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The Big Take

Formula One Finally Found a Way to Get Americans to Care

The posh, stodgy European sport has been transformed for the U.S. with a hit Netflix series, race car drivers on Twitch, and a Miami-meets-Vegas overhaul—and it’s working.
Daniel Ricciardo drives the McLaren MCL36 Mercedes during qualifying for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in Imola, Italy, on April 22.

Daniel Ricciardo drives the McLaren MCL36 Mercedes during qualifying for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in Imola, Italy, on April 22.

Photographer: Mario Renzi/Formula 1/Getty Images

Off Exit 2X of the Florida Turnpike, Hard Rock Stadium’s parking lots are getting a Monaco-esque makeover. With six weeks to go before Formula One’s newest U.S. grand prix on May 8, the vast expanse is being outfitted with a 3.36-mile circuit, palm-tree-shaded villas, and VIP clubs that’ll cost upwards of $9,000 for a weekend pass. The home of the Miami Dolphins may not ooze the aristocratic decadence of Monte Carlo, where F1 drivers whip their multimillion-dollar machines through picturesque streets overlooking harborside yachts. But at Turn 7, where a line of port-a-potties sits amid the construction, a “marina” will host deep-pocketed fans aboard small boats trucked in and “docked” on stands surrounded by planks painted to look like water. The whole event is sponsored by Crypto.com. “The idea is that this is going to turn into an almost Disneyland map,” says Tom Garfinkel, chief executive officer of the Dolphins, pointing at a blueprint of the track at his office. “It’s kind of like, ‘Do you want to go to Space Mountain? Do you want to go to Pirateland?’ ”

Not too long ago, the thought of Disney-fying F1 would have sent Ferrari fanatics careening off the autobahn. For decades, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile-sanctioned series has been considered the pinnacle of motor sports, a rich fondue of exorbitant engineering and wheel-to-wheel speed. A posh international audience, mostly from Europe and South America, obsessed over circuits where Rolex, Shell, and other big brands craved association with the most epic cars on the planet. Stirring the pot was Bernie Ecclestone, the British tycoon who started building F1 into an empire in the 1970s and controlled it with monarchical power through 2016. Bernie, as he’s universally referred to, once said he managed F1 like a “Michelin restaurant, not a hamburger joint.” If F1 was synonymous with Moët, he believed it wouldn’t appeal to McDonald’s-loving Nascar fans.