May 10, 2022
Melinda Head

Formula One Loads Up on America

Think: Entertainment

With the inaugural Miami Grand Prix behind us, we have Austin, TX, to look forward to on October 23rd.  Next year, a third American race will be added in Las Vegas.

So what’s with all this sudden flurry of F1 activity in America? Well, U.S. media giant Liberty Media is at the helm. Headquartered in Colorado, this publicly traded group also has large interests in media, communications and entertainment. The man who heads up the organization is Greg Maffei. Beyond F1, he oversees Live Nation Entertainment, Sirius XM and TripAdvisor. He is chairman emeritus of Starz and Expedia, and the former Chief Financial Officer of Oracle and Microsoft.

Greg Maffei, F1 boss … is a man with no racing experience who admits that, in his mind, “F1 is about selling glamour and parties”. More of a purist, Ferrari’s chairman Sergio Marchionne said: “If we change the sandbox to the point where it becomes an unrecognisable sandbox, I don’t want to play any more”

There’s a lot of buzz about the gazillion eyeballs watching Netflix’s F1 series, “Drive to Survive”, now in its 4th season. The docu-series lifts the lid on life behind-the-scenes in Formula One paddocks. There is no doubt that one of the keys to attracting new American fans could be rooted in the power of compelling F1 storytelling – we are all starving for good content and most Americans love sports; however, football (not soccer), basketball and baseball are still very much the Big 3 in the USA -- not to mention IndyCar and NASCAR, both of which have been solidly anchored in America for years.

Drive to Survive: Season 4 Trailer

Another way to attract American fans is the obvious: an American F1 driver. Sadly there is none. Not a single place on the F1 grid is held by an American, and no real contenders are on the horizon. The closest presence is north of the border, held by the sons of Canadian billionaires, both of whom bought their way into the sport. No one has managed to outflank American racing superstar legend Mario Andretti, who became F1 Champion 44 years ago.

This past weekend’s Grand Prix was exciting in its final moments but, let’s face it, the race was not held in Miami; rather it was held in Miami-Dade County, adjacent to Costco, which is nowhere near the beautiful Miami scene. Fake water and fake yachts were brought in to add to the spectacle. Perhaps this was a play to appeal to gamers and/or to contribute to developing conversations about the metaverse? As my good friend, Roxane, who lives in Miami said:

“Formula One down here is really in Fort Lauderdale, it’s not happening in Miami. It’s a misnomer and, honestly, we’re not feeling the buzz down here in South Beach because it’s at least 1 hour north.”

Taking advantage of the 2020 novel Miami Dolphins installation for NFL fans, Miami was the first F1 race to introduce gondolas to the F1 experience, allowing spectators to glide above the festivities.

And then there was the expected media hype, lots of it.

F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo was interviewed by Trevor Noah and made to drink champagne from a pair of driving shoes in his usual tradition:

Lewis Hamilton was decked out in his usual array of designer outfits:

The race ended with a strobing, wailing police motorcade leading the top 3 drivers to the victory podium in Starsky and Hutch fashion. Really?

Drivers then proceeded to prance onto the podium wearing football helmets, showing yet another example of where the sport is heading.

Race winner Max Verstappen in football head gear on the podium at the Miami Grand Prix

Lando Norris wore an NBA basketball-inspired helmet in Miami. Although he claimed “It’s just a basketball”, later on he said it might have suited George Russell “because they (Mercedes) like bouncing a bit more” (Mercedes has been plagued with porpoising)

But, perhaps, the most entertaining moments of the race were completely un-orchestrated. Race officials announced that drivers must wear fireproof underwear, and no jewelry would be allowed. Four-time F1 champion, Sebastian Vettel, then took it upon himself to proudly wear his underwear on top of his driving suit. And seven-time F1 champion, Sir Lewis Hamilton, sported 3 watches, multiple chains, rings and piercings during the official FIA press conference.

“Obviously, if the car does catch fire, it will be unpleasant. But on the other hand, to some degree, it’s personal freedom, and we’re old enough to make our choices outside the car as well as inside the car.” (Sebastian Vettel)

“I’ve been in the sport for 16 years, I’ve been wearing jewelry for 16 years.” (Lewis Hamilton)

What will the blend of sport and entertainment look like in Las Vegas in 2023? “What happens here, only happens here” is the official Vegas slogan. Almost everything in Vegas is fake. My bets are that we ain’t seen ‘nothin yet, and that Sergio Marchionne will continue to lose sleep about the evolution of Formula One.

2023 will be a trifecta year for Formula One in the U.S., with races in Miami, Austin and Las Vegas

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About the Author

A serial entrepreneur, Melinda is a sociologist and statistician who believes there is no currency with greater value than knowledge

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