Miami offers early test of F1’s march into modern America
May 06, 2022 - 09:17 AM
MIAMI — Formula One breaks new ground this weekend with the inaugural Miami Grand Prix in front of Hollywood stars and new US fans inspired by a change in the sport’s off-track approach.
But they know –- as some seasoned observers have warned –- that there have been as many flops as successes when it comes to introducing new circuits into the calendar and confirming F1’s established place in the modern American sporting landscape.
Spurred on by the hype and razzmatazz that has heralded the new Florida event, the second American race on the current schedule, most drivers anticipate a fast, thrilling and memorable contest at the Miami International Autodrome.
Alpha-Tauri’s Pierre Gasly praised it after practicing on the virtual version of the high-speed street track.
“I’ve tried it and I must say it looks pretty awesome,” Gasly said.
“I really liked the layout. Quite a lot of high-speed content, quite challenging, unusual type of corners, extremely long ones and very long straights.
“I think we should have some good American entertainment, all weekend, so I feel excited about it. The location is unique. I am hyped for the weekend!”
Gasly’s comments may change after his first close-up view of the track at the Hard Rock Stadium, home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.
Just as surely as there have been successful new events at Austin in Texas or Baku in Azerbaijan, there have been those to forget at Sochi, in Russia, at Istanbul or at Yeongam, in South Korea.
This new ‘ground effect’ era has ushered in closer racing and, with the temporary decline of champions Mercedes, a scrap between a new cast of young drivers who belong to the Netflix generation so avidly cultivated by the sport’s commercial-rights owners Liberty Media.
The American group took control five years ago and has steadily repositioned F1’s audience appeal, moving to a younger less-European-focused demographic with a wider switch towards digital and social media engagement.
Conquering America is not the only goal, even if a sell-out weekend crowd of around 420,000 is enthralled by the spectacle and the celebrity parade.
The bedding-in of new generation drivers and their back stories will have wider appeal, as world champion Max Verstappen revealed when reflecting on his relationship with current series leader and old foe Charles Leclerc.
“We were similar in age so we had a lot of karting battles, but also we made our way through to F1 together,” he said.
“And it was not just the two of us -– there were others we know like George (Russell) and Carlos (Sainz). Now we’re all here in F1 and fighting with the top teams.”
Their back stories are perfect drama for Netflix’s Drive to Survive series, a show that the Dutchman has criticised for lacking authenticity.
As a traditionalist, he might also have preferred to race in America on one of the many established classic circuits -– Watkins Glen and Long Beach are long-cherished favourites always mentioned along with Laguna Seca and Road America –- rather than join a list of temporary street tracks.
On Sunday, however, Michael Jordan, David Beckham and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson are expected in Miami to seal the inaugural event’s stellar status in a new order.
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton believes it is confirmation that F1 is conquering the USA.
“Growing up, knowing how amazing the sport is but seeing a disconnect between the US and the rest of the world, it’s amazing now to see we’ve cracked it,” he said.
“It’s going to be huge. I’ve been coming out here for a long time, but never understood why people weren’t into F1.
“This Netflix show, particularly through the pandemic, has just brought massive awareness to the sport and now it’s booming.”
His enthusiasm may be infectious, but that does not guarantee it will endure.
The United States has had more host venues than any other country in F1 history.
Miami becomes the 11th, following Indianapolis (twice), Sebring, Riverside, Watkins Glen, Long Beach, Las Vegas (also held in a converted car park), Detroit, Dallas, Phoenix and Austin.