It was difficult to know where to look. Whether you were present on-site, amid the over-congested carnage, or more likely gazing on television as pre-race coverage saw Martin Brundle attempt to negotiate incredulity and chaos on the starting grid, last year’s Miami Grand Prix peaked way before the five red lights went out.
Formula 1’s debut in Florida, around the temporarily constructed street track with the Miami Dolphins’ Hard Rock Stadium the unusually situated hub at the centre of it all, was memorable for the three Cs: cool, celebrity, chaos.
From the “fake marina” made up of 10 yachts surrounded by solid vinyl water to an “A-lister” at every turn, this was no ordinary F1 race weekend. Who can forget, for instance, Brundle’s one-way exchange with DJ Khaled? Or his misidentification of NFL star quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
But what you probably did forget, rather quickly, was the race. Uneventful. Drab. Even a late safety car, due to a Lando Norris crash, failed to spice it up. Despite hosting the second-quickest straight on the calendar, overtaking was notably difficult. And after a similarly tough-watch last week in Azerbaijan, F1 and Miami alike need a better 57-lap contest this time.
Yet this year, as the paddock flies halfway across the world from Baku to Florida – bright scheduling, that – there is distinctly less attention on the off-track spectacle it seems. Sure, the celebrities will be out in full force again. They’ve even moved the paddock to inside the 65,000-seater stadium; a bizarre sight. But this year, the stardust is slightly saturated stateside.
Why? Cue the bright lights of Las Vegas.
All the talk in corporate and entertainment circles this year is about the Las Vegas Grand Prix on the strip of Sin City. The penultimate race of the 2023 season – whether a championship is still on the line of course remains to be seen – it is undoubtedly F1’s new flagship event, not least because they themselves are the promoter. The renderings, the figures and the finances involved are staggering.
Martin Brundle and DJ Khaled, the crossover we never knew we needed 😂 pic.twitter.com/3DESOYNePW
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) May 3, 2023
Whisper it quietly, but this may actually present a problem for Miami, in the first year F1 stages three races in the US. With the Circuit of the Americas staging the United States Grand Prix since 2012 – with record-breaking attendances last year – and Las Vegas undoubtedly grabbing the “glitz and glamour” mantle, where exactly does it leave Miami? A happy medium?
Seven-time world champion Hamilton, by far and away the most popular driver across the Atlantic, was present on the grid when there was no US race between 2008 and 2011. Largely caused by the disastrous 2005 US Grand Prix, when only six cars ran amid tyre problems at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Mercedes star was on Wednesday lauding the sport’s impressive re-birth in the US.
“It is a dream for us to be in Miami and in the United States,” Hamilton said. “They are massive sporting fans here so to be in such an important city like Miami where sport is huge – and now Formula 1 is part of that – it is great to see.
“For such a huge country, it is amazing that we finally have three races here. The difficult thing with Formula 1 is that you usually visit a country once a year. But the growth has been huge and it is such a big market for the sport.”
Of course, he is right: the US is a lucratively huge market for F1. The popularity of Netflix’s Drive to Survive has made sure of that. The long-awaited addition of an American driver on the grid – in Williams’ Logan Sargeant this year – can only help the fanbase engagement too.
But, with F1 competing in a congested space against the likes of the NFL, NBA and MLB, as well as American-specific motorsport series like Nascar and IndyCar, will that upwards curve level out soon? A season of Red Bull dominance – as they travel to Miami Gardens the firm favourites to make it five wins from five – is unlikely to help in this respect.
Despite F1 estimations of an increase in 30,000 spectators over the course of the weekend, the three-day event is not yet sold out. Indeed, prices have been lowered, with discounts of up to 40 per cent on some tickets. It hasn’t taken long for the addition of Vegas to be pigeonholed as a potential reason for the slow uptake.
With Miami having a contract until 2031, it is not an issue for the here and now. Time will tell if there is sufficient interest and space for three US-based races. In the meantime, come Sunday, whether the story is the pre-race shenanigans or action on track will be critical in how Miami is viewed among a record-setting zig-zagging of races worldwide this year. An enthralling grand prix – contrary to its debut – would be the perfect tonic.