Why the Miami Grand Prix could spell the end for Monaco

After decades of trying, Formula 1 seems to have finally broken through America last season as it heads to the Miami Grand Prix.

A grand total of 380,000 fans reportedly attended Circuit of the Americas over three days in Austin, Texas to watch a key race in the world championship battle between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton.

As the drivers were cheered on by onlookers – many of whom had no doubt taken the bait of Drive to Survive in recent years and found themselves hooked – every time they emerged from their garages, the United States Grand Prix- United 2021 felt like a watershed moment in F1’s often rocky relationship with America.

The challenge now? To capitalize on that, capitalize on that existing goodwill and make one of the many houses on the F1 calendar a home.

That’s why this weekend’s first Miami Grand Prix is, by far, the most important milestone since Liberty Media’s takeover of F1, or at least until the sport recently announced. a third race in the United States – in Las Vegas of all places – starting in 2023.

The changes Liberty has made to F1 since joining almost six years ago range from cosmetic (logos and anthems) to root and branch (new technical and financial regulations), but there are no greater reflection of their impact than the presence of an American Race supplement or two on the program.

So when the cars line up on the Miami grid this Sunday for a race on the program since 2018, F1 will be fully and unmistakably the land of the Free.

The build-up to the race weekend may prove unbearable for some so-called “inheritance” fans of a certain disposition – F1’s launch of a range of garish Miami GP-themed clothing, for taking one example is enough to make your eyes roll – but this promises to be an event like no other.

As for the circuit itself? It may be disappointing for some to learn that this is nothing we haven’t seen before.

Watch a lap aboard Miami and it quickly becomes apparent that, rather than offering something unique and worthy of the location itself, it simply follows the model of the modern F1 street circuit.

The high-speed sweeps of the first sector, for example, are straight out of Saudi Arabia, while the awkward collection of corners leading to the longest straight later in the lap – ending in a near left turn walls as the track narrows – bears a striking resemblance to Baku.

Having first hosted a Grand Prix in 2016, Baku broke the rules of street circuit design with its alluring and chaotic mix of high-speed and slow sections and is arguably to blame for the current trend.

The arrival of Jeddah, “the fastest street circuit in the world”, in 2021 has taken the balance between risk and reward to a whole new level, while only the Covid pandemic has prevented Hanoi, the copycat street circuit that time forgot, to host its first race two years ago.

As street tracks continue to take over the schedule, F1 is increasingly following the Formula E model of forcibly arousing locals’ interest by bulldozing their way to their doorsteps. , Vietnam was the bullet that F1 dodged. But even well-established places are apparently not immune to being mutilated to meet modern expectations.

Alterations to Albert Park for 2022 were meant to improve the spectacle of the Australian GP, ​​but appeared to only cut lap times and bring the Melbourne layout more in line with Baku and Jeddah.

The removal of the chicane at 9/10 turns – and with it one of the defining images of any F1 season, of cars racing against the backdrop of Melbourne’s city center – was a form of sacrilege, leaving yet another cold, twisted, hard- walled section of flat racecourse.

When their main distinguishing feature is their position on a map – the same ideas transplanted from track to track – the novelty value is normalized and street circuits are no different from the various purpose-built Tilkedromes that have grown around the world from Abu Dhabi. in New Delhi over the past two decades.

Not so long ago, the idea of ​​a driver towing his team-mate in qualifying was reserved for the vast expanses of Spa-Francorchamps and Monza; that they are now as likely to employ the tactic as they march past buildings in Baku is a sign of the times.

In its quest for ever faster, more extreme and ever more extreme, F1 has perhaps lost sight of the two crucial ingredients of any famous street circuit: variety and character.

The venue of the sport’s first-ever night race in 2008, Singapore will make a very welcome return to the calendar this year after a two-year absence and, often running near the two-hour time limit in sweltering heat, remains the most physically demanding race in F1.

Marina Bay was a racing destination long before it became a term popularized by Liberty chiefs, but even Singapore failed to replace Monaco as the ultimate jewel in F1’s crown.

The rise of the identical urban track has left Monaco’s place on the calendar more threatened than ever, perceived as a relic of the past in more ways than one.

F1’s shift to wider and heavier cars in recent years has worked against it – rumors that the sport has outgrown the place’s volume are growing year on year – and Miami and Las Vegas make up a clear threat to its most glamorous grand prix status, adding to the suspicion that Monaco is simply not as valuable to F1 as it once was.

And yet, for all its flaws, it still does nowhere better when it comes to exemplifying the innate skill, commitment and judgment of an F1 driver.

More than any other circuit on the calendar, it is where the driver can make a noticeable difference, and if there is frustration that qualifying in Monte Carlo is a bigger attraction than the race itself, those desperate for his demise should be careful what they wish for.

Miami is sure to be a fine addition to the F1 calendar and when it is joined by Las Vegas next year, F1 will have almost everything in place to make its influence felt the full length and breadth. the United States.

Both will be important to F1’s long-term future, but if it’s uniqueness you seek both on and off the track, Monaco – that symbol of the sport’s history and heritage , where ghosts of the past lurk around every corner – still sets the standard.

All the more reason to stick together a little more when F1 returns to the Principality later this month…

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