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Bolt, Buffer and Bill make the Austin Grand Prix a spectacle within a show

ByTom Wileman

Oct 29, 2017

Nothing has quite taken over a sport like the phrase “Let’s get ready to rumble!” has done with boxing. However, famed announcer Michael Buffer, who has trademarked this phrase, swapped the ring for the track at the Grand Prix in Austin, Texas.

As Lewis Hamilton recorded yet another race win to extend his lead in the Championship standings to 66 points, with just 75 to play for, he now has main rival Sebastian Vettel on the ropes, and is primed to land his knockout blow in New Mexico.

Buffer’s cameo was one of the many displays either side of the main event this weekend, as the roots of a possible cultural revolution of Formula One may have just started to grow.

The festivities before, after, and even during the race in Texas included cameo appearances by Usain Bolt, who joined Hamilton in a car to take a spin of the track, former President Bill Clinton, who presented the trophy to Hamilton, and even the shadow of a CGI bald eagle flying over the track during the race.

All this pageantry, however, can be considered relatively paltry in the light of Mr. Buffer’s role.  Standing atop a podium, Buffer proceeded to introduce each driver. Certain (un)lucky drivers were unveiled with boxing-inspired nicknames, at random and elementary levels of creativity; Kevin ‘K-Mag’ Magnussen, and Nico ‘The Hulk’ Hulkenberg were but two examples.

After these introductions, each driver would walk out of the tunnel, down a red carpet laden with cheerleaders loaned from the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, and numerous flag-bearing servicemen and women, to line up next to the trophy.

The race was a spectacle in itself, as Hamilton and Vettel traded places twice, Daniel Ricciardo was forced to retire, and Max Verstappen earned a podium position only to have it taken away by a race steward punishment.

Yet, the main talking point of the weekend comes from the unique nature of everything off the track, and what this means for the future of the sport.

Many F1 purists may be rolling their eyes at the changes and fear an Americanisation of the sport which would not add anything of substance to its enjoyment. However, the harsh truth of the matter is that Bolt, Buffer and bald eagles weren’t intended for them, they were intended for everybody else.

F1 fans are hooked already, and appreciate the sport enough that, while the racing remains as tantalising as it was, their thoughts on the fanfare are secondary. Much like the NFL’s Super Bowl, the intention is to entice people in with performances before and after, and hope that they realise what’s going on in between is also entertaining.

Therefore, it is not surprising that this all occurred during the US Grand Prix, as this roistering was conducted in a way that only the US can get away with.

And it works. NBC’s US audience grew 38 per cent from 2016, indicating a successful model for expansion.

Christian Horner, Team Principal of Red Bull says “We don’t need that kind of show each time, but where it makes sense, I don’t mind. It wouldn’t work at Silverstone, but it would be wrong to say we should leave everything alone. If we want to inspire new fans, we have to think of new ways.”

A movement towards this style of extravaganza around the racing seems inevitable, but it won’t be to the standard of the USA. Perhaps moving forward, event organisers have learnt a lesson in attracting new fans, and can feel confident integrating their own cultures in different Grand Prix weekends around the globe. If so, then F1 will be able to explore its multiculturalism, and flaunt the international festival it is.


Image courtesy of Joe McGowan

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