LOS ANGELES – Formula One’s surging popularity in the U.S. will accelerate further with next month’s Las Vegas Grand Prix and an F1 movie starring Brad Pitt on the way, McLaren boss Zak Brown told Reuters.

U.S. interest in the sport has been supercharged in recent years by Netflix’s hit show “Drive to Survive” and the frenzy will shift into high gear when the sport’s top drivers race down the famed Las Vegas Strip the night of Nov. 18.

“It’s awesome that Formula One has finally caught on in North America,” Brown told Reuters in an interview.

“It has happened much more rapidly and more significantly than I ever thought possible, which is great news.”

Awareness of the sport in the U.S. plummeted after the U.S. Grand Prix fell off the F1 calendar in 2008 but rebounded strongly when it found a home in Austin in 2012.

Brown said F1 has attracted a wider array of fans since it was bought by Liberty Media in 2016 and hopes the excitement of a third U.S. race will translate into a ratings bonanza for ESPN, which will broadcast its races through 2025.

“You’ve got three great locations now with Miami, Las Vegas and Austin, and you have a new TV contract where they spent a lot more, so they are going to invest a lot more in the product,” said Brown, who is a Los Angeles native.

“The races are all sold out, corporate hospitality is off the charts. The awareness for Formula One is fantastic, but its TV ratings in North America relative to other major forms of sport are still very low,” Brown said.

“There’s a lot of room for viewership growth in America.”

F1’s return to Las Vegas after a decades-long absence is expected to be one of the biggest sporting spectacles of the year, with more than 105,000 fans in attendance each day beginning with open practices on Nov. 16.

Organizers estimate the event will inject around $1.2 billion into the local economy.

“Las Vegas is the hottest sporting ticket, not just in North America, but the world,” Brown said.

Meanwhile an as-yet-untitled movie starring Oscar winner Pitt from “Top Gun: Maverick” director Joseph Kosinski has been filming at racetracks.

“I think we all saw Top Gun and fancied being a fighter pilot and Tom Cruise when we all grew up, or at least that was the impact the movie had on me.

“And I think that’s the impact the movie’s going to have on men and women, boys and girls around the world. They’re going to go, this sport is cool. So I think it’ll bring in new fans and I think people will be fascinated.

“The Brad Pitt movie, the new television contract, put it all that together and I think it’s still early days in America.” REUTERS

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