NBC Sports Group's first season of Formula One coverage in 2013 was viewed by 15 per cent more people than watched the 2012 season, broadcast on Fox and the now-defunct Speed.
The encouraging numbers – a total of 10.297 million viewers against Fox/Speed's 8.949 million – were released by NBC on Wednesday, on the same day as world motorsport's governing body, the FIA, released the final calendar for the 2014 season.
As expected, the 19-race schedule does not feature a second US Grand Prix, with local organisers in New Jersey yet to satisfy the sport's powerbrokers that it has the necessary funding in place. However, Formula One has scheduled the third Grand Prix at Austin's Circuit of the Americas (COTA) on the same day as a Nascar Sprint Cup event in the same state.
The state of Texas may be larger than all but six countries which stage Grands Prix, but the 2nd November clash is still seen as far-from-ideal as Formula One tries to lay down a marker in the market it has traditionally found hard to crack.
In 2012, the first Formula One event at the purpose-built COTA was scheduled against the championship-deciding round of the Sprint Cup in Miami, a move which, despite COTA attracting a race-day crowd of 117,429 impacted upon US television ratings.
There was another clash with Nascar when the 2013 Grand Prix was held last month, but the proximity of the two venues for 2014 is likely to have more of an effect on spectator numbers – 113,162 fans attended November's Formula One race, slightly down on the first year.
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Despite differences in spectator demographics, it is a natural conclusion that the less established event will be most affected – despite plateauing broadcast ratings and concerns over its own spectator attendances, Nascar remains, by some distance, America's most popular form of motorsport. NBC certainly believes so, having acquired the US broadcast rights for the 2015 season.
While there have been suggestions that the 2014 clash may allow for the kind of cross-promotions for sponsors active in both championships – long-term McLaren partner Exxon Mobil, for example, this week agreed a deal to remain a sponsor of the Stewart-Haas Sprint Cup team – rarely possible before, others are not so confident.
Texas Motor Speedway chairman Eddie Gossage, speaking on Wednesday, called Formula One's decision a “foolish move”, adding: “Our two Nascar Sprint Cup races draw the two largest crowds in Texas sports. It isn't the smartest move to try to compete with that.”
The instant success of the Grand Prix in Austin, already rated by some insiders as one of the top four Formula One events for sponsors along with Monaco, Abu Dhabi and Singapore, combined with NBC's acclaimed coverage of the sport suggests that Formula One is finally gaining a foothold in the US.
NBC's broadcast of the final race of a 2013 season dominated by Sebastian Vettel last month saw a 117 per cent year-on-year increase in viewers across the country, with 1.061 million watching the Red Bull driver's victory in Brazil. NBC believes that its nationwide coverage of the US Grand Prix, which averages 1.061 million viewers, would have been higher had severe weather in the mid-west region not occurred.
The proposed New Jeresy event, which would be known as the Grand Prix of America, appears no closer after being dropped from a provisional 2014 calendar circulated earlier this year. Leo Hindery Jr., the head of the promotional company trying to make the event in the shadow of Manhattan happen, insisted on Wednesday, however, that a 2015 slot was still more than possible.
“Bringing a world-class race to the world's largest media market is a huge undertaking that has required balancing construction of our road course, without tapping any public money, with the sport's own timing demands,” Hindery said.
Formula One chief executive Bernie Ecclestone said there was “significant momentum” still behind the project and that the sport was “close to realizing a New York City F1 race”.
Aside from New Jersey, Formula One has also dropped the unloved Korean Grand Prix and a proposed new race in Mexico from the 2014 calendar. The season will begin, as has become traditional, in Australia on 16th March, with new races set for Austria in June and Russia in October. Abu Dhabi, not Brazil, will host the final event of the season on 23rd November.