The truth behind Donald Trump’s Miami GP visit in a tale of intriguing events

Thomas Maher
Donald Trump, Lando Norris, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, 2024 Miami Grand Prix.

Donald Trump wore his Make America Great Again hat during a visit to the F1 paddock in Miami.

McLaren found itself caught between a rock and a hard place as Lando Norris’ epic Miami victory was inexorably linked with Donald Trump.

When it comes to your first Grand Prix win, the commentary soundbite inevitably becomes intertwined for any Grand Prix driver. Unfortunately for Lando Norris, his debut win ended up associated with Donald Trump.

David Croft’s wordplay was a needless association

“Here, at the chequered flag, Norris trumps Verstappen and wins the Miami Grand Prix,” was David Croft’s associative wordplay as Norris crossed the line to win his first Grand Prix in epic fashion, defeating Max Verstappen on merit.

It was an innocent pun, as Croft and puns go together like chips and sausages, but that particular soundbite is now one that Norris himself won’t be able to avoid hearing as he watches back on this defining moment in his F1 career.

It, unfortunately, detracted from what was otherwise a fantastic moment – after all, would Croft have said something like “Lando Norris put in a tremendous display today” if the Russian GP was still around?

Think about it – even as a pensioner fifty years from now, Norris’ big moment will remain linked with the fact that, on this particular day, McLaren was forced to play host to the divisive former US president Donald Trump.

Trump, though, was in attendance at the Miami Grand Prix as an invited guest of real estate businessman Steven Witkoff.

How Donald Trump ended up in the F1 paddock

A fundraising event for Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign for the Republican party had been planned within the paddock suite facilities, with tickets at $250,000 a head, before Miami GP organisers stepped in to issue a cease and desist on the basis of a breach of suite usage terms.

But F1 was unable to prevent Trump – who is currently in the middle of four criminal trials for charges including campaign finance fraud, conspiracy to defraud the US and against citizens’ rights, election racketeering, and conspiracy to obstruct justice relating to his mishandling of confidential documents – from showing up for the race.

Showing up with a major security detail provided by the US Secret Service, F1 was enlisted to facilitate their work within the confines of the Grand Prix circuit.

Trump was then pictured down at the McLaren garage, with leading F1 dignitaries happy to pose for pictures with the presidential candidate – including McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown, FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem, F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali, and Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei.

The request, made by Trump’s entourage and not by F1, to visit the McLaren garage was the reason for Trump’s visit to the paddock, and the request is understood to have been made specifically to McLaren based solely on the position of their hospitality and garage. It is also understood no other teams received a similar request.

Of course, the optics of the visit weren’t lost on McLaren, who moved swiftly to issue a statement on their position.

“McLaren is a non-political organisation – however, we recognise and respect the office of President of the United States,” read the statement.

“So, when the request was made to visit our garage on race day, we accepted alongside the president of the FIA and the CEOs of Liberty Media and Formula 1.

“We were honoured that McLaren Racing was chosen as the representative of F1 which gave us the opportunity to showcase the world-class engineering that we bring to motorsport.”

Aside from the fact Trump doesn’t occupy the office of the Presidency and hasn’t for some time, McLaren were damned if they did, damned if they didn’t – there was no position they could take that wouldn’t cause the spotlight to be shone on them opening their doors for Trump.

Trump also visited the pre-race grid, although had his MAGA hat off during this visit, and during the photoshoot in front of the McLaren garage.

It also led to the situation of Norris being forced to answer questions about Trump’s visit as he spoke to the media following his Grand Prix win.

“He saw me after, and he came up to congratulate me,” Norris said.

“So I guess an honour because, whenever you have someone like this, it has to be an honour for them to come up to you, to take time out of their life, to pay their respect for what you’ve done.

“He said he was my lucky charm because it’s my win. So I don’t know if he’s going to come to more races now.

“But yeah, there’s a lot of special people or cool people that have been here this weekend. Donald is someone that you got to have a lot of respect for in many ways. And yeah, for anyone like that who acknowledges what you can go out and do and acknowledges the work ethic that goes into things, you got to be thankful for that. And I was. So yeah, a cool moment. And that’s all.”

Norris implicitly expressing respect for the well-documented views held by Donald Trump is probably not what McLaren intended to have happen moments after his debut win but, to give Norris the benefit of the doubt that he doesn’t harbour questionable views or lacks moral fibre, his comments sounded like a young sportsman desperately trying to stay neutral and not come down anywhere but sitting straight on the fence.

Donald Trump, forer US President, and McLaren CEO Zak Brown.
Donald Trump stands alongside McLaren boss Zak Brown ahead of the 2024 Miami Grand Prix.

FIA’s International Sporting Code stances on political statements

In 2022, the FIA introduced a clause into the International Sporting Code to outright ban personnel under its remit, including drivers and members of the teams, from expressing any sort of political statement – this was introduced following high-profile moments such as Lewis Hamilton wearing a T-shirt stating “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor” and his grid-wide initiative to highlight the Black Lives Matter movement during 2020.

“The general making and display of political, religious and personal statements or comments notably in violation of the general principle of neutrality promoted by the FIA under its Statutes,” is prescribed in the ISC.

Of course, the argument is there that his presence alone isn’t a political statement, and that F1 – and McLaren – did their best to remain neutral in the face of a difficult situation. It’s also worth remembering this context when listening to Norris trying to keep this rule in mind as he answered the question regarding Trump.

But the ISC’s intention with regard to political statements should be adhered to across the board in F1, not just by the drivers and team personnel.

After all, F1 has welcomed former and sitting presidents in the past – who can forget Bernie Ecclestone cosying up to Vladimir Putin at the Russian Grands Prix in years gone by – so his presence alone isn’t enough to warrant any sort of response.

In 2017, former US President Bill Clinton presented the winner’s trophy on the podium at the US Grand Prix but a notable difference is that Clinton – nor his wife Hillary – were up for a presidential election at the time.

But, was Trump there as a civilian, a celebrity, or an active political figure? Given the involvement of the Secret Service, it can hardly be argued he was there as a civilian or as the former star of The Apprentice.

While not shown on the main feed or any F1 social media channels, images of Trump wearing a Make America Great Again cap – four words that have become synonymous with the far-right extremist ideology that has permeated the United States – circulated following his visit to the paddock.

For a politician on the campaign trail, allowing Trump to swan around in view of the cameras with this cap on suggests a tacit endorsement. If a driver or member of a team wore such a cap in the paddock, it would be a political matter that would be investigated, so it can’t be said that this political neutrality was maintained throughout the entirety of Trump’s visit.

If Trump was there as a guest of Witcoff, showcasing promotional campaign material in the paddock should surely be viewed as a failure to comply with the cease and desist order that had been imposed upon Witcoff coming into the weekend. What should the repercussions for that be?

The solution is distance, not condemnation

Given F1’s attempts to please everyone by trying to stay politically neutral resulting in Trump wearing the symbol of his own brand of political propaganda in the F1 paddock, there has to be some sympathy for the unwanted attention the former President has elicited. But there’s yet to be a statement from F1 to distance itself from the MAGA message that was seen worldwide, even if not on the world feed itself.

As for solutions, given that political matters are far from unique to the United States? After all, senior leaders and politicians in other democratic countries frequently attend races as guests of F1 and the teams, while royal leaders in monarchy nations – including those with extremely questionable human rights records – are often, ahem, treated like royalty on the grid as they stump up the cash to go racing.

Well, there isn’t really one, especially in this case. A request made to a team from a wealthy visitor can be denied, of course, but doing so – if McLaren had – is as much a political statement as not.

Wearing a MAGA hat, even if not allowed, doesn’t mean a member of FOM’s or the FIA’s personnel can run up and snatch it from his head, can they? And it’s not particularly likely that Trump would be all that bothered by an F1 paddock ban now, after the fact, or whether a pal got a big fine or a ban for hosting him in his suite.

But, having gotten through the awkward minefield of dealing with Trump’s presence without any pre-emptive messaging, and McLaren also doing their best to muddle through without upsetting anyone, it’s time for F1 and the FIA to publicly distance themselves – and not condemn – in order to maintain its stance on political neutrality.

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