The relationship between the US and Formula 1 has been patchy at best over the past four decades. During the 1960s and 1970s, Watkins Glen in leafy New York State was a popular autumnal grand prix venue, while a street race in Long Beach, California, gave F1 solid foundations on both coasts of the planet’s biggest commercial market – until both slipped from the calendar in the early 1980s. America has been a problem for F1 ever since.
That’s why the recent confirmation that F1’s American commercial rights holder, Liberty Media, has signed a 10-year deal to host a grand prix in glamorous Miami, Florida, from 2022 really matters.
Sure, F1 already has an established and popular base at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, but since its 2012 debut, the commercial realities of selling ‘eff wun’ in this delightful city has bitten hard.
Miami looks set to host its grand prix in the spring, allowing COTA to maintain its late-season slot, much like Long Beach and Watkins Glen in the past. But it’s the commercial Mecca in the Sunshine State that will become the focus. The place is glitzy, gauche, synthetic, a little sleazy… in other words, a perfect fit for F1.
Liberty saves face
It’s only a wonder that it has taken this long for F1 to establish a Miami Grand Prix – and in that lies another story. Since Liberty took over the running of the series in 2017, a race in the city has been its primary target, only for plans to be scuppered by opposition from politicians and residents.
Liberty’s failure to crack a deal in its own country became humiliating, while other failed attempts to expand F1’s reach have added to the blushes. It was a corruption scandal rather than the pandemic that really scuttled the much-vaunted Vietnam GP last year.
Therefore the Miami GP represents an important flag in the ground for F1’s new CEO, Stefano Domenicali, just months after Saudi Arabia was announced as another new big-money host. Now F1 must ensure that these races become positive additions from a sporting perspective as well as a commercial one.
On a recent visit to Jeddah for Saudi Arabia’s Extreme E race, I inadvertently visited the site of the grand prix that’s due to take its bow on 5 December (to attend a drive-through Covid-19 test centre). To describe this Red Sea beach resort as scruffy is an understatement. In fact, from what I saw, it makes Worthing look like Monaco.