Miami thrice: F1 back for another blast of sold-out showbiz in the sun

<span>Sergio Pérez (left) and Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen in Miami.</span><span>Photograph: Mark Thompson/Getty Images</span>
Sergio Pérez (left) and Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen in Miami.Photograph: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

As Formula One prepares for its first meeting of the year in the United States it is Miami, the party town, that will host the latest in what has been a series of season-opening celebrations by Max Verstappen. Yet the Dutchman’s dominance does not faze race organisers in Florida, who are convinced of the continued growth of the popularity of F1 in the United States.

F1 is here for the third time and it is one of the meetings F1’s owners, Liberty Media, wanted to promote when they took over the sport. An “event” race in a destination city; a racing Super Bowl, an extravaganza where the show, the spectacle and the experience was considered as vital as the cars on the track. Inevitably, the very idea put the hackles up of diehards in Europe but F1 has room for a spot of showbiz alongside the stately classics.

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The opening meeting, in 2022, did suffer problems – the track was criticised by drivers while some fans were unimpressed by the organisation of the event and the ticket pricing. Much of that was addressed for a more successful race last year, certainly the fans returned in the same numbers and with the same enthusiasm. Were there real disaffection they could have voted with their wallets but the meeting is expected to sell out again to its 90,000 capacity.

They can only hope the Miami International Autodrome will throw up the drama that has been lacking thus far in 2024. Verstappen has won four of the opening five races this year (denied only in Australia with a mechanical failure) and with no little advantage over his rivals in a dominant Red Bull. He has also won the past two races in Miami, including coming from ninth to the flag in 2023.

There is nothing to suggest he will be denied this time as he appears on course for a fourth title, even as the team adapts to the news that their genius designer Adrian Newey is to leave next season.

With the US hosting two other races, in Austin and Las Vegas, the lacklustre battle at the front of the field could be considered a concern for the sport’s burgeoning popularity in the country. However, the Miami GP president, Tyler Epp, insists the US fanbase is far from fleeting. “We look at this as history in the making,” he said.

“It is one of the best car designs we have ever seen, with one of the best drivers we have ever seen, coming together and performing at an amazingly high level. We have tremendous respect for that.

“The younger, newer American audience still has some understanding to do about how relevant that is within the larger ecosystem of F1 but we are going to be there to try to help everybody understand that and will continue to root for great competition even if we are watching history in the making with Max and Red Bull.”

It has been suggested that this audience, drawn to the sport by the Drive to Survive series, has only a temporary interest and will be moths swiftly drawn to another flame. Epp argues convincingly that the real picture is far more complex.

The Miami GP conducts extensive surveys of fans to assess their performance, a process some European GPs could find helpful. Last year, they dealt with almost 10,000 respondents referring to parking, staff, food and beverages, access, the views and the racing. This, says Epp, is about communicating with fans and it has been instructive.

“It’s really understanding who the fan is and where they are and that the US F1 fan is not just one person or one type of fan. It is segmented just like any fanbase is. We need to make sure we respect that.

“It is a bit of a mistake to assume that the entire US F1 fanbase all came online during the Covid years watching Drive to Survive. That is simply not true. There are people in the US who have been watching F1 for decades and we can’t forget about those people.”

But what of the extraordinary success of last year’s inaugural Las Vegas GP? If Miami was the grand US extravaganza, Vegas outdid it under the lights of the Strip. So does the meeting feel under pressure to adapt? Epp is unconcerned and believes F1’s success in Nevada is only further evidence of the sport’s consistent growth in the US. “We look at this differently, we believe in the rising tide,” he said. “We believe in other promoters doing a great job, so we root for them.

“Las Vegas did a great job, it was a very Vegas-like experience. Overall, anybody who has been to both, or will go to both, the experience is very, very different. They will say the only thing that is the same is the racing, as it should be.”