Throughout the history of competitive sport, few disciplines have surged in popularity in the same way Formula 1 motor racing has over the last few years. It’s the US audience, in particular, that has found a new love for the glamourous, globetrotting single-seater racing series. As teams strive for the support of this new influx of fans, McLaren Racing — the motorsport arm of the McLaren Group — has enjoyed arguably the most success with the distinctive orange and black team colors adorning the grandstands Stateside.
One of the main reasons for Formula 1’s accelerated growth is the Netflix docuseries Drive to Survive. With four seasons released and the fifth in production, the show has played a major role in introducing Formula 1 to fans who had previously found the sport inaccessible. “There are people that I know that would have zero interest in Formula 1 that have become instant fans because of that show,” says Roger Ormisher, vice president of communications and PR at McLaren Automotive.
By putting a clear spotlight on the drivers themselves, and focusing on their personalities with behind-the-scenes footage, newcomers have found it easier to relate to the competitors and pick their favorite team to support. “There has always been a core following for McLaren in the States,” adds Ormisher. “But this has broadened that reach considerably.”
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The boost in popularity of McLaren’s Formula 1 team is no doubt having an effect on McLaren Automotive. “The last time we had this kind of visibility was with the Can Am Series in the late 1960s and early 1970s,” says Ormisher.
“When it comes to the automotive side of the business, it’s important to remember that we are the youngest supercar brand in North America, we are only 11 years old here. We are still currently building our heritage as an automotive brand and the popularity of Formula 1 is really helping to expand that.”
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Who is behind the wheel?
It is difficult to overstate Formula 1’s newfound popularity in the US. In 2018, an average of 547,000 US viewers tuned in to each race. By 2022, that figure has now risen to 1.4 million.
McLaren has been able to capitalize on this so successfully in part due to its dynamic and engaging Formula 1 driver lineup. British 22-year-old Lando Norris and Australian Daniel Ricciardo have won the favor of a large chunk of this new fanbase. “Lando in particular is brilliant,” says Abe Quigley, head of marketing, China. “I have been to events with him where he has been with the public for seven or eight hours, at some point we have to tell him to take a break.”
The same goes for Ricciardo, who has been a fan favorite since he joined the sport full-time in 2012. “Danny has a house in the US that he uses during the summer,” says Ormisher “That’s given McLaren Automotive the opportunity to lend him cars which are then seen by his 7.5 million followers on social media.”
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McLaren’s driver lineup clearly fits with how the manufacturer wants to present itself. “We’re an exclusive brand, but we are also very inclusive,” says Ormisher “We want people to interact with our brand, we want them to sit in the cars and take photos.”
McLaren Racing has taken a similar inclusive outlook with a push to have fans interact with and get to know the team and its drivers. It’s a completely different approach for a sport that has traditionally been inaccessible.
To put all this in perspective, a recent survey conducted by Nielsen and Motorsport Network found that McLaren was the most popular motor racing team in the world. Eclipsing a giant like Ferrari which has maintained an almost unshakable brand loyalty for the past 50 years. The same can be said for McLaren’s drivers who rank first and third in popularity — out of the 20 drivers that make up the starting grid.
A British team loved in the US
McLaren Racing’s success within the US market was never guaranteed. Traditional Formula 1 fans follow the team or drivers from their respective countries. McLaren’s founder, Bruce McLaren, is from New Zealand; the team is based in the UK; one driver is English while the other is Australian – it is far from an obvious fit for the US audience.
Ormisher suggests that there are actually a few reasons for this success. “There is no doubt that older buyers and fans remember the Can-Am series,” says Ormisher. This was a North American racing series that McLaren dominated in the 1960s, with Bruce McLaren himself winning the 1967 and 1969 championships.
Another major influence was Brazilian-born Formula 1 legend Ayrton Senna, who drove for McLaren from 1988 to 1993, won three world championships for the manufacturer and is widely accepted as one of the greatest drivers of all time. “He was an amazing driver, someone that fans could really relate to and being South American he had a huge impact this side of the Atlantic.”
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The future of Formula 1 in the US
Fast forward to the present day and the owners of Formula 1, Liberty Media are committed to building further upon this newfound US audience. Previously the US hosted just one race a year, at The Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. The 2022 season saw the introduction of a race in Miami, bringing the East Coast into the Formula 1 calendar. In 2023, Formula 1 will also head to Las Vegas for the first time since 1984.
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With three races soon to be held in the US, in addition to the Canadian and Mexican Grand Prix, North America is now a major part of the series. “The introduction of Miami and Las Vegas really has changed everything,” says Quigley. “The tourism and entertainment industries there are already well established, they are both locations people already go on vacation, it’s the perfect scenario for F1.”
The US events have become known for their high-quality racing but also as glamorous, celebrity-filled events. “What we are doing in Miami and Vegas totally follows suit,” says Quigley. “Yes, there is going to be a brilliant race, but the social aspect and activities around the track are going to make it really special.”
These events in particular allow McLaren the racing team and McLaren the supercar manufacturer to come together homogenously and create an experience that will be loved by their fans and owners, in addition to those aspiring to become future McLaren owners.
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