The Miami F1 Driver Intros Aren’t the Problem, It’s Everything Else
Putting F1 drivers out of their comfort zone almost always results in entertainment. But does it really help F1?
The 2023 F1 Miami GP driver intros were hilarious. Not just because of the ridiculous visual of will.i.am enthusiastically conducting a medium-sized and very smiley orchestra, or LL Cool J shouting driver’s names like it was 2007. It was seeing the cutting disdain on every driver’s face.
Well, except for Lewis Hamilton. But the vast majority of drivers disliked the showmanship of the driver introductions and made their thoughts clear to the media. Generally, it was a lot of I don’t see the point of this and I have to stand in the sun now and especially I’m just here to race. There are two things at play here: Liberty Media’s desire to make F1 more entertaining, and F1 needing to be legitimate top-flight motorsport. And somehow, these two have been at odds since the beginning of Liberty’s reign.
“None of the drivers like it but it’s not for us at the end of the day,” said Lando Norris in a post-race TV interview. “As drivers, we all just want to sit down and focus on what we need to focus on and not do so much TV and everything,” said Valtteri Bottas. “There’s no other sport where the athletes do so much stuff before the start of the race or event, there needs to be a limit at some point.”
Reigning world champion Max Verstappen would prefer to “just talk to my engineers, walk to my car, put the helmet on and drive.” The only exception to the wall of distaste was Lewis Hamilton who supported the ceremony. “They’re not just doing the same stuff they’ve done in the past. They’re trying new things. They’re trying to improve the show always and I’m in full support of it.”
By and large, when drivers complain about a new rule or procedure, it’s usually something that benefits the spectator. All a driver wants is a competitive advantage. Tempering that advantage brings them closer. That closeness creates friction. A more fair series is always more interesting to watch than periods of dominance, which even this low-turbulence aerodynamics era of F1 seemingly can’t avoid. 2021 was so good and so close that it has set an expectation that is impossible to achieve regularly.
The difference here is that this is something that happened before the race, not part of any competitive session, and was built entirely for entertainment and spectacle. For the rigidly traditional F1, this was highly unusual and was always going to make waves. In American motorsport, a grand opening ceremony is a fairly regular occurrence. Look, it’s entertaining to see 20 of the world’s greatest drivers be introduced like it's the WWE but is it really what F1 needs to be relevant?
Look at the fact of the matter: this is a race in Miami. It’s a parking lot circuit that produces passable racing at best and didn’t provide much of a dynamic grand prix beyond the jumbled qualifying order and Kevin Magnussen defending against Charles Leclerc for most of the race. It’s a grand prix built on contrivance and is a trend that Liberty is leaning into by going chips down into a Las Vegas flagship race while Austin has America’s only true F1 circuit race.
At the surface, the drivers being surly about being treated like show horses is certainly funny. And on some level, I think they can stand to be better sports about it. At the core of it, these are some of the greatest competitors on the face of the planet. While the silly driver introduction is not a huge deal, it isn’t something that is furthering the sport. Still, according to The Race, the driver intros are happening at another six races.
Like the grand prix that came after it, it was a bit of showmanship that was more fit to laugh at rather than laugh with. It was the best drivers in the world and celebrities framed by a haphazard stage and an orchestra in folding chairs. It was a song and dance in a parking lot. And that is not F1.
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