Saturday, March 25

Formula One Went Looking for American Glitz. It Found Miami.

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla.—In the space of a weekend, an access road behind Hard Rock Stadium here turned into the most prestigious red carpet in U.S. sports. 

For three days around Formula One’s inaugural Miami Grand Prix, a sport that few Americans cared about until recently, A-listers filed past the garages gawking at the only sports cars they might never buy. Hulking Super Bowl winners queued up to say hello to jockey-sized F1 drivers. Former First Lady

Michelle Obama

popped into the Mercedes garage on Saturday just to hug seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, one day ahead of Tom Brady and

Dwyane Wade.

“I’ve been to a couple of Super Bowls — this feels like a similar vibe,” Hamilton said. “It’s definitely what I expected from Miami.”

Michelle Obama visited the Mercedes garage on Saturday, a sign of F1’s newfound glamour in the U.S.


brendan smialowski/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

With unprecedented attention, teams fielded so many requests from VIPs that, by the start of this month, some simply stopped answering them, according to one team official. Mercedes normally hands out around 400 passes to various corporate guests, sponsors, and celebrities of all stripes. In Miami this weekend, the team called in favors to push that number over 1,000. 

All of which turned the short paddock behind the garages here into motor racing’s answer to sitting courtside at Madison Square Garden. It was a place to see, be seen and pretend you could make sense of what was happening in front of you. The heady cocktail of celebrity glitz, brilliant sunshine, and unapologetic flash wasn’t just perfect for F1. It was perfect for the F1



“It’s glamour, it’s fashion, it’s energy, it’s multicultural,” F1 chief executive Stefano Domenicali said of Miami. “We couldn’t be out of it.”

If the old-world charm of Monaco was the embodiment of what F1 used to be, Miami already represents everything it has become since a Netflix show called “Drive to Survive” rejuvenated the sport’s image and turbocharged the sport’s U.S. popularity. The series was the platform’s No. 1 TV show world-wide when Season 3 came out in March 2021 and last season’s live races, which aired across ESPN channels, saw the highest U.S. ratings for F1 in history. 

No one around F1 has any doubt that Netflix is responsible. Part reality show, part ad for the sport, “Drive to Survive” reframed F1’s dusty image as a soap opera unfolding at 200 miles per hour. The sport used to be only “for petrolheads,” says

Laurent Rossi,

the CEO of the Alpine team, “a Champions League of engineers.”

“People were ready for the show business side to come back,” he added.

Decades of trying to crack the U.S. market had previously taken the sport into places with deeper ties to motor racing, such as Indianapolis, Detroit, and Watkins Glen, N.Y. In 2012, it landed in Austin, Tex. which delivered F1 plenty of cowboy-booted American color. But officials knew that it didn’t quite sell the F1 fantasy.

South Florida delivered it in spades — and next year, F1 will also add a race in Las Vegas to the calendar, boosting the annual total of U.S. events to three from one. The only surprise was that it took so long for this marriage of Miami and motor racing to happen. “It’s long overdue,” Rossi said.

The original plan for the race called for a waterfront circuit that took in sweeping views of downtown Miami and the azure expanses of Biscayne Bay. What F1 wound up with instead, after running into the logistical nightmares of shutting down a major city, was a track north of Miami that sprawled out around Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins. But just because the circuit was a little more landlocked than planned didn’t mean sacrificing that staple of gaudy F1 destinations from Monte-Carlo to Abu Dhabi: party yachts.

Dry-docked yachts sit on sheets of shimmering teal plastic at the Miami Grand Prix. “Things are just done differently here in the U.S.,” the British Mercedes driver George Russell said.



In its efforts to be a little more like the French Riviera, the Miami circuit made room for 10 yachts so that a very select group of high-paying fans could kick off their shoes, clink glasses, and follow the race from the comfort of a teak deck. There was just one minor difference between the inside of Turn 6 here and the Quartier du Port in Monaco: Monaco has actual water.

The yachts here are in fact sitting in a dry dock covered by a 25,000-square foot sheet of teal plastic designed to look like a shimmering marina. For fans who paid upward of $9,000 for a group pass, the presence of Champagne easily compensated for the absence of water. And most important for organizers, no one could tell the difference from the helicopter television shot.

“Things are just done differently here in the U.S.,” the British Mercedes driver George Russell said.

Formula One hasn’t always been so pointed in its choice of partners and destinations. Often accused of simply following the money, the wildly expensive sport let its reputation take a back seat to guaranteed income. The calendar features an annual trilogy of races in petro-states with checkered human rights records — Qatar, Abu Dhabi, and Saudi Arabia. It counts Saudi Aramco as a global sponsor.

Miami gave teams and organizers something extra. They scrambled to turn the entire race week into a frenzy of promotional activities far beyond the ribbon-cuttings and car demonstrations they might do elsewhere. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Checo Perez raced swamp buggies for their energy drink sponsor. The McLaren team has been trailed by not one, but two sets of cameras — one for the Netflix series and one to goof around on a network late-night show. And Hamilton hit golf balls with Tom Brady for a watch company. (Hamilton doesn’t play golf.) 

It was no surprise either that Netflix chose this weekend to announce that Drive to Survive had been renewed for two more seasons. The show that the Mercedes and Ferrari teams had chosen not to participate in for the first year was now essential to their business model. 

“I think,” Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said, “we’ve finally landed in North America.”

Write to Joshua Robinson at [email protected]

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