MIAMI – Formula One turned to will.i.am and LL Cool J to add some razzmatazz around the build-up to the Miami Grand Prix but drivers remained unconvinced about the introductions they had to take part in before the race.
In a departure from the conventional pre-race procedure ahead of Sunday’s main event, a portion of time was set aside for LL Cool J to introduce the drivers in reverse championship order while flanked by cheerleaders from the Miami Dolphins.
As that took place, will.i.am was conducting an orchestra playing his new song, The Formula, written specifically for F1 and released ahead of the Miami race, now in its second year.
The pre-race show was discussed at the Friday drivers’ briefing and ESPN understands objections to it were raised. Sources have indicated that F1 wants to push ahead with similar introductions at certain events but is yet to convince all the drivers of the merits of doing so.
“None of the drivers like it, but it’s not for us at the end of the day,” McLaren’s Lando Norris said after the race on Sunday, when asked about the introductions.
Williams driver Alex Albon was equally dismissive, saying when asked about it: “It’s the show. We’re in the show business now”.
F1 has been keen to fully lean into the American market where possible this year — with November’s Las Vegas Grand Prix joining the long-established U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, the country hosts three races in a calendar year for the first time since 1981.
Mercedes driver George Russell complained about having to stand for so long in the sun while fully dressed in race overalls.
“It is distracting because, you know, we were on the grid for half an hour in all of our overalls in the sun. I don’t think there’s any other sports in the world that 30 minutes before you go out to do your business that you’re out there in the sun, all the cameras on you, and making a bit of a show of it.
“We spoke about it as drivers on Friday night. Everybody’s got different personalities. I guess it’s the American way of doing things, doing sport.
“Personally, [it’s] probably not for me. But you know, that’s just my personal opinion.”
Race winner Max Verstappen said it is natural to have drivers who like it and others who do not.
“I think this is a personality thing, right? Some people like to be more in the spotlight, some people don’t,” Verstappen said. “I personally don’t so for me I think that naturally what they did today was not necessary, I prefer to just walk to my car, talk to my engineers, put the helmet on and drive. But of course I have to accept the entertainment value.”
There were some in favour, such as seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, who also welcomed the presence of celebrities such as tennis legends Serena and Venus Williams on the grid and hugged LL Cool J as his introduction was being done.
“They [Formula One] are trying new things, they’re trying to improve the show always, and I’m in full support of it,” Hamilton said.
“Geez, I grew up listening to LL Cool J, and LL Cool J was there. That’s cool. You look over, you’ve got will.i.am who’s an incredible artist. You’ve got Serena and Venus standing there. I thought it was cool.”
Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg, who came back to F1 this year after sitting out in 2020, 2021 and 2022, was also in the minority of drivers who enjoyed the experience.
“It was quite nice when you stand there and then you see other drivers walk out, the crowd go bananas,” he said. “I had some goosebumps actually. I quite liked that part.”
F1 had previously tried similar ahead of the 2019 U.S. Grand Prix at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas, with the introductions on that occasion being conducted by legendary boxing announcer Michael Buffer. Those were also met with a mixed reaction — at the time, Fernando Alonso called them “a bad joke”.
Alonso, who on this occasion was speaking after recording his fourth podium of the season for Aston Martin, objected to the idea that certain fanbases should be treated differently to others.
“I don’t think the Miami fans are better than the Italian fans in Imola, or in Spain, or in Mexico, or in Japan,” Alonso said. “I think we need to make everyone with the same show before the race.”
Verstappen said: “I hope we don’t have that every single time because we have a very long season, so we don’t need an entry like that every time. It depends on the crowd and what you want from entertainment.”
Red Bull boss Christian Horner sympathised with drivers who didn’t like it.
“It’s quite tough for the drivers, to be honest with you, to be running through dried ice and high-fiving A-listers that they’re probably not quite sure who they are. Then thrown into the national anthem and expected to deliver.
“There’s not many sports that athletes have to do that. And so I think we need to be respectful.”
Horner said Formula One is right to test what works in different countries.
“I think there’s a lot of experimenting going on. This is a new market, U.S. sport is different to that.
“You’re not going to see drivers running through dry ice at Silverstone. Maybe with a cravat and a tie, maybe! It’s different things for different markets.
“Of course you can understand [Formula One owners] Liberty and the promoters exploring different things, because they’re competing with other sports. But I think it’s finding that balance that’s right and appropriate.”
Pierre Gasly had perhaps the most measured verdict on Sunday evening, admitting frustrations at spending so long out of the car before the race, but that F1 should continue to try new things.
“It was too long,” said Gasly. “Not enough time before jumping in the car. I don’t know how the other drivers feel but I feel like sometimes you need to be down and kind of in your bubble right before jumping in the car.
“But overall it was good to try and I’m sure next time we’re going to do small tweaks next time we do a similar thing.”