The way Stefano Domenicali sees it, there are two races this weekend. One on the track and the other in the VIP section.
“All the VIPs, singers, actors and stars” who will appear at the opening Grand Prix in Miami.
Domenicali, CEO and President of Formula 1, does not know who will win, but he is aware of the overall winner coming Sunday evening.
“The winner will definitely be Formula 1,” Domenicali told USA TODAY Sports on Friday, about an hour before the practice session at Hard Rock Stadium, home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.
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Domenicali said the race’s debut (3:30 p.m. ET, AB, the track itself and the natural celebrity facility in a place like Miami (technically Miami Gardens) are signs of how fast Formula 1 has moved in the past two and a half years.
“We’re still squabbling. Are we going to break through here in the US?” Domenicali said. “Suddenly, and for many reasons of course, it now appears that interest in Formula 1 has never been this high.”
To borrow a line from “The Godfather” Formula 1 and its owner Liberty Media believe in America. A small audience found him on a weekend morning on ESPN. Netflix brought it into the mainstream with its “Drive to Survive” series in the US, bringing out a younger, enthusiastic fan base. The embrace of social media appears to have heightened the association.
According to ESPN, the US rights holder, 963,000 spectators followed the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the end of the season, the final installment of the 2021 season and Max Verstappen (Red Bull) against Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) battle. Verstappen prevailed – but not without controversy. The network also revealed that it averaged 934,000 viewers per race throughout the 2021 season.
“You can really feel it. You’re walking around town, everybody talks about Formula 1. We are international,” Domenicali said. And that’s the beauty between the connection of American society and Formula 1. We’re bringing that together, and that’s a very positive thing.”
Another plus is the Miami ‘scenery’, an event worth celebrating, but also exactly what Formula 1 has seen in America.
Storylines like “The Real Housewives”
Stuart Taylor helps F1 fans with the technical side of the sport, but the longtime F1 fan who has 525,000 YouTube subscribers said the reason for the increased American awareness had a lot to do with the drivers themselves.
“Formula 1 has always had interesting stories to go through. And I think that’s the most important thing in any sport. You can enjoy the sport of athletics, or in terms of motorsport, technical prowess, all sorts of things – but I think the thing that keeps everyone addicted to it. It’s part of the story of it.”
Taylor said the “ongoing soap operas” between athletes, team leaders and even the media are surprising.
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“(Drivers) are no longer professional athletes. They are not just athletes. They are soap stars too. These are the “Real Housewives of Monte Carlo,” Wall Street Journal sports journalist Josh Robinson said on “The Ringer F1 Show” this week. “Netflix has taken them to a different level and created them as a secondary character who is kind of transcended by the fact that these guys drive really fast for a living.”
This is something that Formula 1 has not realized for a long time. Under the previous ownership headed by Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One group was not interested in expanding its audience.
Taylor said, “His opinion was, ‘We kind of locked us in the people we want to watch, and they’re basically old and wealthy people. People who buy Rolex watches.’
“It’s a little crazy considering you have to keep the sport.”
Taylor said Liberty has focused its efforts on the youth market. A large part of that was running the entertainment associated with the sport. Domenicali said he doesn’t like hearing people say, “But that’s not formula 1.”
“Sometimes it feels like Formula One is going a little rough on the recreational side,” Taylor said, adding that the entertainment factor was still essential. He believes that this is a transitional period in which the discovery of the appropriate balance is still being managed.
Taylor, who has been a huge fan of Formula 1 since the 1990s, said: “We live in a really interesting time. We know they are pushing hard to lay strong foundations there.”
Create the scene
For most of the 20th century and into this year, Formula 1 has scheduled only one grand prix in the US – and it will be historic for one year. The Las Vegas Grand Prix on schedule in 2023.
Since 2012, the previous F1 race attendance has been in Austin, Texas (except in 2020 due to the pandemic). Mercedes driver George Russell said he focuses on lasers during race weekends, but noted that the 400,000 fans who attended race weekend events in 2021 have left an imprint.
“It’s unheard of,” said Russell, 24.
He added, “You can see how optimistic and excited everyone is in America… Personally, I am very grateful and fortunate, to be fortunate to be in Formula 1 at this age.”
Maximizing the moment the right way is always at the top of a Dominican mind. Developing sport and business together, “while making fun of our sporting audience”, will always be the goal – whether Formula 1 flies its flag in the US or elsewhere.
“We need to create a scene,” Domenicali said.
Judging from the Miami look leading up to the weekend, the job is done.
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