For the second year in a row, most of the action at the Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix happened off the track. Celebrities and deep-pocketed tourists converged at the Miami International Autodrome at Hard Rock Stadium for one of only three Formula 1 races (up from two last year) in the United States. High ticket prices left many locals to watch the broadcast instead — and given the scope of a twisty, 5.4-kilometer circuit — that would be all well and good, if only it weren't so dull.
You'd have to be following the action on TV to discern the smattering of what passed as exciting moments during the race itself, which was, in fact, the 14th in F1 history with no retirements: Every car finished the race with no breakdowns, no accidents, and nothing but good, clean, boring driving from all involved.
The most exciting event of the weekend occurred before the race began. On Saturday, Ferrari driver Charles LeClerc spun out and crashed into a barrier in the waning moments of qualifying. The Monégasque driver's mistake meant that the session had to be red-flagged, putting Mexican driver Sergio Pérez of Red Bull in the pole position (meaning he started at the front). Two Spaniards followed him: two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso, currently racing for Aston Martin in position two, and Carlos Sainz of Ferrari in third. This meant Spanish-speaking drivers took the first three positions — the first time such a thing ever happened and a big deal for a Spanish-forward city like Miami.
On Sunday, after the green flag was waved, Pérez surged to the front of the pack, running at the front for the first 20 laps with Alonso and Sainz close behind. But it was Max Verstappen who would have the last laugh. Driving on hard-compound tires, the Dutchman efficiently and methodically advanced nine places, overtaking Pérez when the Mexican took his lone pit stop. When Verstappen finally pitted on lap 46 to switch to softer tires, Pérez briefly returned the favor. But Verstappen quickly overtook his teammate on the next lap and went on to take both the victory and the fastest lap, repeating as race winner from last year and relegating his Red Bull teammate to runner-up. Alonso held on for third, fighting off challenges from much younger drivers throughout the race.
Logan Sargeant, the South Florida-born-and-raised rookie driver racing for once-proud team Williams, finished dead last in 20th place after an unscheduled early pit stop.
Red Bull's dominance bodes poorly for any real competition for the remainder of the F1 season, especially after the team's cakewalk to last year's championship. But the rest of the field ought to share in the blame for an outstandingly dull race. Tire management has been put forth as a possible reason for teams' abundance of caution, with racers' concern for their rubber wheels melting and degrading in the Florida heat dulling out their competitive edge.
Maybe it's just that the Miami Grand Prix doesn't feel sufficiently crucial to go for it. Verstappen and Co. were strikingly nonchalant in a post-race radio exchange, assessing their one-two triumph as just another day's work. Indeed, the race takes place too early in the season for any real stakes to emerge. It's not as prestigious as the upcoming race in Ferrari's home grounds of Imola in Italy, as dangerous as its immediate predecessor race in Baku, Azerbaijan, or as glamorous as the legendary Monaco Grand Prix, which it seeks to emulate in terms of luxury. The drivers might be forgiven for regarding it as nothing more than a Sunday-afternoon drive through a stadium parking lot full of celebs.
The infamous "fake marina" was filled with actual water this year — if you count puddles from overnight rain showers, that is. Still, cringe was in full supply before the race, thanks to a ridiculous "driver introduction" segment. With F1 desperate to make the sport finally stick in North America, the race organizers brought out extremely relevant musician LL Cool J to give pro-wrestler-style stage introductions for all the drivers, with the equally extremely relevant will.i.am of Black Eyed Peas fame conducting a definitely playing-live-not-bow-synching-at-all string orchestra in a custom racing suit.
Perhaps all the true talent was scared away by Tallahassee's continued assault on the rights of the LGBTQ community — an exhibition of bigotry that doesn't faze Formula 1 in the least, given that the organization hosted a race in Saudi Arabia earlier this year.
A year removed from the shine of a debut, the second running of the Miami Grand Prix felt a bit diminished. With the promise of racing action unfulfilled, the event's essence is revealed as what it has always been — and what Miami itself has always been: a party for the rich and famous.
One thing can save this event: rain. The Florida sky must open up and drop untold gallons of water on this asphalt. We need to see cars slip-sliding and banging into each other like bumper cars. The chaos of a wet track can save the Miami Grand Prix from itself.