Written by Vyas Ponnuri, Edited by Simran Kanthi
The USA has always been an integral part of Formula One. Eleven different racetracks have hosted F1 races in America to date, with a twelfth different track in Las Vegas set to join from the 2023 season and beyond. Each track has etched its own spot in the history of Formula One in the USA.
In Part I of this article, we touched upon the racetracks on which Formula One had raced during the first three decades of the sport, such as the iconic Watkins Glen, Long Beach, and Caesar’s Palace racetracks. Part II focuses on the racetracks on which Formula One has raced from the 1980s to the present day. Without further ado, let’s move to the main part of the article.
Formula One did race at "Motor City" for seven seasons on a tricky, demanding, and narrow layout along the streets of Detroit. 17 corners, two hairpins, a tunnel with a subtle curve to the right, and even a railroad crossing were the defining traits of the Detroit Street Circuit. Cars' brakes and transmissions were tested to the breaking point with around 50 to 60 gear changes per lap, apart from 20 braking zones over a lap of 1 minute and 45 seconds. Races used to run for the full length of two hours and saw a high attrition rate. It was considered an achievement to even finish the race.
An intense layout around the Streets of Detroit; Image credits - Wikipedia
The races were held in June during the American summer which caused sections of the track surface to disintegrate. This was the case in 1984 and 1985. Ayrton Senna took three consecutive victories at the circuit from 1986 to 1988, the latter being the final race win for a Cosworth V8-engined car. However, track disintegration was at its worst in 1988 and drivers spoke up about their dislike of the event. A disagreement arose between the organisers and F1's governing body regarding the construction of a permanent pit facility. 1988 proved to be the final running of the event after an attempt to move the circuit to Belle Isle never came to fruition.
Phoenix Street Circuit (1989-1991)
The "US Grand Prix" name made a return to Formula One circles in 1989 when it took place at the 3.8 km (2.361 mi) long Phoenix Street Circuit. A contract had been signed between F1 and the Phoenix City Council to host the race for five years starting from 1989. The race inherited the slot left vacant by the Detroit Grand Prix in early June. Despite the heat being a factor once again with temperatures exceeding 110°F (43°C), the event went ahead in 1989. Senna took pole but failed to finish the race. His teammate Alain Prost won the race.
To avoid the intense heat, the race was shifted to March in 1990, becoming the season opener. This race is remembered for Jean Alesi's magnificent race-long battle with Senna as he pushed Senna all the way. Senna came out on top to win but Alesi's drive was one to remember. The 1991 running of the event saw modifications to the initial part of the layout, induced by the construction of a basketball arena which reduced the track length to 3.721 km (2.312 mi) and Senna triumphed again.
The race didn’t go ahead in 1992 as Ecclestone stated the reason as “the inability to put 20,000 seats in a place where one couldn’t get a good view of the cars” for cancellation of the contract with the City of Phoenix.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway (2000-2007)
Formula One returned to American shores after a nine-year absence at the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway, although the track used was the 4.194 km (2.606 mi) road course. Even so, this track has seen its fair share of action. Mika Häkkinen took his final F1 victory at the circuit in 2001. Michael Schumacher won four straight US Grands Prix held at the track from 2003 to 2006. He tried to go level with his teammate Rubens Barrichello over the finish line but just missed out in 2002. The 2006 running of the event saw incidents at the first corner which eliminated seven cars. In 2007, a young Sebastian Vettel filled in at BMW-Sauber and finished 6th becoming the youngest driver to score points at the time. Lewis Hamilton won the second race of his career making him the last F1 winner at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
However, the reputation of F1 in the USA took a big hit with the farcical 2005 US Grand Prix. All the cars took the formation lap as per usual but the Michelin-shod runners pulled into the pits over tyre concerns at the banked Turn 13. This event saw only six Bridgestone-shod cars take part in the race with Schumacher winning from Barrichello and Jordan's Tiago Monteiro taking his first and only podium in F1.
It was announced that the 2007 US Grand Prix would be the last for the foreseeable future as both parties couldn't agree on a contract. The event required a title sponsor to pay expensive fees to host a race that couldn't be agreed on.
Circuit of the Americas (COTA) (2012- present)
In 2010, F1 pondered a return to the USA. Ecclestone contemplated a street circuit in New York overlooking the Manhattan skyline or a circuit in Jersey City. A circuit in West New York was also a possibility. However, Austin was awarded a ten-year contract to host the US Grand Prix starting from 2012. The contract was awarded to Full Throttle Productions and a new track was constructed on the outskirts of Austin. The track was designed by ace circuit designer Hermann Tilke along with promoter Tavo Hellmund and former Motorcycle World Champion Kevin Schwantz.
The track's characteristics resemble various great Formula One circuits such as Silverstone, Hockenheim, Istanbul, and also the Buddh International Circuit. All the characteristics combined to form a great driving track and it has been appreciated by the drivers and the F1 community in general. Lewis Hamilton is the most successful driver at COTA taking five race wins and finishing on the podium in all but one race (2013) at Austin. Kimi Raikkonen took his final Grand Prix victory at the circuit in 2018 for Ferrari. The circuit couldn't host a race in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Max Verstappen is the most recent winner at the circuit, having triumphed at the track on its return in 2021.
COTA has an extension contract to host the US Grand Prix until 2026.
Miami International Autodrome (2022-present)
Plans were made to race in Miami as early as 2019, with the owner of the Hard Rock Stadium, Stephen Ross, attempting to attract the sport and the fans for several years. The organisers signed a contract to host the race from 2021, but this was pushed to 2022. The track was on the parking areas for the Hard Rock Stadium and runs parallel to or under public roads. The track features two long straights connected by a series of challenging corners. Max Verstappen won the inaugural Miami Grand Prix for Red Bull.
The track has a ten-year contract to host F1 at the Miami International Autodrome starting from 2022.
The journey of Formula One in the USA has seen many twists and turns throughout the sport's existence. Many circuits have hosted races, each bringing a unique feature to them but also being affected by the intense heat. As a result, the races initially had sparse attendance. A shift to conventional circuits and the date being moved to later in the year saw the rise in attendance figures, as well as brilliant racing. The US Grand Prix is currently held in October, away from the summer months. Therefore, it attracts an enormous crowd. The 2021 US Grand Prix saw a record weekend attendance of 400,000 fans. Looking at such figures, I will definitely be looking forward to the growth of F1 in the USA in the coming seasons.