Those of you who are paying attention might notice that my column this week is a little later than usual, and that’s Miami’s fault.
No, I haven’t been out partying (OK, I did make it to Marlins and Heat games earlier in the week) but it has been one of the busiest race weekends I have known, and it’s only Friday.
There’s good reason for that. The teams and drivers are more invested in this race because by association they are actually invested in it. Here’s how.
Usually, a race promoter pays F1 a set fee, which means the sport is guaranteed income. The teams then receive a percentage of the overall revenues at the end of the year.
With Miami, it’s different, because there is more involvement from F1 in terms of the promotion of the event in partnership with Stephen Ross. I’m told it’s not to the same extent as the full promotion of Las Vegas, but it means at least part of the profits from the race will go to F1 itself, and therefore to the teams.
So you can see why they were willing to do so much promotion, create bespoke merchandise, and even have their drivers carrying out activations as early as Tuesday.
At the Marlins game I saw Charles Leclerc out on the field throwing around a baseball, and he was followed by the Red Bull pair throwing out the first pitch on Wednesday, at the same time that I was unashamedly milking the fact Tom Brady said “Hi guys, how’s it going?” to a group of us at a golf event with Lewis Hamilton.
But to get all of the drivers (minus Fernando Alonso) and team principals together for a pre-race launch party featuring Kygo on the Wednesday night just showed how invested the teams are, because that is a very rare occurrence so early in the weekend.
The relentless schedule of events is at a level I have never seen before, but the city seems to have struck the right balance between announcing F1’s arrival and maintaining the Miami authenticity that makes it a place people want to visit.
On the interstate between the track and downtown (yes, it can be a long drive, but it’s barely any further than COTA is from downtown Austin) there are F1 advertisements lining I-95. Not only does it alert anyone in the vicinity to F1’s presence, but it highlights the commercial importance of the race to team partners. This is a place so many involved with the sport want to be.
It does have a very ‘Monaco’ feel. On Thursday night a Williams event featured a show car decked out in a bright livery from a local artist being unveiled in the lobby of the W Hotel on South Beach, with guests dressed to the nines and being handed free champagne and beer.
But outside the normal Miami world is turning, with bars and restaurants providing the party vibe that is always on offer, only this time with the added bonus of F1 cars being demonstrated on Ocean Drive, meaning fans that have come to the race are getting the best of both worlds.
It must be said, those two worlds come at a pretty steep cost, but that’s exactly where this race is positioning itself. And nice things don’t come for free.
That’s not to say that I don’t feel sorry for fans who have been priced out of the event, but big events they tend to be expensive, and there’s plenty of people who would love to go to a Super Bowl but cannot afford the huge prices.
And the reason for those huge prices become clear if you’re lucky enough to set foot inside the Miami International Autodrome.
It is an impressive facility – and it is massive. So much has been crammed in around the track, with an excellent infrastructure allowing fans to move around to the countless entertainment offerings. The fact the majority will be pulled down after the race ends – leaving just the track and the pit building as permanent aspects – and rebuilt for each grand prix on the 10-year contract is even more remarkable.
It’s America doing what America does best when it comes to events: putting on a show.
And I’m not just gushing over the race from my biased position as a writer for an American website. The fan zones are lively and the extremely busy paddock is full of people who have been hugely impressed, including NFL stars.
J.J. and T.J. Watt are guests of Haas this weekend and I was lucky enough to sit down with them for an interview on Friday, when they were decked out in team gear after having carried out pit stop practice and met the drivers. Kevin Magnussen was top of J.J.’s list to meet, the Dane having impressed him with his comeback at a team the that pair feels an affinity to after Guenther Steiner’s Netflix appearances.
But your event has to be doing something right to attract such names for a day of practice. That the pair wanted to be at the track on a Friday and soaking up the event shows the way in which F1 has encroached into the U.S. mainstream, and turned some people who were drawn in by Drive to Survive into aficionados who want to know every single detail they can.
If an event such as Miami brings even more big names to the sport, then in turn they are likely to open it up to new fans who will take an interest solely because their heroes do. And from there, they can become hooked, just like Netflix managed to do.
The commercial set-up of the race might have caused the teams to be that bit more engaged than at other events, but the most appears to be being made of that opportunity.
When I wrote about the hype last week, it was all still based on expectations, and it felt like Miami would either prove to be an epic event or a huge disappointment. I was actually leaning towards the latter being more likely given the scale of what the organizers were trying to put on at the first time of asking, and the potential for teething problems.
But as Friday draws to a close and the parties kick-off again following the end of an entertaining FP2 session – highlighting the challenging nature of the track itself – it feels like the chances are increasing for it to be the former.
J.J. Watt did admit the fake marina makes him embarrassed to be an American, though. So it’s not all perfect…