Next week Formula 1 will be in Austin, Texas for the sixth running of the United States Grand Prix at the purpose-built venue.
The US GP has slotted in well to the F1 calendar and is a popular event with F1 and with its fans, taking in music and a festival atmosphere that is also part of the game plan of Liberty Media going forward.
This year there is a new initiative, which will certainly catch the eye as the Circuit of the Americas, Formula 1 and the Texas-based Susan G Komen charity paint key parts of the race weekend pink, for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
The hashtag F1 teams, drivers and others will rally around for the weekend will be #driveforthecure.
JA on F1 spoke to Epstein about the upcoming weekend.
JA: Tell me about the 2017 race. How’s it all coming together?
“This being our sixth year – it’s much smoother and we’re able to focus on even adding more things for the fans. A big area of our focus is the fan experience, and while the F1 race itself is less than two hours, we have over 12 hours of entertainment each day. We will continue to grow the festival side of the experience.
“The concerts absolutely work. People, when they buy a ticket, they’re buying it for entertainment and whether you’re a fervent F1 fan, a racing fan or just a fan of a good time with friends and family, we try and create an experience that fits it all.”
Did you see F1’s audience breakdown into groups such as ‘Excitables’, ‘Purists’, ‘Sociables’, and so on? They’ve identified the US and China as two areas that need a lot of resources because that’s where they feel that the greatest growth is coming from. They’re mirroring your efforts and it’s like the sport has moved towards your approach.
“Well we took a lot of heat and criticism for it because the racing purists were a little resistant at first, but we found the people can only focus so much of their attention on the racing. However, we could still give them a lot more.
“The answer to your question is that it makes common sense to go where the money is.”
It definitely seems to be working. What have you experienced so far nine months into the new F1 management, with Chase Carey and Sean Bratches? What have you seen so far and what are the pros and cons of their changes?
“Well, we’ve seen an internal enthusiasm just explode within F1, employees and management which is encouraging to us. In terms of substantive changes, I think we’ll see those over time.
“I think everyone’s learning their roles. A lot of new roles, so we’ll see. They haven’t been here yet, into the circuit yet. So let’s wait and see. I don’t know if they fully realise what they have here.”
I see. Might Austin be an underexploited asset?
“Yep. I love the way you called it an ‘underexploited asset’, I wish I used that. That’s really well put because there are so many opportunities here and ways you could establish a real showcase ‘home-base’ for F1 in the US, and I think they’ll appreciate that much more after they experience it.
“If [F1 management] don’t leave the paddock area it’s very hard for them to really appreciate how much it’s grown this year.
“We’ve added two new huge areas, particularly the infield we’re opening a large infield in the track surrounds and this year fans will be able to go in there and there’s a whole party zone with everything from demonstrations, rides and sports bars to being able to be surrounded by the cars by almost 360 degrees.”
Like Turn 1 at Indianapolis: Chaos.
“The snakepit, we’ll take that.”
You’ve always said that you want more races in your timezone which help spread the word about your sport, so it certainly looks as though they’re going to put some sort of second race in the US into a “destination city”, like Miami or New York, presumably a street race. You’d welcome that?
“We do. I think absolutely anything that brings attention to the sport helps it grow. If it [a race in destination city] doesn’t add to the true growth of the fan base, then it just hurts the promoters.”
Where are you at with your relationship with them? How much longer are you on the hook for with this—or is it open-ended in terms of renewing a race at COTA. Where are we?
“Oh. I’ll keep that confidential.”
But you’ve got a few years ahead?
Well. Let’s hope you get that.
“I hope so.”
So now, the Breast Cancer Awareness event, tell me about how COTA is painting everything pink for the GP?
“So it’s—I don’t know if its a campaign in other countries but—in the US a pink ribbon, and the pink symbol and the pink theme, especially at sporting events have come to represent the cause of the campaign to raise both awareness and money for breast cancer research. And so this year at the US Grand Prix, there’ll be a lot of pink and the goal is simply to raise money.
“F1 is partnering with the Susan G Komen foundation to raise awareness for breast cancer research and I think using the global platform of F1 to raise awareness is of tremendous value to those people whose lives would be bettered by those advancements to breast cancer research.
“Over a half million people die every year due to breast cancer and tremendous strides are being made in the search for cures and treatments.
“I grew up less than two miles from the Susan Komen foundation as their headquarters are in Dallas and I watched them grow and it’s nice to see them making great strides towards treatment. People may not realise that but the research and research facility are in Houston as well as the Susan Komen facility in Dallas so it’s a great effort and Texas has been [important] to cancer research and breast cancer research.
“So that’s what we’ll try and do this year: help the cause.”
“The [Susan Komen foundation] believe that they could have the death rate halved in 10 years.
“And I think they’re well on their way, so people around the track or the drivers, they’ll be aware of it. So great strides are being made.”
[Note: there will be many highly visible aspects to this programme during the GP weekend as the Komen Foundation stages someting of a takeover on F1, which has not been done before. Even the microphones on the podium will be pink, we are told.]
ESPN is taking over from NBC to broadcast F1 in the USA. What are your thoughts on that?
“NBC was a very good partner to us but I can absolutely see what ESPN wants to do for the sport and Sean’s got a strong background there and I think he’ll know their strengths, make the most of them and know how best to use them.”
Finally the championship battle: We’ll saw what happened in Japan but it’s been a great championship with Ferrari vs Mercedes, Hamilton vs Vettel. Your thoughts on the sporting spectacle and the competition?
“It’s fantastic. I think the race, the battle has been even closer than the points show today. Hamilton’s dominated the last several years at our circuit but I think it’s been just clearly a result of the car. So this year, I’m excited to see what happens.
“But I don’t want to upset Lewis to say it’s just been the car! He’s been a good friend to us, but I think he’ll have a battle on his hands.”
Ferrari vs Mercedes is kind of exciting, two big names that everyone in America understands.
“Absolutely. Did you just automatically count Red Bull out?”
I’m talking about the championship battle this year.
“I know! But those guys did OK last week.”
Oh yeah they’re in the fight for the race win.
“You know what, I have to say we really focus on who’s gonna win the race and our fans are really focused on that, more so than thinking about what happens over the whole year.”
Are you excited about the US GP this year? Have your say in the comment section below.