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Dec. 1, 2023

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Fans, musicians love the sound of Formula One

Race weekends include more live performances

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This cover image of lifelong Formula One fan Ti&euml;sto. In some ways, the album &ldquo;Drive&rdquo; centers on the concept of driving and F1.
This cover image of lifelong Formula One fan Tiësto. In some ways, the album “Drive” centers on the concept of driving and F1. (Atlantic Records) Photo Gallery

LOS ANGELES — Beyond the engineering, the athleticism, the speed, the luxury — fans love the sound of Formula One.

The fierce rhythms of a V6 turbocharged hybrid engine; the sticky staccato of a rushed downshift; sexy, loud zooms. There’s a real musical appreciation for the elite motorsport. Engines are described using RPMs, the same way vinyl records are.

It is no wonder that F1 has long been an enthusiasm of musicians and music fans for decades — the Beatles ‘ George Harrison wrote “Faster” about the series, what he called “a noisy rock ‘n’ roll”; the same spirit that inspired a Mario Andretti namecheck in A Tribe Called Quest’s “Award Tour.” But in the last few years, an accelerating interest in F1, particularly among young Americans, has made its influence on the music world — and vice versa — impossible to ignore.

There’s Bad Bunny’s “Monaco” and Carín León’s “Por La Familia,” both of which feature Red Bull driver Sergio “Checo” Perez in their videos. The up-and-coming indie twang band Wednesday released a track called “Formula One” on their 2023 album. Musicians loving F1 is limited to no genre and no country — its appeal is as global as the sport itself.

A prime example is this week’s inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix, which will see F1 drivers zipping down the strip, bathed in the electric glow of its opulent casinos. Music will mix with the motorsport at countless events beginning Wednesday, including an opening ceremony with will.i.am, J Balvin, Tiësto, John Legend, Keith Urban, Kylie Minogue, Thirty Seconds to Mars and more.

Concerts have become an expected addition to the F1 experience, and the trend has made its way stateside over the last decade.

Since 2012, Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, had been home to the sole U.S. F1 race — until the inclusion of Miami last year and Vegas in 2023. Glynn Wedgewood, COTA’s senior vice president of music and entertainment, says the track first introduced live music performances with Elton John in 2015. Since then, Taylor Swift, Imagine Dragons and Pink have performed. By 2019, COTA was boasting three days of performances. 2023’s lineup alone included The Killers, Queen with Adam Lambert and Tiësto.

That lineup — which leans more rock-oriented for the COTA audience, compared to the Latin lineups of Miami, is “a testament to what we’ve seen over the past several years,” Wedgewood says. “It’s a young rock audience.”

Wedgewood references the effects of Netflix’s “Drive to Survive”, the popular docuseries that successfully altered the demographics traditionally associated with the world’s most luxurious motorsport (older, wealthy, male) and opened it up to a younger generation — particularly Americans. In 2018, 265,000 people attended the COTA race. In 2023, that number jumped to 432,000. That translates to television viewership as well. According to ESPN, F1 viewership in 2022 jumped significantly among teenagers, women and the key 18-34-year-old demographic.

The connection between music and Formula One, for Wedgewood, is innate.

“The majority of people listen to music in their car,” he says. “It’s almost subconsciously ingrained in our DNA — that racing goes hand-in-hand with music.”

This year, will.i.am became Formula One’s first Global Artist in Residence, which he pitched to Formula One Group CEO Stefano Domenicali as a series of musical collaborations celebrating the sport as well as an opportunity to bring the concert aspect of F1 to a global audience — not just the ticket holders lucky enough to see it live. The role led the Black Eyed Peas’ member to release his first solo single in over a decade: “The Formula,” featuring Lil Wayne. That was followed by “Let’s Go,” another F1-inspired track, which features J Balvin.

will.i.am has been a huge F1 fan since the Peas performed at the first Singapore Grand Prix held at the Marina Bay Circuit in 2008. Since then, he’s noticed a disconnect between the live music and entertainment experiences at F1 races and what’s broadcast on TV — as well as missed opportunity for artists.

“Why aren’t people releasing music around the time they’re playing their F1 event?” he asks, comparing it to the Super Bowl — for which artists frequently release new music in advance of their (televised) halftime performances. “Artists in Residency can really help bridge that gap.”

Tiësto, a lifelong F1 fan, released the album “Drive” in April, featuring an F1 racing helmet on the cover.

“It’s not just the car and racing, it’s about the environment around it, the excitement around it,” he says of a race weekend. “There’s an organic connection there.”

He believes the evolving experience of going to a Grand Prix mirrors growing interest in the sport, particularly in the U.S. and with young people.

“They want to see the race, you know, but they want to party. They want to have a drink. It is the perfect moment to create a festival,” he says.

Formula One drivers, too, have been getting into music. Ferrari F1 driver Charles LeClerc signed with music management company Verdigris earlier this year and has been releasing instrumental compositions; Lewis Hamilton, the seven-time world champion, is no stranger to music making, having been featured on Christina Aguilera’s 2018 track “Pipe” under the pseudonym XNDA. Chloe Stroll, the sister of Aston Martin driver Lance Stroll, has built a nascent singer-songwriter career celebrated by the sport’s fans.

“What made me like the sport was music. I went to the sport playing music,” says will.i.am. “I’ve always loved cars, but why do I like F1 and not (IndyCar)? What is it about F1 that makes me like the sport? That is their tiptoe into this cultural hug,” he says, referencing F1’s embrace of fashion, music, and art.

“They see the value of different disciplines coming in, celebrating their sport,” he added.

The modern marriage of F1 and music hasn’t been without bumps. Despite the influx of new fans, watching races live remains an elite experience. The Vegas race is the most expensive event on this year’s calendar — and it hasn’t yet sold out. Last year’s performance-laden pre-race show in Miami was met with distaste from the F1 drivers themselves who criticized the pomp and circumstance of the driver introductions — namely that they stood too long in the Florida sun in their uniforms during prep time.

In Vegas, the opening ceremony is Wednesday. Driver introductions areSaturday before the race.

On Thursday night, producer Mark Ronson will perform at the T-Mobile Zone at the Sphere between two racing practice sessions. The mastermind behind the “Barbie” soundtrack already knows there’s a big crossover between music fans and F1 fans.

Now “we’ll find out the cross-section of F1 and ‘Barbie’ fans,” he jokes.

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