Why Miami's first F1 race could never live up to its mega hype

OPINION: With a former first lady of America, the king of basketball and the GOAT of all NFL quarterbacks in the house, the on-track Miami GP show was never going to outshine the off-track A-listers

Why Miami's first F1 race could never live up to its mega hype

The standout performer of the Miami Grand Prix for me wasn’t Max Verstappen or Charles Leclerc or Esteban Ocon – although they were all pretty mega. It was Martin Brundle, whose TV grid walk for Sky Sports F1 came as close as possible to making some sense of the insanity of this bonkers, celeb-packed new event on the Formula 1 schedule.

As he bounced between the likes of the Williams tennis sisters, Pharrell Williams and (not) Patrick Mahomes (who turned out to be Duke basketball’s potential NBA star Paolo Banchero), it was an incredible piece of entertaining television. Brundle’s air of mild bemusement by the whole spectacle really made it feel like you were along for the bizarre ride where you hadn’t a clue what would happen next.

This could only happen here. I’ve lived in Miami for over seven years now, so it was no surprise to me when I heard about the fake marina, the cable cars over the track or the Hard Rock Beach Club (complete with basking fake mermaids) – where they paved a parking lot and put up a paradise.

It was so very Miami, a car chase that was only missing Don Johnson in his Ferrari Daytona (and remember, was fake too).

PLUS: How imperfect Miami offered F1's drivers a unique challenge

For all the gripes, though, about the ‘Americanization’ of F1, the one thing that wasn’t touched was the sporting spectacle. No attempts were made to jazz-up that side of things, no timeouts or dancers on the track during the safety-car period. Sure, there were world-class DJs in the house, spinning their tunes between sessions, but pretty much everything in these parts happens with a thumping backbeat anyways.

The artificial marina created at the circuit caused a buzz on social media

The artificial marina created at the circuit caused a buzz on social media

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

And so what if Pirelli gave the podium finishers football helmets to wear instead of caps at an NFL stadium? They did Stetsons at COTA, Ushankas in Sochi and Sombreros in Mexico City.

For anyone present at the Hard Rock Stadium, getting the chance to be in the same zip code as Michelle Obama, Michael Jordan and Tom Brady made your day before a wheel had turned. For the rest of the world, the jealousy was palpable across social media – whether you knew who these celebrities and influencers flouncing around were or not.

If you were on site, chances are you’d paid a pretty penny for the privilege. SeatGeek revealed the event’s raceday tickets had an average resale price of $2414. By comparison, Austin’s COTA tickets are reselling at just over $1k, while NASCAR’s Daytona 500 was $311 and the upcoming Indy 500 is $361. A buddy of mine bought six tickets, then sold four – two of which covered the seats he used himself. Then he made a $3k profit on the other pair!

Without wishing to brag, I wangled myself into the Paddock Club East – which offered a sensational view of the Turn 1 braking zone that I’d spotted as a perfect vantage spot from my previous visits to the venue while it was being constructed. 

One of the many things TV missed at the weekend was Turn 1, lap one of free practice one: Almost every driver outbraked himself and went off! The crowd loved it as mistake after mistake unfolded, and even when the drivers got their head around the braking point – which was clearly earlier than their sims had led them to believe – Charles Leclerc and Yuki Tsunoda had wild spins.

I was in the VIP seats thanks to F1’s bubbly supplier Ferrari Trento, which revealed that 50,000 bottles of its fine fizzy wine had been enjoyed by the 200,000 fans at the track and in the Miami-Dade region over race weekend. And the mind boggles at the merchandise sales that must’ve taken place – Red Bull, Mercedes or Ferrari caps seem to be the must-wear item on South Beach’s Lincoln Road right now.

A prosperous and popular F1 is a good F1 in my mind, especially in a market it had struggled to truly crack for so long.

Fans watch under the Hard Rock Stadium cover

Fans watch under the Hard Rock Stadium cover

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

But, if you’re feeling ‘well jel’ about the stacks of VIPs flashing their cash, you can have the last laugh, as a major hospitality fail meant that there was a lack of food on offer on Friday. There’s something extra angry about rich people being denied things – especially with the premium price they’d paid for the posh seats. You didn’t get to read much about it though, as the food supply in the media centre was plentiful!

A huge plus point for me across the weekend was the number of women who attended the race. It was as close to a 50/50 split as I’ve ever seen at a racetrack, and they weren’t being hauled around by husbands or boyfriends – in many cases it seemed the other way around.

The female contingent all around the Miami Campus appeared completely engaged with the event. It explains some of the uplift we’ve seen in the latest F1 Global Fan Survey; that Drive to Survive impact has been hugely positive for female interest in the series, not just the US audience in general.

On the subject of television, live coverage on the ABC network produced an audience of 2.6million – F1’s biggest-ever number in US history (previous record was 1.7m for Brazil 1995) but that was a tad down on NASCAR’s impressive tally on FS1 from Darlington, which started at the same time.

One thing that did strike me as odd was the timetable of the weekend. Not only clashing with NASCAR, pushing it into the late afternoon in Miami in May was asking for thunderstorms – and they got lucky with the direction the wind was blowing during the daytime, as the heavens only really opened at the track during the evenings.

With last year's Spa debacle still fresh in mind, the usual protocol of dealing with electrical storms in the US is to halt the racing and evacuate the crowd from the grandstands until there hasn’t been a lightning strike within 10 miles for 30 minutes. Imagine that for the show? I was told that there was a “very detailed plan in place” for lightning – although nobody would tell me what it actually was…

Drivers had a mixed response to the Miami track

Drivers had a mixed response to the Miami track

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

The drivers loved being in Miami but, as usual, found something to complain about with the track. For me, it was key to this event’s success that the track was different – it needed a USP, especially with a Las Vegas street track coming next year. The stadium gave a unique backdrop, and the track’s unusual surface gave teams and drivers something to think about.

I grabbed a Pirelli hot lap of the track on Friday and, from the passenger seat of an Aston Martin Vantage, the contrast from the fast and flowing areas to the twisty sections following the Turn 11 hairpin was huge. Again, it’s something that sets the venue apart – and I don’t think it’s a bad thing having drivers complain about that chicane: they’re meant to be the best in the world, so the last thing it should be is ‘easy’.

As Stefano Domenicali told us: “If they are not happy there is a lot of sport to do. I'm joking!” Many a true word spoken in jest, Stefano…

He added: “As always, we need to look into perspective, the bigger picture. What we have lived this weekend is huge for the sport.”

Quite right, too. The Miami GP couldn’t have been just about the racing on track to justify its presence on the schedule, because sport here is nothing without spectacle.

Even if you could have guaranteed racing like Gilles Villeneuve/Rene Arnoux at Dijon 1979, combined with the crash chaos of Silverstone 1973 with Verstappen crossing the finish line backwards, people would still have been talking about that incredibly awkward silence between Brundle and Venus Williams on the grid walk…

Like Monaco, which even has a real marina, this race should be celebrated for what it is – an outlier that should never be regarded as the norm.

Numerous celebrities, including Venus Williams, were in attendance

Numerous celebrities, including Venus Williams, were in attendance

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

shares
comments
Norris hopes FIA learns from Miami F1 barrier call after crashes
Previous article

Norris hopes FIA learns from Miami F1 barrier call after crashes

Next article

Vettel: Climate crisis makes me question racing in F1

Vettel: Climate crisis makes me question racing in F1
Who were the fastest drivers in F1 2022? Plus

Who were the fastest drivers in F1 2022?

Who was the fastest driver in 2022? Everyone has an opinion, but what does the stopwatch say? Obviously, differing car performance has an effect on ultimate laptime – but it’s the relative speed of each car/driver package that’s fascinating and enlightening says ALEX KALINAUCKAS

Why F1's nearly man is refreshed and ready for his return Plus

Why F1's nearly man is refreshed and ready for his return

He has more starts without a podium than anyone else in Formula 1 world championship history, but Nico Hulkenberg is back for one more shot with Haas. After spending three years on the sidelines, the revitalised German is aiming to prove to his new team what the F1 grid has been missing

Formula 1
Jan 29, 2023
The potential-laden F1 car that Ferrari neglected Plus

The potential-laden F1 car that Ferrari neglected

The late Mauro Forghieri played a key role in Ferrari’s mid-1960s turnaround, says STUART CODLING, and his pretty, intricate 1512 was among the most evocative cars of the 1.5-litre era. But a victim of priorities as Formula 1 was deemed less lucrative than success in sportscars, its true potential was never seen in period

Formula 1
Jan 28, 2023
Why Vasseur relishes 'feeling the pressure' as Ferrari's F1 boss Plus

Why Vasseur relishes 'feeling the pressure' as Ferrari's F1 boss

OPINION: Fred Vasseur has spent only a few weeks as team principal for the Ferrari Formula 1 team, but is already intent on taking the Scuderia back to the very top. And despite it being arguably the most demanding job in motorsport, the Frenchman is relishing the challenge

Formula 1
Jan 27, 2023
The crucial tech changes F1 teams must adapt to in 2023 Plus

The crucial tech changes F1 teams must adapt to in 2023

Changes to the regulations for season two of Formula 1's ground-effects era aim to smooth out last year’s troubles and shut down loopholes. But what areas have been targeted, and what impact will this have?

Formula 1
Jan 26, 2023
Are these the 50 quickest drivers in F1 history? Plus

Are these the 50 quickest drivers in F1 history?

Who are the quickest drivers in Formula 1 history? LUKE SMITH asked a jury of experienced and international panel of experts and F1 insiders. Some of them have worked closely with F1’s fastest-ever drivers – so who better to vote on our all-time top 50? We’re talking all-out speed here rather than size of trophy cabinet, so the results may surprise you…

Formula 1
Jan 25, 2023
One easy way the FIA could instantly improve F1 Plus

One easy way the FIA could instantly improve F1

OPINION: During what is traditionally a very quiet time of year in the Formula 1 news cycle, FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has been generating headlines. He’s been commenting on massive topics in a championship that loves them, but also addressing necessary smaller changes too. Here we suggest a further refinement that would be a big boon to fans

Formula 1
Jan 24, 2023
How can McLaren keep hold of Norris? Plus

How can McLaren keep hold of Norris?

Lando Norris is no longer the young cheeky-chappy at McLaren; he’s now the established ace. And F1's big guns will come calling if the team can’t give him a competitive car. Here's what the team needs to do to retain its prize asset

Formula 1
Jan 24, 2023