No matter which way you slice it, this is not your standard Grand Prix. Fun Fact, I started writing this very post on Saturday, and I’m pretty confident it’s going to end up twice as long as the normal race reviews I write. Miami hasn’t just been a Grand Prix. It’s been a spectacle that’s forced us to have some difficult conversations about what the sport is, what it aims to be, and clues about its future. And this was before we even turned a wheel on Friday Afternoon. Let’s get into it.
“The quiet part is being said out loud.”
This has been my 20th season watching Formula 1 as a fan. I have never seen a Grand Prix promoted as heavily as this one. Fernando Alonso working the regional news channels. Jenson Button on New York morning news. Lewis Hamilton on Good Morning America. A 10,000 strong opening ceremony at the track on Wednesday night with almost all the drivers and team bosses on stage like a weird cattle market, with David Croft dad dancing and screaming: “Go crackers for Mike Krack!”. Words that I’ll probably end up mumbling to myself before I go to bed tonight.
Famous faces aplenty. Juan Pablo Montoya and Mario Andretti in the commentary box. James Corden collaborating with McLaren. Pierre Gasly had dinner with Michael fucking Jordan. Michael Douglas was always going to be there. 95% of the IndyCar paddock is down there, as is Jeff Gordon, NASCAR royalty. JJ and TJ Watt, the First Ballot Hall of Famer in the NFL, and a future HOF’er in his brother, were in the Haas garage as pit crew. Its greatest player ever inTom Brady was playing golf with Lewis Hamilton. Francis Bourgeois, the world’s most famous trainspotter there too. Michelle Obama was in the Mercs garage. I could go on. North American races are normally good for cultural faces, but never like this.
Miami is a walking testament as to how well Liberty Media has promoted the sport in the United States. Yes, it’s easy to pin it on Drive to Survive on Netflix introducing the sport to a whole new set of viewers, but it was just a cog in the wheel for a sport that, remember, had essentially no social media presence until 2015. They pushed the stories, the politics, the drivers became far more accessible on social media and the teams embraced that. And when we were all stuck at home during COVID-19, the boost in Netflix binging was the rocket fuel that got us to this point. No, this isn’t the F1 “cracking” the US yet, they have a long way to go compared to even NASCAR, let alone the Big 4 sports and their year-round coverage, but the impact is being felt. Saudi Arabia was the most watched F1 race on US cable since 1995.
Yes, there are drawbacks to this. This is not a GP weekend for the everyday person. The reported average ticket price sold was $2,000, up to a $80k VIP package. The cheapest Grandstand was $640. Jake Paul (No not that one), revealed on Twitter that a lemonade at the bar was $17.50. Pictures have been seen of the merch stand showing $120 caps that sell for $40 online. Of course people are going to point out the crazy mark-ups… but sadly, this push is justified.
I remember being at Autosport International a couple of years ago with vendors selling Hamilton caps for eBay prices, sometimes 200-250% of the retail price. They can because of FOMO. Comparisons were made to IndyCar, but that’s a series so domesticated that it prices out anyone International. If I want anything shipped to the UK, I’m paying $46 for it and I’m not including customs in that. This is not explicitly a Miami problem.
For all the talk about the sport becoming increasingly inaccessible… I’ve seen no evidence to suggest we as an audience have reached our breaking point. Silverstone will always be the “high priced” ticket race of the European circuit. It sold 142,000 tickets within hours of launch, with the British Racing Drivers Club explicitly mentioning “Unprecedented demand”. Formula One Management was out here confident that every other GP on the calendar this year will sell out too. So if this sport has an accessibility problem… I’m not convinced we have one.
F1 going to Miami was absolutely a race for the sake of making money. So were the plans for Vegas next year. If F1 was starting fresh for an American marketing push, Austin in Texas was never going to be the master plan. The quiet part is more than being said out loud here. It’s up to us as consumers to respond to that. And the sad thing is, if you’re dropping £80 on those hoodies, you’re accidentally a part of the problem.
And then there was Jewellery-gate. Since Niels Wittich took over as Race Director, he’s highlighted the rule that Jewellery isn’t allowed in the cars. It’s been a rule as long as I can remember, with Christian Klien once getting popped for having earrings on while racing. I don’t know why it hasn’t been enforced in recent years, whether it was just something we all turned a blind eye to. Or whether it just didn’t apply to anyone on the grid, but Lewis Hamilton has gotten into it against the FIA because the man has four body piercings, two of which apparently are “difficult to remove”.
Now, for Miami, a common sense solution was found. Hamilton took out his ear piercings, and was given a two-race exemption from the FIA to give him time to deal with the more difficult ones. But what feels like it should be a straight forward safety issue… feels way more than that.
Because this isn’t a safety story. It’s a Lewis Hamilton story, and it’s deep rooted in the same sort of energy that hit the sport after Abu Dhabi 2021. A lot of people feel like this is a targeted attack on Lewis. I’ll tell you objectively right now, it isn’t. I know this because Pascal Wehrlein and Mitch Evans were given a penalty point on their super licenses and a suspended fine just last week at Monaco’s ePrix for wearing chains during the Qualifying session. Hell, Lucas Di Grassi got a 10,000 euro fine for not wearing the right fireproof underwear a few years back. But no-one cared because Formula E gets one twentieth of F1’s global coverage.
I was going to write this section with full cynicism given the whole situation’s gotten a tad silly, with Lewis decking himself out with bling at the press conference with more timekeeping than Flavor Flav, and Sebastian Vettel going full “Captain Underpants” before FP1. But then I saw a superb Twitter thread by a dear friend in Tiff, that reminded me a lot of the greater image of all of this.
It reminded me a lot of my younger days. I wore a ring despite working hard hours in a retail clothing chain’s warehouse. I wore my late Uncle’s bangle at my current employers despite it being two sizes too big and I caught that motherfucker on everything you can think of. Doors, tables, corners, you name it. Of course, the common sense thing to do is just take it off and make your life a little easier. But then there might be sentimental value there, like with me. You might feel like a part of you is being taken away. Forgive me a little bit for moving the societal goalposts here just a little bit, but by the code of my current employers, even my arm tattoo with “Harrison101” on it should be covered up. I never have, and I never will. Thankfully, I have an understanding boss. Many others don’t get that luxury.
F1 is the most dangerous game of risk assessment ever played. There isn’t a paycheque with enough zeroes on it that would ever make me want to drive a 1,000bhp, 800kg, 225mph walking death trap. And some of these guys are mad enough to do it with ear piercings, wedding rings and goodness knows what else. In our day to day lives, just wearing these trinkets add a small amount of risk in us hurting ourselves. We all know that.
And that’s the problem on the other side of the coin. If someone heaven forbid got hurt, knowing that a piece of jewellery made it worse, with the FIA turning a blind eye for it, who’s getting shit on? We’d be the first people to dunk on the FIA for not doing enough. And after 2021, the FIA is an enemy in the eyes of many of the sport’s collective audience, whatever happens. Countless times over Christmas, we were told the rules had to be enforced. But when they do, it’s – “But no, not like this!” I’m not sure you can have this both ways.
This entire incident has now been used as a stick to beat the FIA with after Esteban Ocon took a 51G whack against a concrete barrier on Saturday with no changes planned. The one time the sport’s been proactive over another safety rule, it’s rightly been crticised but now also compounded by this error in judgment. Shit sucks.
And contrary to what many think on Twitter, I love Lewis Hamilton. When he joined Mercedes in 2013, he was allowed to express himself and let his fashionable side out in the F1 paddock. I loved it. It inspired me to take more confidence in myself, my body, what I wore, and the piercing I now have in my ear and the chain on my wrist. Taking away a little bit of the freedom of expression that so many deal with daily, and Formula 1 was forced to embrace would absolutely suck.
I don’t think there’s a good answer to this. There is no side of the fence that won’t draw some degree of resentment. I hope a common sense solution is eventually found, because no-one wins in difficult scenarios like this, where both sides have valid points.
And what about the race?
Eh, it was alright. This track is… not great. It’s bumpy, and it’s kinda clunky with Sector 3’s technical section (Which kinda has to be there because there’s water right next to it.), and I hope next year, they can improve the barrier. Also, absolutely zero grip off the racing line and that was not ideal. We saw if you went wide at the final hairpin, you were losing a second at best. It looked like a wet track that had one dry line on it. Hope it’ll be better next time round but even then… can’t say I like it.
Max Verstappen is just THAT dude at the moment. And don’t forget, Charles was on a fresh power unit too. Red Bull looks like it’s starting to turn the screw in this title race. Everything Charles tried to throw at Max, Max had an answer for. Pulled out a seven second lead, then survived the final onslaught after the Safety Car. Both these dudes are so evenly matched at their best and it’s great to watch at the front. Well done to Carlos Sainz in 3rd after surviving that nasty neck contusion yesterday and a savage Perez on faster tyres at the end. He needed that.
Also, I might just be ordering myself that therapy right now, because Mick Schumacher committed what could only be described as a “Top 10 Anime Betrayals” moment after dive bombing Sebastian Vettel when they were both in the points. I hate it here. (Good for Alex Albon to get another point. Man is doing work.)
Overall, this was an awesome location and vibe for a race. The TV direction was all over the place and the race ended up mediocre. It’s like having the perfect recipe for a Shepherds Pie, then filling it with dog meat. See you in Barcelona.