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Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner and David Beckham in 2021 in Doha, Qatar. Picture: MARK THOMPSON/GETTY IMAGES
Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner and David Beckham in 2021 in Doha, Qatar. Picture: MARK THOMPSON/GETTY IMAGES

Miami — Michael Jordan, David Beckham and “The Rock” are among the celebrities expected to flock to Formula One’s first Miami Grand Prix as the sport’s popularity in the US surges into new realms.

After a series of failed attempts to break into the US market in the 1980s, the country looked a lost cause for the world’s most popular motor racing series, with fans preferring the familiar names of NASCAR and the domestic Indycar open-wheel series.

Yet many in Formula One, including seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, believe times have changed.

“Growing up knowing how amazing the sport is and seeing that there was still quite a disconnect between the US and the rest of the world in terms of the passion for this sport, it’s really amazing to see that we’ve cracked it and there’s a growing love in the States,” Mercedes driver Hamilton said.

The Miami race, which rapidly sold out, is the fifth round of the season and, with the long-established race in Austin, Texas, it is one of two in the US for 2022. In 2023, there will be three with Las Vegas debuting.

Austin drew the biggest Formula One crowd of the season in 2021, with a total three-day attendance of 400,000 and the sport is benefiting from the success of the Netflix series Drive to Survive, which has created a buzz around the drivers and teams.

Formula One, which now has US owners in Liberty Media, has a major broadcast deal in the US with ESPN, which has also helped push it further towards the US sports mainstream.

Sports marketing experts agree that Formula One has truly broken through in the US.

“The sport brings a bit of European glam to the auto race scene in America at a time when audiences may be tiring of the same-old, same-old NASCAR and Indy Car events,” San Francisco’s Pinnacle Advertising sports marketing analyst Bob Dorfman said.

“Thanks to the success of Drive To Survive, a strong American marketing focus by Liberty Media, serious broadcast efforts by ESPN, compelling driver personalities and rivalries, cool cars and exciting non-oval race venues, F1 is here to stay and grow,” he added.

It is a far cry from the days when Formula One was mocked for its ill-fated attempts to “crack” the US.

Ostrich rivals

The Phoenix Grand Prix was held on a street circuit in the Arizona city between 1989 and 1991 but was discontinued after the intense heat caused reliability problems, while the local annual Ostrich races drew bigger crowds.

The 2005 US Grand Prix at the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway ended in a farce with tyre issues meaning only six cars took part in the actual race. The cars using Michelin tyres withdrew after the formation lap, leaving only the six cars that competed on Bridgestone tyres to run. The event was cancelled in 2007.

Formula One’s last attempt in Vegas was ridiculed for being a race in the Caesars Palace hotel car park and despite that experience, the Miami race is also taking place in a parking lot.

While Miami, a regular Super Bowl host venue, is a city that loves a big-ticket event, it is also a tricky place to get the right set-up. Whenever it was talked about as a potential race venue, comparisons were made with one of the sport’s legendary street races — the Monaco Grand Prix, with the potential for race-side views of water and yachts.

But after a downtown venue was unable to be secured, Sunday’s race will take place about an hour’s drive from South Beach, inland at Hard Rock Stadium, home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins and their large car park in the much less glamorous Miami Gardens neighbourhood.

In an attempt to capture some of the Miami vibe, organisers have created a simulated marina with dry-docked yacht and a boarded surface creating the impression of water for the television cameras.

While that may have upset some purists, it does not seem to have worried fans, who have snaffled up tickets, including the pricier hospitality packages at a series of spots on the course designed as much for enjoying mojito cocktails as catching a view of Hamilton and his rivals.

“The Miami venue might not be the sexiest choice, especially considering all the flashy city streets available,” Dorfman said. “But the novelty and excitement of a first-time Formula One event should prevail.”

Reuters

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