Lewis Hamilton has warned he is willing to miss the Miami Grand Prix as he refuses to back down in a stand-off with Formula One’s governing body the FIA, over the wearing of jewelery in the car. Hamilton was highly critical of the FIA for focusing on the rule in what he said had become a silly spat.
Rules state drivers are not permitted to wear jewelry in the car for safety reasons. The regulation has not been rigidly enforced until this season when Niels Wittich, the new race director, informed drivers he would be clamping down and checking they were not wearing jewelery. Wittich is understood to be strongly backed in the move by the new FIA president Mohammed ben Sulayem.
In Miami however Hamilton, who noted he had worn his nose and ear rings in the car without issues for most of his career and that they could not be removed, made it clear he would defy the ruling even if it meant he was ruled ineligible to compete.
“If they stop me, so be it, we have a spare driver, so we are ready and prepared for the weekend,” he said. “There’s lots to do in the city anyway so I’ll be good either way.”
Hamilton said he tried to contact Sulayem directly to try to resolve the issue but had received no reply and was damning in his assessment of the FIA’s handling of the issue. “If you think of the steps we have taken as a sport and the more important issues and causes we need to be focused on, this is such a small thing,” he said. “It seems unnecessary for us to get into this space. We have bigger fish to fry. I want to be an ally and I don’t want to fight over this, it’s very, very silly. ”
The row and the potential loss of F1’s most high-profile driver in the US is the last thing the sport wanted for their showcase in Miami. F1’s owners Liberty Media had made no secret of their desire to host races in “destination” cities, indeed to make every weekend have the sense of occasion of a Super Bowl. This weekend is surely the culmination of those ambitions.
So eager were F1 to facilitate a race in the city and a second race in the US, they waived the usual race fee for the organizers, who in return are putting on the show F1 so badly wanted to showcase the sport.
Hamilton’s potential pullout is a headache they had not anticipated having put together an impressive event thus far. The most practical test and the one that will be of most concern from a sporting perspective is the track itself, which has returned positive reactions. The temporary circuit, built in the shadow of the Miami Dolphins’ Hard Rock Stadium, gives every impression of being a permanent track and no repeat of the unloved soulless car park in Las Vegas of the early 80s. It feels like a real track, which is some achievement given it is largely built on the Dolphins’ parking lots.
Perhaps regardless of what sort of race it delivers, it is impossible not to imagine F1 will consider the weekend a success, or will as long as Hamilton is in a car. It has sold out with 240,000 fans expected over three days and marketed very much as an upscale, exclusive event, at which European fans already used to big ticket prices would probably blanch, with a three day pass at $ 900. The emphasis is inevitably on the show, of course, and here its corollary, corporate hospitality, which is in evidence on a grand scale, McLaren have a guest stand the size of a small multi-storey car park.
F1 then are selling their glamorous event and really pushing the boat out in Miami. Almost literally in the case of the Marina section on the inside of turn seven. When holding the race in downtown Miami’s seafront proved unfeasible, the organizers instead brought South Beach to the Hard Rock. Yachts were winched into place and surrounded by painted vinyl “water” while at the opposite end of the track at turn 12 they have trucked in Miami’s pristine white sand to make an artificial beach.
There is hype and there is hyperbole but even that feels curiously fitting for a meeting that is pitching itself as much as an entertainment experience as a race. Purists may shudder but F1 has grand ambitions in the US and Miami it seems is very much setting a benchmark for how the sport wants to go about breaking America.