After a pretty momentous week in South Florida, Formula 1 learned plenty about where it stands in the United States, how Miami executed its first race weekend, and what the future might look like.
So after all the hype and excitement surrounding the race, I thought it was right to reflect on the week that was in Miami Gardens, with three major takeaways.
The show was spectacular, the race could be better
There’s no escaping the fact that Miami delivered a remarkable first event. There are always teething problems – in fact there are regularly issues with anything of this scale – but the fact there were so few at the newly-constructed Miami International Autodrome was particularly impressive.
The main issues appeared to center around Paddock Club early in the weekend, with Tom Garfinkel explaining the late arrival of casual workers (due to the way they were being bussed in) led to guests arriving before food had been prepared. It’s an area that demands a high standard at every F1 race, so there were some unhappy punters.
But there were also thousands of very happy ones. I went out into the fan zone on Sunday morning and the general admission areas were filling up with excited spectators, while the atmosphere in the Foro Sol style stadium section at Turn 12 was electric two hours before the race.
The race itself, of course, could have been better. But as the closing stages showed, it wouldn’t be fair to solely blame that on the track. The layout was a challenging one for drivers, and although the lack of grip off-line was expected to hurt overtaking chances. it also opened them up as it would punish a driver who ran wide such as Valtteri Bottas at Turn 17 late on.
Boring races can happen at any track. Imola wasn’t a classic, and nor was Melbourne. But the reasons why the race was largely quiet in the middle stages needs to be looked at. Drivers cited the Turn 14/15 chicane under the Florida Turnpike as unnecessary, but they’re not going to like an awkward slow-speed section. What needs looking at is whether removing it would improve the racing or not.
The track surface too came in for a fair bit of criticism from some drivers but not all. The fact that sections of Turn 17 needed repaving as early as Friday meant there is work to be done in that area and it will hopefully improve the racing, but all the race organizers can do is ensure an event that people want to come to and have a good time at, regardless of how the sporting part plays out.
A legitimate exchange between two fans – who didn’t know each other – boarding my flight out of Fort Lauderdale on Monday night went as follows:
“Fun weekend wasn’t it down there? They really did a good job”
“I don’t know how they pulled it off.”
If that feedback is going to reach those who didn’t come to the race, then there’s every chance they’ll be wanting to make a visit to a future grand prix and that’s all you can ask for.
Fans are here for the sport’s stars
There are a number of ways we can gauge the increase in popularity of Formula 1 in the United States, and Miami becoming the second race on the calendar – and Las Vegas soon to follow – is an obvious one.
But there was another aspect of the race weekend that jumped out at me and really gives me confidence that the sport is going about things the right way.
There were so many A-list celebrities in Miami throughout the weekend, culminating in a star-studded grid on Sunday that featured the likes of Tom Brady, LeBron James, David Beckham, Michael Jordan, Josh Allen, DJ Khaled – the list was enormous. We’ve seen that before at races, though, when VIPs are invited to try and provide reach. If their millions of fans see them at a grand prix, they’re more likely to try and understand what F1 is all about. What felt different in Miami, is how their presence didn’t overshadow the F1 stars themselves.
The paddock was rammed, and whenever there was a massive swell of people all pointing their cameras at someone you couldn’t help but try and see who it was who was causing the commotion. And more often than not, I’d try and look over the crowd expecting to see one of the above names and instead find it was a driver or team boss who was stealing the show.
ESPN’s Buffalo Bills reporter Alaina Getzenberg was covering the race and told me she’d never seen Josh Allen able to move around so freely across Saturday and Sunday. In recent years, wherever he went he tended to be the biggest star, but in Miami he, along with many other big names, was playing second fiddle to those on the F1 grid because that’s who the fans really wanted to see.
The teams want F1 to be a closed shop
For all the positive talk about US growth and the way F1 is reaching a new fanbase, it should never be forgotten that the reason America is such a big focus for the sport right now is money.
The big four sports of football, basketball, baseball, and hockey can all generate such massive figures for their franchises and owners that F1 knows there is the potential for it to profit from such a sports-mad nation.
The sponsorship deals that have been done in recent years attest to the income available from the States, and extra races continue to increase awareness around the sport, but it’s not all good news…
The four sports I listed above all have a franchise model that seems to have penetrated F1 in the past 18 months or so, since the signing of the new Concorde Agreement. In that, a $200million anti-dilution fund was included that guaranteed a payment to teams in case a new team entered, as any new team could take a share of the sport’s revenues.
But in Miami, the teams kept referring to themselves as “franchises” as well, and effectively said that figure – that they had agreed to in August 2020 – wasn’t big enough. The fact that the sport is booming and in a good place was actually used as a reason not to allow any new teams to join, because they don’t want to give up their share of the revenues, both directly and indirectly.
Michael Andretti’s attempts to create a new entry have been well documented, and he’d do so in a way that would appeal directly to America, and be attractive to brands in the US. If the teams block that entry, then those brands will have to partner with those already on the grid if they want to be in F1.
The sport is growing, and the teams don’t want to share. So they suggested Liberty Media should be the ones to reduce their slice of the revenues if they want a new team to join, which is always going to be unlikely.
If the teams get their way and the sport takes on an even more American model in becoming a closed shop, then the value of each franchise increases even further. The teams are trying to make sure they get richer, and they were willing to admit it over the Miami weekend. It’s just somewhat ironic that the US growth and influence could well see an American team left on the outside looking in.