MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. _ Even those who normally travel the world with the Formula One racing circuit confessed to being in a bit of awe and wonder as they walked the crowded starting grid Sunday before the inaugural Crypto.com Miami Grand Prix on Sunday.
There were so many people surrounding the cars, you literally rubbed elbows and shoulders with icons – from tennis superstar Serena Williams, soccer idol David Beckham and Olympian Lindsey Vonn to NFL great Tom Brady and Michael Jordan. Celebrities from Ashton Kutcher to Paris Hilton to Michael Douglas, too.
Former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama attended a practice session sitting trackside – a guest of seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton.
The venue -- including the 3.363-mile, 19-turn track around the outside of the Miami Dolphins’ Hard Rock Stadium -- was purpose-built for the grand prix and looked amazing – it’s Miami-teal blue and “fake” marina a talking point all weekend.
There were actual luxury boats positioned trackside atop an ocean-tinted surface available to rent. There was a “beach” – sand and all – with cabanas and tiki bars for spectators to spectate.
The glitz and glam was over the top – full of Florida nuance and worldwide celebrity vibe. Nearly 90.000 people – a capacity crowd - showed up on race day and almost that many in the days leading into the actual race.
The top finishers -- Miami Grand Prix’s first winner, Oracle Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen, 24, and Ferrari teammates, runner-up Charles LeClerc and third place Carlos Sainz -- were all given football helmets (a nod to the Dolphins’ venue) to wear on the traditional celebratory podium. And the distinct “all-in, all-good” feel to F1’s first race in a 10-year contract – was duly noted.
“The helmet we had on the podium, we needed that in the paddock,’’ joked the reigning world champion Verstappen of the huge crowd.
“I think it was an incredible atmosphere,’’ Verstappen said. “I mean, it was really incredibly well-organized. Really nice to see that. It’s not easy to put an event on like this, but they did an amazing job and I had a lot of fun, driving around.’’
Said LeClerc, “The atmosphere was incredible. And it’s great to see how much interest the sport has got in (the United States) in the last few years. Organization was great. Loads of people, good weather. It was amazing to be here.’’
Sainz acknowledged, “it’s not easy on the first event to put such a well-organized venue.’’
Fortunately for everyone, the actual race – the reason for the whole festival - lived up to racing standards. Verstappen passed the polesitter LeClerc 25 laps into the event and then had to hold him off in a frantic few final laps following a caution period. There were fantastic overtakes, dramatic spins and lots of wheel-to-wheel competition.
“It’s been extraordinary in a lot of ways,” Miami Grand Prix Managing Partner and Miami Dolphins President Tom Garfinkel said. “I think there’s a lot of things we’re learning that we think we can do better and some things that are going really well.
“The feedback has been really positive from the teams and the drivers and Formula One, the FIA and from the fans. There’s certainly some things I think we can get better at. But for a first-time event, I think it’s gone really well.’’
He noted the suggestions by drivers to tweaking the race track layout and was open to that insisting, “First and foremost it has to be a great race track,’’ saying that “we’re open to changing whatever we need to to make the track better.’’
The drivers, team principles, fans and full-time F1 media corps were all encouraged by the event. The television numbers that came out on Tuesday showed that NASCAR still ranked first in the heart of American fans – with 2.614-million viewers on cable FS1 for the race at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
But certainly F1’s 2.066-million viewers on the ABC network Sunday was a huge boost for the series as well. It nearly doubled the 1.1-million average F1 has had to date in the US market from the previous four races of the 2022 season and marks the largest F1 live audience ever in the US. It also won out over NASCAR in the 18-49 year-old demographic – 735,000 viewers to 517,00 viewers.
Netflix’s “Formula One: Drive To Survive” series gets a lot of credit – inside and outside of the paddock – for its role in increasing interest and viewership everywhere, but specifically in the United States. The behind-the-scenes docu-style series takes fans inside the sport and during the Miami race weekend – where the cameras were everywhere - Netflix announced Drive to Survive was just renewed for another two seasons.
The 2023 version of the series will include a spring grand prix in Miami, a Fall race in Austin and a November night-race in Las Vegas – the first time in 40 years that the United States will play host to three Formula One races in a season – only the third time in F1 history a country has hosted that many in a single year.
The next chapter for F1 in America will show a victory for Verstappen at Miami - and a victory for Miami in the hearts and minds of F1 fans.
“It’s an amazing town and we’re glad to be here,“ Red Bull Racing’s Team Principle Christian Horner said. “All the drivers you see, all the teams, there’s a real buzz about this race. Austin (site of the United States Grand Prix) is a great race but suddenly to have Miami, to have Vegas coming as well.
“It just feels like our time in the US to really show off what Formula One can do.’’