Editorial note: This is a freelance article from a contributor. If you’re interested in writing for us, please email awfulannouncing@gmail.com with your pitch. Michael Corvo is a writer based in Los Angeles, he’s the Lakers beat reporter for ClutchPoints.

Thanks to Drive to Survive, the corporate and consumer thirst for live sports, the normalization of betting, COVID-19, and a scuderia of exciting young drivers, Formula 1 exploded in popularity in the United States over the past half-decade. Conveniently, the boom’s climax coincided with the most compelling championship race in the sport’s history.

In 2021, most F1 races hit record marks for viewership in the U.S. The 2022 season saw a 30% increase (per race) across ESPN platforms. The 2023 calendar expanded to 23 races, including a night ride through the Las Vegas Strip. F1 has profited via lucrative media, manufacturing, and sponsorship deals. Business is undeniably booming… for now.

A decade ago, after sustained success in Europe, F1 ratings cratered as Red Bull obliterated the grid. In 2012, 515 million fans tuned in. In 2013, when Sebastian Vettel took the final nine races — capping off a four-year run at the top for Red Bull — that figured dipped to 450 million. As Mercedes won the next eight Constructor’s titles, steered by Lewis Hamilton, viewership dipped to 390 million by 2015, prompting a rejiggering of the circuit’s operations and the series’ discounted — and instantly successful — sale to Liberty Media. Mercedes won 19 of 21 races in 2016, yet U.S. broadcasts saw its highest viewership ever. DTS hit Netflix in 2019.

Like golf (which has its own Box to Box series), F1 was able to resume relatively early into the pandemic. As consumption skyrocketed, an ideal season transpired. In 2021, Max Verstappen won 10 races. Lewis won eight. Sergio Perez, Esteban Ocon, Daniel Ricciardo, and Valteri Bottas earned P1s. The championship controversially came down to the final lap. Manufactured drama? Perhaps. In other words: entertainment.

Despite the FIA’s efforts to ensure parity via technical regulations and cost caps, 2022 was lopsided. Max won 15 of 22 races. Checo won two. Ferrari self-combusted due to a cavalcade of errors. The Drivers’ and Constructers’ championships were wrapped with four races to go.

There were plenty of engrossing storylines up and down the grid, but the casual American observer cares about #rings. 2022 ratings subsided with the tension. Overall, the average race garnered about 35% more viewers than 2021. But, the debut Miami Grand Prix in May came in 27% higher than Austin, which occurred after Max clinched. Of the four races that ran after the titles were decided, only Brazil surpassed its 2021 viewership (fortunate, because Mercedes’ George Russell won). The Abu Dhabi finale, which aired on ESPN2 opposite the World Cup, was one of five races in 2022 to average fewer than a million eyeballs. 

Red Bull comfortably blew past the competition in last week’s season-opener in Bahrain. Frankly, Fernando Alonso earning a podium saved the event from being a total snooze (he came in half-a-minute behind Perez, who was 12 seconds behind Max).

“Red Bull has got this championship sewn up, I don’t think anyone is going to be fighting with them this year,” admitted Russell. “I expect they should win every single race this season. That is my bet. With the performance they’ve got I don’t see anyone challenging them.”

Therein lies the problem. Americans riding shotgun on F1’s sprint into the mainstream were spoiled by a uniquely competitive season in 2021 that went down to the final lap of the final race. Two years later, people are realizing that magical season was an outlier. 

So, has America already reached Peak F1 — as it seems to have with other recent cultural phenomena like podcasts and crypto? The fact that’s F1’s $255 million broadcast deal with Disney only lasts for three years implies long-term skepticism. Each un-stimulating Sunday dampens the enthusiasm from American fans. An explosion can rapidly diffuse into an occasional spark.

Anedoctally, I know numerous converts who rode the F1 wave until Ferrari tailed off last season, if not before. One friend admitted his engagement has dwindled since ‘21 Abu Dhabi, though he fondly recalled the multiple winners throughout that season. “It’s different with RB,” he said about 2023.

“I chose to be a Red Bull fan pre-2021 and my interest has already started to wane,” another buddy told me.

We’re driving on untested roads. Comparing ratings to previous years is admittedly fraught considering F1’s unprecedented surge in the States. Hundreds of thousands of folks descended onto or watched Miami and Austin for the inaugural spectacles, as they will for Vegas. Key word: Inaugural. Will 400,000 patrons go to Texas in 2026? 

The wheels aren’t about to fall off, but Formula 1 is at a crossroads in America. If you’re bullish, you’re looking at factors like the five races on this continent in 2023, Liberty Media’s commitment to producing original content, Ricciardo’s transition into a crossover media star (maybe with a ManningCast and Hulu scripted series), Brad Pitt working with Lewis on a blockbuster, and, most importantly, escalating interest from young people and women.

But (Liberty) buyers beware. Bahrain drew 40,000 fewer viewers than in 2022. That could mean nothing ­— it was one race (albeit during a tepid sports moment) and viewership for auto races was down across the board, like many live TV events in the cord-cutting era. Or, it could be foreshadowing a downturn.

Regardless of the standings, there should be enough resources invested in prolonging F1’s ascent (the Netflix bump persists), on top of aplenty midfield narratives for the junkies. The North American races, at U.S.-friendly hours, will be A-List events. An American driver is on the grid now, too.

Still, it’s fair to wonder whether F1’s contemporary popularity will porpoise. Surely, it will remain a bankable, glamorous enterprise with millions of fans and a uniquely elegant brand. But will its headwinds lose steam? Another ho-hum year of Red Bull dominance could lead to ho-hum consumer engagement. Feíle may not be quite as packed on Sunday mornings. Simply put: F1 needs tension at the top. The intentions behind the regulatory changes indicate the sport’s leaders know this.

The foundation is laid, and the floor is high (even as the car’s floors get lower). But incremental growth implies the end of a boom. Unlike at Monaco, it’s easy to get overtaken in the race for attention in 2023.