The majority of Formula 1 drivers felt the introduction ceremony at the Miami Grand Prix was a step too far in pre-race showbiz, prompting complaints that they’re already exposed enough in the build-up to race starts without having to come off the grid just to come back on again accompanied by LL Cool J and cheerleaders while waving.
A supportive Lewis Hamilton aside, the most positive others got was an acceptance that it was a relatively harmless gesture for fans even though they’d rather just be talking to their engineers in those minutes.
The bad news for the disgruntled drivers is that the intro festivities are here to stay – they’ll be seen at up to eight races in 2023, not just the American trio.
Here are our writers’ thoughts on them.
It can be done better than this
Do it again, but do it better. That’s how I see it.
Over the top, grand ceremonies are not my cup of tea but I am definitely a fan of hyping things up before a sporting event. It does have a place, especially for those on-site, it just has to be managed sensibly.
When I’ve gone to football matches or NBA games, I’ve enjoyed both ends of the spectrum – from player-by-player name readouts and crowd cheers for the third tier of English football, to the razzmatazz of the starting roster for the Philadelphia Sixers.
It lends something to the occasion but it’s about execution – and in Miami it felt too long. So speed it up a little, make it feel a touch more natural, and I’d be happy to see it at other events as well.
Variety’s good. Cloying and drawn-out pageantry less so.
A harmless bit of American showbiz
Look, I admit I’m a little biased, I’ve grown up on a bloated diet of US sports. I grew up on the WWE, I still watch boxing and MMA occasionally and I love most of the Big Four when it comes to American sports. I got chills when Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera came out to close a baseball game to ‘Enter Sandman’ by Metallica.
So I’m absolutely down for anything that makes F1 take itself a bit less seriously. Why not have the championship lean on a bit of its own Americana if it’s clearly so serious about trying to crack the US? They love this pageantry.
And given how personality-driven F1 is these days on social media, I think we as an audience share a lot more with ‘not-a-sport’ professional wrestling than we care to admit.
At worst, it’s just a bit of harmless fun as part of the pre-race build-up that many people don’t even like or watch in the first place. Sport is all about entertainment and the Americans get that more than just about anyone else.
F1 should put its own stamp on it
While the Miami Grand Prix driver introductions were a little incongruous, drivers’ objections were understandable. With plans for more such presentations, perhaps the question is more one of form rather than function.
At the Indianapolis 500, the driver introductions are a key part of the pre-race build-up. Around an hour before the green flag, the 33 drivers are introduced row by row (so 11 rows of three) and conduct their ‘walk on’ together. It has a good feel and is very in keeping with the vibe of the race. Crucially, it’s also distant enough from the green flag not to interfere so much with the preparation of the drivers.
Perhaps F1 could modify its intros to be a little earlier in the day? While not ideal for the TV audience, the Miami broadcast was hardly that given it gave – unfairly – the impression of a singular lack of reaction from anyone on-site to the presentations. So why not make it more part of the show for those who have paid big bucks to be on site?
Fernando Alonso suggested if the introductions continue it should be at the expense of the driver parade. That seems like a poor trade given either loading the drivers onto a flatbed truck or sending them around in parade cars gives everyone there a sight of their heroes. But why not combine the two?
That could mean a Miami-style driver introduction that brings on the drivers, perhaps in pairs either based on qualifying position or points standings, as they emerge to board whatever transport is put on for the parade?
If F1 is determined to persist with such driver introductions, it would make sense for it to stamp its own style on them and this is just one possible way of doing it. The downside is it could not be immediately before the race, but it’s a viable way to extend the build-up to the race and create the big-event feel a grand prix deserves.
You have to take the drivers with you
It was pretty clear that most drivers hated this – not from hearing their comments after the race on it – but simply seeing their faces and demeanour as LL Cool J said their names.
Only three of the 20 drivers stopped for a (brief) word with LL Cool J with the rest mostly shuffling awkwardly to their place for the national anthem.
Clearly the drivers, outside of LL Cool J fan Lewis Hamilton, home hero Logan Sargeant and a complying Max Verstappen, weren’t all that invested in the idea of the pre-race introductions – and that’s not a personality problem, there are plenty of funny, likeable and marketable personalities among the F1 grid.
The problem is F1 is still struggling to properly showcase its stars off-track. Netflix’s Drive To Survive demonstrated the potential but we’re not seeing it properly on grand prix weekends yet.
Part of the problem is clearly the lack of proper driver consultation. It’s quite clear they were told they were doing this as an order rather than a suggestion two days prior in the drivers’ briefing on Friday evening.
So it was hardly a surprise to see most drivers walking as quickly as they could to their spot and giving little more engagement to the fans than they would if they were walking into the paddock past the crowds.
Drivers are always going to shy away from anything that isn’t racing on a grand prix weekend – they probably would never talk to the media if they had a choice – but there has to be a better way of extracting their personalities.
And if it’s an idea that the drivers have had proper input on and are properly invested in then it’s going to work so much better. Doing something pre-race for the fans has to remain mandatory but that doesn’t mean the drivers can’t help shape it and make it far less awkward and uncomfortable for everyone involved.
Make it stop
I know it sounds a bit rich coming from a British person after the coronation celebrations, but I am not a big fan of the pageantry. I just don’t think it brings anything new to F1 except for a whole lot of cringe. I didn’t know it was possible to get ‘the ick’ from a sport, but here we are.
The entire thing gave me 1980s gameshow vibes, and at one point, I was convinced they’d bring out a prize wheel for each driver to spin while everyone chanted: “SPIN. THAT. WHEEL!”
I know I sound like a complete negative Nellie, where’s my sense of fun and enjoyment? I guess it got lost in the thick, unnecessary smoke from the machines blowing into the drivers’ faces.
If F1 is adamant about introducing this kind of procedure into motorsport, then fine, I won’t lose sleep over it. But it most definitely needs toning down a bit.
I understand that the whole point is to market the F1 drivers themselves, but they’ll show us their personalities in their own time (and I think you’ll find a lot of them already do), not have them forcibly extracted on a stage with will.i.am, and LL Cool J.
If I have to be nice about something, the orchestra was divine.
Ultimately, I’m a fan of the racing itself, and I would much rather let the drivers get into the zone, into their cars, and battle it out on track.
Do it properly
If we’re going to do this, let’s do it properly. I want to see full WWE-style entrances for each driver, featuring their own choice of walk-on music and all the pyrotechnics F1 can get its hands on.
Before long they can have their own catchphrases and taunts to really get the crowd going.
All drivers have pieces of music that are special to them or help them get hyped before a race. Ideally, some of them could borrow famous wrestling theme tunes as well: Max Verstappen walks in to “Time to play the Game” by Motörhead, and The Undertaker’s famous ‘bong’, denotes the imminent arrival of the similarly ageless Fernando Alonso.
And what if I remove tongue from cheek? I switch on the TV coverage when the formation lap starts, so I really don’t mind what they do before that. That sort of fanfare isn’t aimed at me.