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Formula One makes loud statement at US Grand Prix

Kannapolis-based Haas F1 Team excited about sport’s future, optimistic for 2022 season
F1 officials estimated 140,000 fans in the stands for Sunday's race, 400,000 for the three-day...
F1 officials estimated 140,000 fans in the stands for Sunday's race, 400,000 for the three-day weekend.(Formula One/Twitter)
Published: Oct. 28, 2021 at 10:03 AM EDT
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KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (WBTV) - Formula One racing enjoyed an exciting weekend of speed at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX, last weekend. It was so good, in fact, that many insiders in F1 are hoping that the sport has now made significant gains with fans in the United States.

“The old saying is that America doesn’t need Formula One, but Formula One needs America,” said Stuart Morrison. Morrison is the head of communications for the Uralkali Haas F1 Team, the only American-based team in Formula One.

The headquarters for the team is in Kannapolis on the same campus as the Stewart-Haas NASCAR team. Established in 2014, the team made its debut in the 2016 F1 season, and immediately made its presence felt.

“Since day one there’s been a lot of support,” Stuart Morrison said in an interview with WBTV. “Gene (Haas) brought a preexisting fan base. From the American perspective it brought curious eyeballs. The team showed that the business model could work and deliver points. The team scored points in its first two races and finished 8th the first year, 8th the second year, and 5th in the third year. A lot of new teams (since 2010) folded, never scored points, but we proved a lot of people wrong by showing that this can work.”

Despite being based in the middle of NASCAR country, the team has accumulated its share of fans. Morrison gives a lot of credit to the Netflix series Formula One: Drive To Survive for bringing new American fans to the sport. That point was made, he said, during Sunday’s US Grand Prix.

“Netflix has brought a lot of new fans, American fans to Formula One,” Morrison said. “The numbers were astronomical compared to previous years.”

Organizers estimated that as many as 400,000 fans packed the Austin area last weekend over the three-day period. While the NASCAR race in Kansas had higher TV ratings overall than the US Grand Prix, the F1 race did score its highest ever rating in the US with an estimated audience of 1.225 million.

Morrison said Austin is a perfect venue for the sport and its fans because it’s a destination city with lots of things to offer outside of the racetrack.

“We always love coming to America. We have 22-23 races a year, but a handful are at cities that are genuinely exciting,” Morrison added. Austin is a destination city with restaurants, hotels, things to do…you want to go out, see friends, get embraced by the city. When the Grand Prix comes to town it’s kind of like a festival for the weekend. It’s only amplified the atmosphere, it’s phenomenal.”

Fans of the Haas team were evident in Austin. Morrison noted that they typically gather in one spot of the track that they’ve dubbed “Haas Hill” where they cheer for drivers Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin.

“We’ve given out hats and scarves,” Morrison said. “We usually do a big team picture with the fans.”

Morrison mentioned being out for dinner on Friday night in Austin and seeing fans wearing Haas shirts. “We’re making an impact,” Morrison said. “We’re not the biggest, not the most successful, but based on fan mail, reaction on social media, we’re here for Americans who want to cheer for the American team.”

The 2021 season has been a struggle on the track for the team. As of Sunday the team has not scored any points and sits 10th in the Constructors championship standings. Morrison is confident that 2022 will be a turnaround year for Haas F1.

“All the effort is put into next year’s car,” Morrison said. “We’re on a glide path into next year. Our rookie drivers are getting their learning done this year to be more competitive next year.”

Morrison said that he, along with Gene Haas and team principal Guenther Steiner, are hopeful that the return to competitiveness in 2022 will coincide with the uptick in popularity that Formula One is now seeing in the United States.

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