will.i.am? Well I never! The Miami Grand Prix promoters are determined to carve out a unique identity for this recent addition to the F1 calendar and the full-on assault of kitsch and celebrity cameos isn’t for everyone. This year’s event also presented us with a new format for the pre-race ceremonials, wherein the drivers were presented to the audience individually by the Grammy Award-winning rapper LL Cool J against a background tapestry featuring an honour guard of cheerleaders (whatever happened to the moratorium on grid girls?) and Black Eyed Peas founder will-i-am conducting a 30-piece orchestra.
Naturally this attempt to ramp up the showbiz element met with a rebarbative response from the usual quarters. A mob of naysayers assembled on Twitter to bellow about this attempt to serve up change where no change was required. Drivers who prefer to hide in the garage until the last minute harrumphed about having to get ‘on the ice’ a little earlier than usual. Members of the Fourth Estate began to mentally compose cynical op-ed columns to slot into Monday’s publishing schedule. Sneering at these daft colonials and their foolish ways? Hell, this sort of thing practically writes itself!
Tempting though it might be to join the chorus of derision, I’m going to remain pizzazz-agnostic. F1 is still finding its way in the USA and there’s an awareness within the commercial rights holder’s leadership that the so-called ‘Netflix effect’ has a finite lifespan. Exploring new means of connecting with the US audience makes good business sense.
Clearly there are practical considerations which require more awareness on the part of those who formulate the show. This is a demanding high-performance sport where danger is always in close attendance, so interrupting drivers’ established pre-race routines is potentially problematic.
Nevertheless, drivers almost always complain about additions to what they see as the burden of PR work. What they need to recognise is that this is an inextricable element of a mix which ultimately pays their wages: if nobody wanted to watch these people race cars, they’d have to find another (and likely much less well-compensated) job. The Greta Garbo “I want to be alone” routine is fundamentally self-defeating. Be careful what you wish for – if you don’t keep the audience serviced, you may get it.
One of the more prominent outlier voices making positive noises about Miami’s pre-race show belonged to Lewis Hamilton. The seven-time champion well knows the value of publicity and showmanship to the bottom line. And as our cover feature this month attests, he’s cracked the secret to enjoying a long career: matching star power with a steely work ethic, and always being ready to ensure change works to his benefit.