How Formula One seeks Super Bowl feel in US after Miami race

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Formula One’s growing popularity is full throttle in its breakthrough in the American sports market.

Reigning two-time champion Max Verstappen put on a show to win the second Miami Grand Prix on Sunday in the first of three F1 races in America this year.

So what’s next for F1’s ride for attention in the United States? Austin, Texas, on Oct. 20-22 and newcomer Las Vegas on Nov. 16-18.

F1 seeks to add an American spectacle and more competition to a sport with tradition, so fans both domestically and abroad attend American races over the next 10 years.

“The sport’s continuously growing and evolving, and they’re not just doing the same stuff that they’ve done in the past,” said seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, F1’s most popular driver in America.

“They’re trying new things. They’re trying to improve the show. And I’m in full support of it.”

Can F1 rival Super Bowl in US?

F1 president and CEO Stefano Domenicali said this week that one out of every three F1 fans have followed the sport in the last four years, and 40% of all fans are women. The “Drive to Survive” Netflix series, which debuted in 2019, has sparked the surge. F1 had 5.7 million fans attend races with 1.54 billion viewers worldwide in 2022.

F1 has seen how the NFL has marketed the Super Bowl into a week-long buildup before the main event every year. And F1 believes its three-day weekends can rival the Super Bowl in terms of attendance, viewership and economic impact with annual events in Miami, Austin and Las Vegas.

“From our side, we think we’re bringing a lot, which isn’t just flying in, having a football match and leaving,” said Emily Prazer, the chief commercial officer of the Las Vegas race who worked as an executive of Liberty Media, which owns F1. Both Liberty and F1 are promoting the Vegas race.

The Miami Grand Prix took center stage Sunday afternoon on ABC, clearing 270,000 attendees over three days (30,000 more than last year), while viewers watched F1 drivers blaze around an NFL stadium (Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins) on a world-class racetrack.

Hip Hop pioneer and actor LL Cool J introduced the F1 drivers like they were prizefighters before the race, though some of the drivers were not fans of the theatrics and spectacle.

“I don’t think there’s any other sports in the world that 30 minutes before you go out to do your business that you’re out there in the sun, all the cameras on you and making a bit of a show of it,” said Mercedes driver George Russell, who finished fourth. “I can appreciate that in the entertainment world. But as I said, we really want what’s best for the sport.”

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross privately funded the Miami Grand Prix, while Dolphins CEO Tom Garfinkel saw the vision through to give South Florida an F1 race annually through 2032. The first race last year brought $350 million to South Florida, while Super Bowl 2020 brought $572 million.

“I think the more people come out and experience these events in the United States, experience Formula One racing, the more fans they’re going to be and that just helps everybody, so I’m excited about that,’ Garfinkel said.

Looking ahead to US races in 2023

Bobby Epstein helped create Circuit of The Americas in Austin, which has brought a heart-of-America twist to F1 since 2012. The race drew an F1 record crowd of 440,000 total fans last year, and it aspires to reach 500,000 in weekend attendance this October.

Three weeks later, F1 makes its return to Las Vegas for the first time since fizzling out after two races at Caesars Palace in 1982.

And if the introduction in Miami was too splashy, imagine how the Fountains at Bellagio will flow as a backdrop for F1 cars during a Saturday night street race on the Las Vegas Strip for fans old and new to the sport.

“The best way to describe it is that we are the show,” Prazer said of the Las Vegas Grand Prix. “And we’re going to make sure that everyone is kind of engaging and interacting with the destination from the minute they land to the minute they leave.”

Jim Allen – chairman of Hard Rock International, which is a partner of the Miami and Vegas races – says both locations appeal to the worldwide fanbase F1 hopes to attract to the United States. He waved the checkered flag after the race Sunday.

“I think we have these great cities like Miami and like Vegas, that are international destinations,” Allen said. “I think that’s the formula for success.”

Can F1 deliver to American fans?

Still, fans committing to travel and attend F1 races want the payoff to be worth the buildup.

Verstappen was booed during the Miami race introduction and even on the podium when he received the winning trophy.

He started in ninth place after qualifying, which created some intrigue. But F1’s biggest rising star shredded the competition to win his third race of the season. His Red Bull teammate Sergio “Checo” Pérez has won the other two.

Together, Red Bull has led in 257 of the 273 laps in the five races with Verstappen ruling 236 of them. Only four of the other 18 drivers have led the other 16 laps this year.

This is a league where Hamilton won six of seven championships before Verstappen’s current two-year run, and Mercedes-AMG Petronas won eight straight constructor championships before Red Bull won last season.  

“I think it’s normal when you’re winning, and they don’t like who is winning. So, this is something for me, which is absolutely fine,” Verstappen said of the negative ovation by some. “As long as I stand on the top, that’s for me the most important. I take the trophy home and they go back to their houses and they can have a nice evening.”

F1 still has some fine-tuning to do as it integrates into America. But the commitment to do so is unwavering.

“Exactly now is the moment for great positives for Formula 1,” Domencalli said during an announcement for Puma as F1’s apparel merchandiser this week.

“We cannot sit. We need to look ahead. We need to be humble and not think we are the best. We have a lot of things to do, a lot of things to improve. We’re always listening to new ideas, new considerations from the traditional fan – if I say like me – and the new one is very important to the sport.”

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