Being in the Miami paddock was one of the hottest sporting tickets in the United States over the weekend, which is saying something as the NBA and NHL play-offs ramp up.
Some paid tens of thousands of dollars to be there, or were members of sporting royalty who had been invited by teams. But some young U.S.-based talents had also earned their way in through their recent performances.
Barbados-born American Kyffin Simpson was embedded with the Haas team throughout the race weekend, courtesy of his success in the Formula Regional Americas Championship last year when he won the title.
“I got to meet (President & CEO of ACCUS) Nick Craw when I went to the FIA Prize Giving in France after I won the Formula Americas championship, so when I met him he hooked me up with this opportunity to come here and hang out with the Haas team,” Simpson told RACER.
“I was very excited. I’ve never been to an F1 race before, so this is a pretty cool experience. It’s very cool, I got to go in the pit garage and watch them practice pit stops and listen on the radio and everything – it’s been a lot of fun to do.
“We were there from Friday so got to see all the sessions and everything. It’s been quite up to me what I chose to do. I’ve been going round to the different corners and watching a little bit. For Free Practice 2 and 3 I was in the garage quite a bit, and for qualifying a little bit as well, but I’ve been able to go around to the different corners as well to watch all the cars.”
One of the aspects of the weekend that really stood out to 17-year-old Simpson was the way F1 teams interact and discuss things relating to the car, compared to his own experience in Indy Lights this year.
“It was a little bit strange just walking around and not having to go to like the debrief room for talking to the engineers or going to the garage to go and get ready for the session and all of that, but it was fun,” he said.
“I got the headset and I got to listen to the radio and listen to how they talk on the radio and everything, it’s really cool.
“It’s a little bit different, they talk about a lot more technical things and it seems like they’re talking somewhat in code because they obviously don’t want everyone to know their secrets.
“What they do in F1 is quite a lot different to what we do in Indy Lights. There’s a lot more that the engineers need to know because obviously they develop the car throughout the year and then they develop the car for next year as well, so there’s a lot more details and things that they talk about, which is important in Indy Lights but it’s not as important.
“Sometimes in Indy Lights or IndyCar it’s easier to just give the engineer your quick feedback and go out there and test it, but it’s been cool listening to everything they talk about on the radio.
“The pit stops are incredible to watch as well, and how coordinated they are. They practice them over and over, it’s crazy how efficiently they can do them.”
Simpson was hoping he’d get that sort of behind-the-scenes insight into how an F1 team works, but was also thankful to Haas team principal Guenther Steiner – as well as drivers Mick Schumacher and Kevin Magnussen – for chatting to him during the weekend.
“I got to meet the drivers as well, and Guenther, so all of that was a lot of fun,” he said. “I’ve seen a little bit of Netflix of him and he’s very similar to how he is on that, very straightforward but he’s great.
“The drivers were great too. Obviously Kevin did IndyCar for a race and was in IMSA sports cars all last year, so I got to talk to him a little about that as well. That was cool.”
Despite the privileged look into the world of F1, Simpson – who is currently seventh in the Indy Lights standings – has been targeting a spot on the IndyCar grid since he graduated to American F4 in 2020 and is prioritizing that over any F1 dreams.
“Right now I’m focused on going towards IndyCar,” he said. “If an opportunity came up in the future I would be quite happy with it. When I first got into racing I wanted to be an F1 driver, but as I grew up in America I saw more IndyCar races and it slowly became more wanting to go to IndyCar.
“But I’ve always liked F1, I think the cars are amazing and the amount of downforce they have is insane. The cars just seem awesome to drive, so if I got that chance someday it would be awesome. These cars are truly incredible.”
With an Indy GP double-header this coming weekend and then remaining in Indianapolis to watch the 500, Simpson is chasing that next step on the U.S. ladder, even if he’s now got a soft spot for Haas.
“I mean, I’m in Indy Lights this year so IndyCar could be as soon as next year, it could be as late as, who knows?” he said. “So it’s just about putting the work in, getting the results and if a team likes me enough maybe they’ll put me in an IndyCar. Maybe someday be here at Haas, too. Who knows?”