How Has F1’s Popularity in America Grown Since the 2005 Indianapolis GP?

Hamilton, Mercedes

Grace Crispin

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How Has F1’s Popularity in America Grown Since the 2005 Indianapolis Grand Prix?

The US will host three different races in the 2023 Formula One season, in Miami, Austin and Las Vegas - a big change to the racing calendar. F1 in America is always a spectacle, with recent races pulling massive crowds. The 2021 US Grand Prix in Austin reached an attendance of 400,000, the biggest three-day crowd in Formula One history.

The Circuit of the Americas was introduced as the track for the US Grand Prix in 2012, signalling the start of a new era of Formula One in the US. However, the 2005 Indianapolis Grand Prix catastrophe threatened to kill F1 in the US.

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LECLERC TO WIN, VERSTAPPEN PODIUM, SAINZ TOP 6 FINISH, MAGNUSSEN, RICCIARDO & PEREZ POINTS FINISH @ 11/1

The 2005 Indianapolis Grand Prix

The 2005 US Grand Prix was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and is widely remembered as one of the most infamous races of all time. Prior to the race even starting, there was already considerable controversy.

During Friday’s practice, Toyota driver Ralf Schumacher crashed at Turn 13 because of left-rear tyre failure. The crash was bad enough to prevent Schumacher from racing that weekend, being replaced by Ricardo Zonta - who had also experienced a left rear tyre failure in practice.

Turn 13 was a problem the entire weekend. This turn was a high-speed banked turn, something that causes more tyre loading, especially since Turn 13 had been re-paved for the 2005 Grand Prix.

Turn 13 mainly affected the Michelin tyres, which in turn affected BAR (British American Racing), McLaren, Red Bull, Renault, Sauber, Toyota and Williams. In response to these failures, Michelin had replacement tyres flown in, but when tested, they still had the same Turn 13 problem.

Michelin stated to the FIA that they could not pinpoint the reason for the Toyota tyre failures and the drivers slowing down for Turn 13 was the only way they thought that the tyre failures could be prevented. Though, in the same correspondence with the FIA, Michelin also disclosed that there was no guarantee that the tyre life would last past 10 laps.

In response to the tyre issue, there were many alternatives tabled, mainly strategies to ‘punish’ the Michelin teams, as the other tyre provider, Bridgestone, wasn't experiencing any problems.

These suggestions included a predetermined speed for the Michelin teams at Turn 13 and a long stop/go penalty to ensure that no Michelin team would be able to challenge for a win or podium. Another suggestion was the Michelin teams going through the pit lane every lap to make regular checks and changes of the left rear tyres. However, this would lead to these teams passing the tyre allocations for the Grand Prix.

The biggest suggestion was the introduction of a chicane between the final corners in order to reduce the speed into Turn 13. This suggestion was tabled with the idea of the Michelin teams still taking stop/go penalties to prevent any of them from beating the Bridgestone cars but would also allow the entire field to race.

This proposal had the backing of nine of the 10 teams on the grid, with Ferrari not overtly rejecting the idea but stating that the decision should be left to the FIA. However, this idea was eventually rejected.

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VERSTAPPEN TO WIN, LECLERC PODIUM, PEREZ TOP 6 FINISH, BOTTAS, NORRIS & RUSSELL POINTS FINISH @ 9/1

The Outcome of the GP

Eventually, Sunday and the Grand Prix finally rolled around, and all 20 of the cars were on the grid ready for the formation lap. Though, when the formation lap actually began, all of the Michelin teams returned to the pit lane and did not compete in the race. This left the Indianapolis Grand Prix with only six cars running, something the crowd did not appreciate.

It was predictable who would win the race when Ferrari, Jordan and Minardi were the only teams competing, with Michael Schumacher winning his only race of the season at the Brickyard, with teammate Rubens Barrichello finishing close in second. The race was that uncompetitive, that the Jordan’s were over a lap down, whilst the Minardi’s finished two laps behind the leaders.

Following the race, which many in the sport labelled a complete farce, Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One Chief Executive, even stated before the race that the future of F1 in the US was not looking good.

However, Michelin did compensate the fans that were less than impressed with the race. Michelin issued refunds to all fans who had purchased a ticket and also purchased 20,000 tickets for the US Grand Prix for the following year.

Despite Michelin’s post-race compensation for fans, F1 in the US was in severe doubt, and the Indianapolis Grand Prix only ran for two more years. Formula One in the US didn’t return until 2012, this time being held in Austin, which has enjoyed much success since its introduction into the calendar.

Drive to Survive

The Circuit of the Americas in Austin was a large part of the rebirth of interest in Formula One in America. But, Netflix's ‘Drive to Survive’ can also be given some of the credit for the popularity of F1 in the US.

“Formula 1: Drive to Survive” is a docu-series created by Netflix that gives F1 fans a behind-the-scenes look at the sport and allows them to get to know the drivers, principles and teams on a closer level.

In a survey (conducted by Morning Consult), 53% of self-identified F1 fans said the series played a role in becoming a fan.

The series debuted on the streaming service in 2019 and the corresponding season saw a boom in US interest. Races broadcasted on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC averaged 934,000 viewers - a record for the US and a 39% increase from the 2018 season.

This increase was also seen in physical support, attending a race, when 400,000 fans attended the 2021 Austin Grand Prix which was a 49% increase from 2019.

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