the time “It was not so much the poor attendance, rather the inability to put more than 20,000 seats in a position where people could see, and then only a small part of the race”.

There were other races in the USA simultaneously, the most famous of which being the notorious Caesars Palace Grand Prix. A poor circuit made in a literal car park outside of the famous hotel, with the 2 races there being unsurprisingly boring. In 1995, there were plans to have a race down the Las Vegas Strip, but these never came to fruition, although this won’t be the first time the strip was planned involved in a race.

In 2000, nine years absent of a race in the United States, Formula One went to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, using an infield layout, incorporating about a mile of the banking. The reintroduction of Formula One in America proved successful, with an estimated crowd of 225,000 people, one of the largest ever in the sports history. Most of the races there, for what it was worth, were quite eventful. The 2000 race was won by Micheal Schumacher, part of his 4-race-in-a-row win streak, which secured his Championship against Häkkinen. In 2002, we saw the infamous moment between Rubens Barrichello and Micheal Schumacher, where the latter let Rubens through at the final corner as he tried to fix a dead heat, as somewhat of an apology for Barrichello after the mess at Austria. In 2005, we saw the joke of a race with seven teams withdrawing due to concerns over the Michelin tyres. 6 cars (three teams) entered the race on the Bridgestone tyres, and was widely considered a farce. At the end of 2007, the race would end as neither side could decide on a deal.

Credit: Christopher Lee/Getty Images

In 2010, Austin, Texas, was awarded a ten year contract starting in 2012. The track was built from the ground up, and the first race was in 2012, which was won by Lewis Hamilton. It goes without saying that the races here has been very eventful, with the most recent being last year, nearing the end of the season-long duel between Hamilton and Verstappen.

Now, this brings us up to the present day. As of writing, we are 3 days away from the inaugural Miami Grand Prix. It’s worth mentioning that this race was proposed in 2019, with a completely different layout, incorporating the MacArthur Causeway, a 2.5km bridge, but that plan was scrapped. This race, along with the track in Austin, and the track in Las Vegas are predicted to be some of the biggest events in the sport's history. This leads us up to the original question: will it work this time? The answer is most likely. The foundations of Formula One in America are so well built this time round, its unlikely to fail. The reason for this is obvious, and it stems down to our best friend Drive to Survive. The US Grand Prix last year was (at the time) the biggest event ever, and the coming race in Miami could be the most successful race ever, being full of influencers, and the Las Vegas Grand Prix next year would be the most majestic race in years. In conclusion, America is going to crush it.


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