Why Formula 1 U.S. Expansion to Las Vegas Should Raise the Bar for IndyCar

Photo credit: F1
Photo credit: F1
  • On Wednesday, Formula 1 announced that it was coming to Las Vegas in 2023. giving the United States three F1 races at least through 2025.

  • Current IndyCar and former F1 driver Alexander Rossi doesn’t see a war developing between F1 and IndyCar, but there will certainly be a battle to draw race fans both at-track and in front of their TVs.

  • This will be the second time F1 has had three races in the U.S. in the same season, the most recent being in 1982 (Long Beach, Detroit, Las Vegas).

Outright war? Peaceful coexistence? Or somewhere in-between?

With Wednesday night’s announcement that Formula 1 will add a third race in the U.S. in 2023—a return to Las Vegas after a 41-year absence—what does that mean in the potential battle for open-wheel racing fans in America between the global F1 series and the U.S.-based NTT IndyCar Series?


On the surface, F1’s move to return to Las Vegas is not all that surprising.

Series owner Liberty Media Inc. is headquartered in the U.S. and has already added a second U.S. race to this year’s schedule, the May 8 Miami Grand Prix, to join the long-standing F1 race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas (which also just renewed its relationship with F1 through 2026).

In several recent interviews, F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali has said two of the series’ top priorities are to find ways to bring in more revenue, as well as continue its worldwide expansion. In this case, it's Las Vegas joining the newest venue, Miami, which hosts its first F1 Grand Prix on May 8.

And F1 is reportedly next eyeing a return to South Africa for the first time in nearly 30 years as a potential venue. Domenicali said the 2023 F1 schedule could have a record 24 races on its schedule (this year’s schedule is 22 after the cancellation of the Russian Grand Prix due to the conflict with Ukraine).

But expansion also means several long-time F1 host tracks may not be in the mix after this season. Four of the venues on the current 2022 F1 schedule—France, Belgium, Mexico, and Monaco—are all in the final year of their respective contracts with F1. And the way Domenicali put it, that is potentially bad news for fans of those particular tracks.

"There are some promoters who have expiring agreements, and probably some of the current Grands Prix will no longer be part of the calendar," Domenicali said in a recent interview with Sky Sports.

Autoweek reached out to a number of individuals for their thoughts about F1 and whether or not it’s encroaching on IndyCar’s home turf. Here are some of their comments:

Zak Brown, McLaren Racing CEO: “A race in Las Vegas is not only a fantastic addition to the F1 calendar but clear testament to the exciting growth of Formula 1 in the U.S. and globally. For McLaren this is awesome news for our people, partners, and of course our fans, and as an American I’m proud we will see another F1 race in the U.S. and at such an iconic location.”

Jimmie Johnson, 7-time NASCAR Cup champ and current IndyCar driver for Chip Ganassi Racing: “As a race fan, I’m super excited to know there will be three Formula 1 races. I think Vegas will be a great host, a lot of fun for everyone that will attend and travel in. It will certainly be a destination. I’ll love to see the race on the Strip.

"I think it’s all exciting stuff, especially for the world of motor sports. With F1 being U.S.-owned, it’s no surprise they’re trying to have a better presence here in the U.S. market. I think it’s encouraging and exciting. They’ve created a lot of fans here in the U.S. recently with the Drive to Survive series. I certainly hope there’s a way for Formula 1 and IndyCar can co-exist together and ride this wave of interest from the fans.

IndyCar was a bit more subdued in a statement it gave to Autoweek, not directly addressing any competition with F1: “Our industry is growing across the board. Everyone is experiencing the benefits of this rising tide, which include increased fan interest and commercial sponsorship.”

But perhaps the best perspective on the F1 vs. IndyCar rivalry—if there even is one or may be developing—is former F1 driver Alexander Rossi, who moved to IndyCar in 2016 and promptly won the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Photo credit: Mark Thompson - Getty Images
Photo credit: Mark Thompson - Getty Images

“It’s great for Formula 1,” Rossi said in an interview Thursday morning with Autoweek. “I got to know Mr. Ecclestone (former F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone) very well in my time in Europe, and he was a big advocate of American involvement in Formula 1. It was always his dream and vision to have multiple races in the US., and when Liberty (Media Inc.) took it over … that all became a reality.

“The U.S. is obviously a massive country. It has the ability to support three races, if you look at the manufacturers in Formula 1, your Ferraris, Mercedes, etc. All of their main car sales go through the United States. So from a manufacturer standpoint, it makes sense. So yeah, I think it's great. The only thing that's really missing is an American driver. And I think that is hopefully not too far off in the future.

“Yeah, (F1) is competition for IndyCar and it is something that we need to be aware of and concerned about to a certain degree, because it is gaining a lot of traction and popularity in the US and now we don't only have to compete against NASCAR, we’ve got to compete against F1 as well.”

Rossi doesn’t see a war developing between F1 and IndyCar, but there will certainly be a battle to draw race fans both at-track and in front of their TVs. F1 recently reached a high point for most viewers of a race on cable since 1995, averaging 1.445 million viewers for last week’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

“No, I don't I don't think it's that kind of dire,” Rossi said. “IndyCar has a very unique product. We're obviously the only series in the world that races on the variety of tracks that we do. But it definitely raises the importance of us continuing to evolve, continue to find ways to make the product better, and finding ways to differentiate ourselves from other championships.

“There’s a lot of money in Formula 1. It's unfair necessarily to compare IndyCar to Formula 1 from that standpoint. There's just certain things that we'll never be able to achieve just because we have to keep the budgets in a realm that works for non-manufacturer teams. It's just the reality of IndyCar racing. So we're not necessarily competing against (F1) in the sense of trying to be as big or as sexy, or whatever you want to call it. But we need to make sure that we continue to evolve and improve our products and our car. And I think IndyCar has a plan for that.”

Rossi said the ongoing global supply chain issue is a big part of the reason IndyCar was recently forced to delay introduction of its much-touted 2.4 liter hybrid engine and car until 2024. But at the same time, he lauded the series’ other key improvements in recent years, including development of the aero screen to keep drivers safer, the huge success of last year’s debut event on the streets of Nashville, plus the return to Iowa Speedway and a doubleheader weekend this season.

“So there are things that that we are doing and have done,” Rossi said. “But we need to continue to push that envelope and continue to make it better and continue to build the race schedule back up.

“A lot of good things are happening. But I think it's important for us to certainly speed up that timeline and the positive things in order to make sure that not only do we not necessarily lose out to Formula 1 on market share, but we continue to build our own. IndyCar has been on an upward trajectory for at least the last five or six years, and we need to continue that even with more competition coming on board. But we’re never going to be the Formula 1 of America. That's just not what IndyCar is about. And I still think that our racing product is better. But having said that, I think Formula 1 has taken a big step forward this year in terms of their new car.”

Photo credit: Ethan Miller - Formula 1 - Getty Images
Photo credit: Ethan Miller - Formula 1 - Getty Images

F1 is essentially invading IndyCar territory with expansion to Miami and Las Vegas. Then, there's the possibility of perhaps an additional U.S.-based race on the horizon, but not before the current Concorde Agreement limiting the F1 season to 24 races expires after the 2025 season. Domenicali has said he’d love to eventually see as many as 30 races on the F1 schedule.

Rossi said IndyCar needs to strengthen its home base and forego plans to take some of its races to other continents such as Europe and South America, which had been under consideration prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I don't think that necessarily needs to be on the top of the priority list,” Rossi said of IndyCar racing outside of North America. “The top of the priority list needs to be getting more ovals on the schedule, for sure, and continuing to make the product better and staying on top of that. And I think we have a lot of very positive things that F1 or NASCAR would never be able to offer. The main thing is not only our diversity of racing, but also the access that we give to the fans. You can't get that in any other sporting event and that's something IndyCar prides itself on.

“American fans also want to have a connection to a driver. If you look at Formula 1, a big chunk of the fans, their affinity is to Ferrari, not to Charles Leclerc. There's very few fans in IndyCar whose affinity is for Andretti Autosport, it’s because they're a fan of Marco (Andretti) or they're a fan of me, or with Ganassi, they’re a Scott Dixon fan. That personal level of connection that the fans get in IndyCar is also something that we have and is going to help us propel ourselves forward.”

Photo credit: Chris Graythen - Getty Images
Photo credit: Chris Graythen - Getty Images

IndyCar president Jay Frye told Autoweek earlier this week that the series is not interested in international expansion at this time, saying, “Right now, there's enough opportunity for us still in North America. To get to where we need to be or where we need to go next, really, the focus has been on North America.”

This will be the second time F1 has had three races in the U.S. in the same season. In 1982, it held events in Long Beach (under F1 sanction, not IndyCar, that year), Detroit and Las Vegas in a 16-race season.

As for F1 coexisting with NASCAR, that has never seemed to be a problem in the past, particularly when F1 races at COTA, typically in October. But there could be a potential conflict if the F1 race in November 2023—the series has not announced a date for Las Vegas— is held earlier in the month, as opposed to what many believe will be on Thanksgiving weekend.

If the F1 event in Las Vegas, which will be a Saturday night race, is held on the same weekend as the NASCAR Cup championship finale at Phoenix Raceway, to be held on a Sunday and 250 miles away from Sin City, there could be angst among fans torn between attending the more affordable Cup race and the “destination event” F1 spectacle at Las Vegas.

Currently, the cheapest grandstand tickets for the three-day May 6-8 F1 race weekend in Miami were listed for $640. Las Vegas F1 won't likely be a cheap ticket, either.

There also a potential conflict if F1 holds its race on the same November weekend as the usual penultimate race of the season for NHRA on The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, about 25 minutes away. That NHRA event typically is held on either the first or second weekend of November, usually either just before or after the annual SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) aftermarket parts show. SEMA can attract more than 100,000 attendees to Las Vegas.

So, for now, IndyCar and F1 will likely remain friendly rivals. But F1’s expansion into Las Vegas could test that friendly relationship.

F1 has already seen a number of its former drivers move to IndyCar, including Rossi, Romain Grosjean and Marcus Ericsson. And one of the big topics in IndyCar now is whether young stars such as Colton Herta, Pato O’Ward and even defending series champion Alex Palou could soon be headed to F1.

For now, gloves on both sides will stay on. But it may be only a matter of time before those gloves come off.

At the very least, the bar for IndyCar has been raised.

Follow Autoweek contributor Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski