I’ve lived in Houston for 35 years and I’ve been to F1 races all around the world: Hockenheim, Spa, Montreal, Monaco, Barcelona and Austin. Houston could be an ideal and extremely profitable place for an F1 city circuit, decidely so if Austin does not renew their current contract.
What makes a “great” F1 experience
First off, proximity to the city and smoothness of transportation is near the top of my list. Nothing spoils a race more than a 3.5 hour wait for a train back to the city in 90 degree heat (looking at you Barcelona). There should be expedient transportation infrastructure to alleviate the 300,000+ fans going to the track. An understandable knee-jerk response is “Houston traffic is awful, are you f&$%ing kidding me?”, but let’s discuss how this can be mitigated later.
Montreal is a great example. They have traffic mitigation down to a science. A main city subway line stops hundreds of feet from the entrance to the track and ran like clockwork getting thousands of people into and out of the city. From leaving my AirBnb to butt-in-seat was a mere 40 minutes. For context, Hockenheim took about 100 minutes and Barcelona 150 minutes. This is not to say that those tracks are not great tracks, they are. But, what makes a truly great experience is the relative ease of getting around the city and the track, particularly as the sport grows in popularity and attendance numbers.
It’s easy to see why city circuits are at such an obvious advantage: the race occurs WITHIN the city, not outside of it. Some of my fondest F1 memories are immediately after the action; walking over to a local restaurant or bar and chatting with new international friends about how Verstappen whines constantly on the radio and Hamilton is a prima donna. Unfortunately for places like Austin, Hockenheim, Miami, Barcelona etc., a long return commute is required before any kind of additional entertainment or relaxation can happen. This commute diffuses the concentration of fans and limits further economic opportunities.
Secondly, the track itself should be iconic and reflect the unique geography of the city or area around it. No better example of this exists than Spa where the winding and undulating circuit has a name for every single turn with one specifically known as the most famous in the world: Eau Rouge. Now, I know… Houston is “flat” and “boring” blah blah blah and we’ll get to addressing that soon, but think about another city circuit that is “flat” (apart from 3 turns) but one of the most exciting on the calendar: Baku.
Baku is a relatively new track, but has quickly proven to be a crowd favorite. The combination of 90-degree modern city circuit turns, winding old-world turns through the medieval part of the city, and an absurdly long front straight never fails to keep spectators intrigued. It’s with this kind of blueprint that Houston could also be successful.
Lastly (and somewhat related), is the importance of sight-lines for every ticket class. The Austin track excels in this regard whereas Montreal and Monaco truly suffers. I’ve been to the Austin track three times, always general admission, and thoroughly enjoyed the race. In Montreal, I paid more to sit in seats and saw a fraction of the race action. A fraction. I found myself watching the large TV screen in front of me instead of the race; not exactly the experience I was hoping for. Regardless of the amount of money one is able to spend on tickets, there should be more than adequate views of the track from a variety of vantage points.
How Houston can be a “great” experience
Track layout: The Buffalo Bayou & surrounding parks are lined by two very enjoyable stretches of road: the Allen Parkway and Memorial Drive. These two drives can serve as the primary long straights through one of Houston’s prettiest parts of the city with downtown skyscrapers serving as backdrops. Then winding through a portion of downtown, the remaining street circuit would mirror the same kind of exciting action offered at Singapore and Baku while passing a number of parks and iconic landmarks. There are good vantage points from a half dozen different parks along the track for both seated and general admission patrons, especially if the idea for the Pierce Skypark continues to gain momentum. A NYC-style High Line park adjacent to the track would be spectacular to say the least.
Infrastructure: the track layout utilizes commonly closed areas of downtown for foot and bike races. The light rail can bring in spectators from parking areas south and east of the city and the plethora of parking garages downtown ensures that large crowds can be accommodated. This is all without mentioning that the downtown underground can be used for getting fans to their seats without having to build many over-track walkways. Downtown Houston has hosted 3 professional events downtown on the weekend at the same time before (NBA, MLB, MLS) without the nightmare traffic scenarios I’ve seen in Barcelona or Austin. Proper scheduling and use light rails to move fans to larger parking areas with access to the surrounding highways can mitigate a variety of centralized traffic issues.
Surrounding Area: Centered around the theatre and historic parts of downtown Houston, there’s no shortage to the number of quality restaurants and bars in the area. The after race activities would be incredible and damn near limitless. Race attendees would stay and continue to spend money instead of vacating the region entirely. Not only does this help alleviate some traffic issues, but it brings us to one of the biggest points to why F1 in Houston could be a bit hit: profitability.
The profitability of a Houston race
This one is easy. 1. Energy companies. 2. Houston diversity & population. 3. Demand.
There are a two major energy companies headquartered in Houston that have deep partnerships with F1 teams: ExxonMobil with Red Bull & Shell with Ferrari. There is no doubt both of these corporations would be happy to sponsor the race and create large, branded fan zones. Along with numerous other energy & healthcare companies vying for association with F1 events, there’s no doubt to the demand for advertising and new sponsorship deals.
This coupled with the significant international diversity of Houston that recently helped win a World Cup bid for 2026, and you have a dynamic combo of partnerships and local interest. The city will no doubt pump money into better city infrastructure for the World Cup, what better continuation of that use of public money than to utilize it again year after year in F1?
Granted, the track investment would be significant and additional infrastructure improvements like completing a bridge across the Buffalo Bayou and burying all electrical lines would be costly, but these improvements would also serve to make the city of Houston itself a better city. As is the case with most inaugural races, the first year will likely not be very profitable for Liberty Media (the owning group of Formula 1), but the city would reap huge economic benefits and put us on the map as a potential sports mecca.
A pipe dream yes, but a good one.
There are F1 fans that are far more intelligent than I when it comes to designing tracks and forming opinions on what makes a great F1 race experience, but the conversation remains an interesting one for Houston. Using Baku as a blueprint, we could create an iconic F1 city circuit that combines the high speed straights of Monza with the downtown turns of Singapore.
Here’s to dreaming.