For the first time since 1984, F1 is hosting two grands prix in the USA – with Miami joining the calendar alongside Austin – and the buzz around the sport in the country has perhaps never been higher.
The excitement is in stark contrast to years gone by when F1 was left struggling to find venues that worked for both the sport and attracted fan interest.
Now, especially with Las Vegas already pencilled in for 2023, F1 is approaching the Miami weekend without much of the scepticism that has shadowed previous new grands prix ventures.
Indeed, the interest of drivers, teams, fans, media, celebrities, sponsors and the local community has left anticipation for the weekend at levels that are not seen in many other places.
In fact, for McLaren CEO Zak Brown, what Miami will unleash on F1 this weekend is a step above everything he has witnessed before.
“I’ve never seen the level of sponsor engagement, activities, hospitality requests, celebrity requests ever at a grand prix,” he told Motorsport.com.
“That is not just in my six years of running McLaren, because I’ve been around the sport for 20 years. And it feels to me very much like the Super Bowl, which is like the biggest event of the year.
“Not only does everyone want to come to the Super Bowl to see the event, but the half-time show, the parties, the events is all a part of it. And it’s off the charts.
“We’re one of the largest teams with hospitality, and we had double the requests. It’s the largest hospitality programme we’ve ever had.”
A view of the circuit
Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images
Whereas in the past, F1 has been guilty of racing in locations where the sport makes almost no ripple downtown considering a grand prix is taking place a few miles away, the opposite will be the case in Miami – as F1 looks set to take over the city.
Shops, restaurant and bars are getting in the F1 spirit; and bespoke pop-up venues are already appearing across the city, and especially in the South Beach area.
McLaren is setting up a ‘Speedshop’ in a multi-storey car park there, taking over a whole floor that will feature car displays and entertainment over the F1 weekend.
But perhaps the biggest city takeover is being planned by crypto exchange and Mercedes sponsor FTX.
It is transforming 165,000 square feet of oceanfront space at Miami’s South Beach in to an ‘Electric Beach’ themed entertainment venue – with concerts, exhibitions, NFT art galleries, fashion shows, and a gaming lounge.
On top of that, it will also be getting a Mercedes F1 show car blasting up and down Ocean Drive for some demo action in front of fans.
The emphasis is very much on expanding F1’s influence and reach beyond just getting people sat down in grandstands at the Miami track. It’s about creating the kind of hype that cities get when the Super Bowl is in town.
Louis Frangella, VP of Partnerships for FTX US, told Motorsport.com: “There are only a certain amount of people that can get to go to this race, so in order to create that Super Bowl type atmosphere, you have to do things that engage the people that are in and around the area.
“We’re bringing the Mercedes F1 demo car to go up and down Ocean Drive two days in a row, and some of those people who see it won’t ever get that close to an F1 car in their life.
“I think it’s important for us to do things like that to help cultivate that fandom, and amplify it through our partnership with Mercedes.
“This will be the biggest activation that FTX has ever done, and we’re so excited about it because it blends everything together: art, culture, our partnership with Mercedes, crypto and technology. It’s going to be something definitely not to miss.”
For a major US brand like FTX, which is looking for expansion around the world, the growth of F1 and its presence in a city like Miami is a game changer.
An FTX advertising board on the water
Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images
Avinash Dabir, Vice President of Business Development at FTX US, thinks the approach that F1 is having with adding Miami and Las Vegas to the calendar is exactly what the sport needs to draw an even bigger audience in the future. It is why the Miami Grand Prix is not the culmination of F1’s success in the states, but the beginning of something much bigger.
“What’s exciting about this is that the race is being built from the ground up,” he said. “You have an opportunity to modernize it, and you have an opportunity to attract a new audience to it, by offering different things at the race.
“I think the city of Miami also has the infrastructure to support it. It’s got the hotels, it’s got the nice restaurants, it’s got the beach, and it’ a beautiful place to be. So it is a very unique offering.
“And I think Vegas has a lot of those same qualities to it. It seems very strategic in the way that F1 are picking their locations and I hope and want to see it grow.”
The feeling among teams themselves is that Miami provides a good snapshot of the job that Liberty Media is doing in driving the sport forwards in new and exciting ways.
As Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto said: “It’s not only Miami, although Miami is one example.
“It’s all what’s happening around us in terms of sponsorship interest, in terms of new tracks coming onto the calendar. So I think it’s a great moment. You can see with Netflix, the digital communications, the broadcast, it’s all good and positive.
“We see so many people at the races at the weekends, and it’s fun.”
For Brown, after years where F1 struggled to get a foothold in the USA, the Miami weekend and the way the sport has expanded marks the start of some exciting years ahead.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt now that it’s working,” he said about F1 in America.
“Everything says it’s working right: we’ve got more US based sponsors than ever, our US fan base is growing rapidly, our celebrity list for Miami is unlike any I’ve ever seen, including Monaco, which is kind of the next one that brings out a lot of celebs.
“All of this is just going to keep building this unbelievable momentum that we have. It’s awesome.”
Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images