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Miami Grand Prix: Will fake marina and Super Bowl-style opening ceremony deliver classic race?

Drivers and team principals wave to the crowd at the Miami Grand Prix opening ceremony
An opening ceremony took place to welcome drivers and team bosses to Miami

The Formula 1 roadshow has well and truly landed in Miami.

Making its debut on the calendar for the 2022 season, this weekend’s grand prix set in the Hard Rock Stadium complex – home to the NFL’s Miami Dolphins – and looks set to be the biggest and boldest event the sport has ever seen.

On Wednesday, an opening ceremony took place on the enormous podium, featuring drivers and team principals, as American fans were treated to a Super Bowl-style extravaganza.

For all the glitz, glamour and showmanship the organisers have laid on so far, it’s the addition of an artificial marina, complete with fake water, around a section of the 5.412km circuit that has fans talking.

Will racing in the sunshine state of Florida live up to the colossal hype? BBC Sport takes a look at what is in store.

A track where you can ‘walk on water’

In a media conference before the 2017 Australian Grand Prix, when asked where they would like to see Formula 1 go next, Lewis Hamilton had only one location in mind. “Miami,” said the then three-time world champion. “That would be a pretty good one.”

Fast forward five years, and Hamilton’s wish has been granted.

The popularity of the Netflix series Drive to Survive has opened up a new generation of fans to the sport, and F1’s owners have been keen to tap into the vast potential of the US market. A night race against the backdrop of the Las Vegas strip will be joining Miami, plus the grand prix in Austin, Texas, from 2023.

This weekend’s event has not been without its teething problems, however. The Miami International Autodrome went through 36 different layouts before developers settled on a street-circuit feel with 19 corners, three straights and scope for three DRS zones.

Although situated in the Miami Gardens campus of two-time Super Bowl winners the Miami Dolphins, the temporary track acts more like a moat that goes around the stadium, using the franchise’s car park to maximum effect. The circuit also tips its hat to the Mexico City Grand Prix, with an homage to the semi-circular Foro Sol grandstand section that sits inside the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

And then there is the ‘marina’.

Fans take pictures in the fake marina at the Miami Grand Prix
Fancy a dip? Fans have flocked to take a picture with the yachts in the fake marina

When the original idea to have cars whizz around downtown Miami and the real marina were met by opposition from local residents, some decided they would give F1 bosses their Monaco-inspired camera shots of luxurious yachts in any way possible.

Since pictures of the marina were released, social media has been awash with memes poking fun of the moored boats and the walk-on-water wooden platform. Many see it as a budget version of the opulence of Monte Carlo, while others feel the forced spectacle of Miami takes the sport further away from its traditional roots.

If fans lucky enough to be attending do not fancy the beach club experience, they can also watch the grand prix from above the action.

The first of its kind, a gondola lift will be running during the 57-lap race which will allow supporters to not only take in an aerial view of proceedings, but also give a unique perspective thanks to the glass bottoms of the cable cars.

F1 goes big on American PR push

Drivers have certainly been making the most of their time in the United States this week to promote the Formula 1 brand.

Mercedes may be under pressure to deliver in South Florida after a disappointing start to the season, but that hasn’t stopped Hamilton playing golf with seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady or making an appearance on the popular ABC show Good Morning America.

“I’ve been coming out here for a long, long time but I never quite understood why people weren’t into Formula 1,” Hamilton told GMA. “This Netflix show [Drive to Survive], through the pandemic, has just brought massive awareness to the sport – and now it’s booming.”

For world champion Max Verstappen, Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez and title leader Charles Leclerc, a trip to the Miami Marlins baseball team to try their hand at pitching was in order, while Pierre Gasly had dinner with basketball icon Michael Jordan – and let the six-time NBA winner squeeze his head into his Alpha Tauri race helmet.

The race this weekend throws up an unknown challenge for teams to face after the old-school test of Imola in April.

Leclerc’s early dominance for Ferrari hit a bump in the road last time out, and his sixth-placed finish because of an error has allowed rival Verstappen to creep up behind him into second in the standings.

Dutchman Verstappen has one win and two podium places on US soil at the United States Grand Prix in Texas, while Leclerc has never finished higher than fourth competing in the country.

A Silver Arrows revival is all Hamilton can hope for at the inaugural event on Sunday. Team boss Toto Wolff apologised to the seven-time world champion after another dismal performance left the 37-year-old stranded in 13th place.

Mercedes are aiming to bring upgrades to Miami that they hope will begin to solve the car problems that have afflicted them this year.

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