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Miami Grand Prix Shows Flashes of What the Future of F1 Could Be

Racing fever swept South Florida last weekend as celebrities such as Serena Williams, James Corden and Tom Brady filled the paddock. The sport’s drivers, meanwhile, saw room for improvement.

MIAMI — Close your eyes.

Imagine the Florida heat in May, the slight breeze as the afternoon storms roll in and sun beating down. You’re walking through the crowded paddock, shouldering your way past Michael Jordan, Serena Williams and David Beckham as they try to make their way to the garages. You hear the roar of fans in the distance, nearly drowning out the sounds of Formula One cars zipping around a track built just in the last year around one of the most well-known entertainment venues in the United States.

It’s a hectic scene filled with A-listers but gives off a familiar vibe, likely best equated to the Super Bowl. Welcome to Formula One in the U.S.

The country is no stranger to motorsports with IndyCar and NASCAR dominating the race scene, but F1 hadn’t seemed to become mainstream in the States until recently. Daniel Ricciardo said, “A few years ago, come to America and you go to customs, and they’ll say, ‘why are you here?’ And I’m like, ‘I’m here for sport. I’m a F1 driver.’ They’ll go like, ‘Oh, is that like stock car racing?’ They really didn’t know much at all.”

Formula One is the highest class of international auto racing, a pillar of luxury with Rolex and Emirates Airline & Group as partners and Aston Martin, Mercedes and Ferrari as teams. It’s one of the most diverse sports leagues in the world, with drivers hailing from all over the globe.

Many wonder why it took so long for Formula One to gain a foothold stateside, but the Miami Grand Prix showed what the future of the sport could be while highlighting needed improvements to warrant continuing here. The organizers brought the glitz and the glam, sparing no expense in building the approximately $40 million venue.

Ever since Liberty Media purchased Formula One six years ago, there’s been a bigger focus on combining sports, culture and lifestyle to create a racing spectacle for global audiences. And with a sold-out crowd of 85,000 attending Sunday, including celebrities we see across magazine covers, and some of music’s most popular artists performing, it’s safe to say that a show was put on in Miami.

“Formula 1 is all around, the amount of guest requests we have is amazing,” Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said. “I think we’ve finally landed in North America.”

But did the race live up to the hype, signifying that F1 has indeed finally made it stateside? Maybe.

Hailee Steinfeld and Serena Williams selfie during the F1 Miami GP

Serena Williams and Hailee Steinfeld take a selfie during the F1 Miami GP.

Putting on the Show in More Ways Than One

Hard Rock Stadium has become an entertainment powerhouse over the years, hosting the Miami Open, the 2020 Super Bowl and ’21 College Football Playoff national championship. Jay Z, Beyoncé, Coldplay and U2 have all hosted concerts in the historic venue, and now, some of motorsports’ finest have zipped around a 5.41 km (approximately 3.36-mile) track called the Miami International Autodrome surrounding the arena. 

Countless celebrities posted about the event, creating even more buzz on social media about the inaugural Grand Prix. And the venue reflected the money in the sport. Different fan experiences around the track, such as the marina with real yachts but fake water, had the town talking. Not only did the race break U.S. TV viewership records, just over 85,000 fans flocked to campus to watch the race Sunday, making it the largest crowd on record for Hard Rock Stadium.

According to ESPN, the network averaged 963,000 viewers per event in 2021, which was up more than 50% compared to ’20’s numbers. U.S. fans seem set to blow past that mark this year, as more than a million tuned in for the ’22 season opener in Bahrain, peaking at 1.5 million.

The Miami Grand Prix even topped that figure. ESPN announced that Sunday’s live telecast recorded an average of 2.6 million U.S. viewers, the largest audience for a live F1 race broadcast on American television. It peaked at 2.9 million viewers between 4:45 p.m. and 5 p.m. ET., and for the 18-49 age group, the race averaged 735,000 fans.

Miami International Autodrome, Miami, United States on 6 May 2022 Lando Norris 4 (GBR)

For most of the 21st century, Formula One has only scheduled one race in the U.S., and since 2012, that has been in Austin, Texas. Now, three races are on the horizon for ’23, and Miami is here to stay for the next decade. One of the major factors leading the charge in making this happen and opening the door for a new generation is Netflix’s hit series Formula 1: Drive to Survive.

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The show provides a behind-the-scenes look at the circuit that uses the world as its playground, highlighting the action and providing context to story lines that emerge both on and off the course. And while it has brought in a new era of fans, there has been criticism among the drivers, such as reigning world champion Max Verstappen, about the tendency for the series to over-dramatize.

McLaren’s Zak Brown said Saturday, “Our whole ecosystem starts with the fan and when you get the fan, you have countries that want to hold races, you have broadcasters that want to spend money and broadcast our event, which then all trickles down to the racing teams, which then allows us to pay all the salaries of the men and women that work at our racing teams, drivers included.

“I don’t think we’d be sitting here at this racetrack, realistically, probably, without what Netflix has done.”

Drivers Weigh in on Track: ’Not F1 Standard’

The dust settled around Miami Gardens and Hard Rock Stadium, fans long cleared out from the grandstands.

Within a few hours of the Grand Prix ending and Verstappen holding on to beat points leader Charles Leclerc, the traveling circus fell into routine by packing everything up again for its next destination. Many subplots emerged from the Sunday race—the latest of the Ferrari-Red Bull battle with the 24-year-old stars at the forefront (Leclerc for Ferrari, Verstappen for Red Bull), Mercedes still facing its car woes and the ongoing buzz of Formula One coming to America, the possibilities of the future.

Las Vegas is on the horizon in 2023, opening the door to three U.S. races on the sport’s exclusive calendar. But given the hype around Miami, how does it remain a top event? 

Alpine’s CEO Laurent Rossi put it best during Saturday’s press conference. 

“First it’s the show on the track. So if the race is good, if they take care of the track, of the surface, if they address any issues, if we find some, in terms of like accident-prone areas, you know, all the things, if they make sure that the track is consistently providing a good show, that’s already the first important parameter. And then it’s all the amenities, facilities, everything that enables a good organization around the event. And finally, it’s the entertainment around the whole show, because it’s a show: that’s what it is.” 

He continued, saying, “so far, they’re doing an amazing job, they are raising the bar.”

Wolff added, “There’s so many things that already work in favor of Miami: the city, the entertainment that it’s provided outside of the racing track. But I think one major factor will be how entertaining the race will be. These are great expectations from fans and partners that come to Miami, and I think whatever needs to be done for the track to provide that real entertainment factor will be important to consider for the future.”

Glitz and glam for a show? Check.

Outside of the actual race, qualifying and practice sessions for F1, the W Series and Porsche Sprint Challenge, there were concerts galore around town with Kygo, Joe Jonas, Post Malone and the Chainsmokers performing (to name a few). The Grand Prix was fulfilling the entertainment factor that it promised. But what about the race itself?

Drivers made their opinions known throughout the weekend concerning the track, but it reached a new level after the race was over Sunday.

Carlos Sainz and Esteban Ocon were still feeling the aftereffects from their respective crashes in the same corner during different practices, a corner where Ferrari’s Sainz (who crashed first on Friday) asked why there was not a Tecpro barrier in the turn.

Verstappen, who said Sunday that the race was “really incredibly well organized” and he “had a lot of fun driving around,” did point out areas that could be changed to fit an F1 car better. He added that with Sector 2, it “would have been nice if it could have been a bit faster and flowing for an F1 car like we have right now. You know: super long, heavy, wide. The 14-15 chicane is a bit of a tricky combination.”

Others were calling for the track to be repaved after offering little grip. Per The Race, it had already been resurfaced in certain places twice the week prior. Fernando Alonso disclosed that the drivers told the FIA that “the tarmac is not F1 standard.”

Miami GP track impression

George Russell said in his post-race interview that he “almost crashed coming into the pit lane,” and the drivers “requested to get the pit entry blend line removed because we knew that with all the marbles having to go around outside of the corner, it’s gonna cause a crash.” However, that did not happen.

“And it’s strange because every other new tarmac on these tracks, you know, with Jeddah, with Melbourne, I can’t think to the top of my head now, but they generally offer really high grip really good racing on- and off-line.”

He continued, adding, “It just does not offer good racing. You can’t go side-by-side with a car around the corner. There’s zero grip off-line. So it’s kind of like driving in the wet when there’s one dry line … So I mean, it’s drivable, but it depends if they want to offer good racing and something good for the drivers.”

But all hope is not lost with the Miami Grand Prix. Sainz said during the post-race press conference, “I think, between FIA and ourselves, we can do a better job with the tarmac. We can do a better job with some corner combinations, and we can put together an even better show in the future.”

As the sun sets on another historic Grand Prix weekend, fans, the media and teams walk away witnessing the possibility of a new era of Formula One in the United States. Although the race struck a monotonous tone after Verstappen passed Leclerc for the lead early on in the 57-lap race, the viewership and attendance records should not be given an asterisk. It may not have been dramatic and the Grand Prix didn’t turn a profit, but the interest and growth possibility in this new battle ground is evident. Money does talk, though, and it echoed during the Miami Grand Prix. The drivers’ safety concerns are real, but the ability to improve while keeping the integrity of the spectacle is there.

America, meet Formula One.

“Take the results aside—I wish we had a better weekend. But, there was a very, very, I think very good Grand Prix. The reception, the fans through the city, it was awesome,” Ricciardo said. “The Paddock was a zoo. It was not fans. Celebrities, all of it. Pretty sure Ashton [Kutcher] and Mila [Kunis] shouted out my name at one point.

“I feel like everyone that was here has a real interest in Formula One, whether it’s through Netflix or through just the sport having a growing presence. So it’s been fun to see. For us, it’s not about us becoming bigger celebrities. It’s really just about us sharing our passion with more of the world, and it’s been so hidden for many years.”

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