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The Valley's role in Formula 1 History

12 News got the exclusive opportunity to interview McLaren's Lando Norris and Zak Brown as they sat courtside for a Suns playoff game.

PHOENIX — It's hard to imagine the streets of downtown Phoenix buzzing with the fastest racecars in the world today. 

But in 1989, that was reality as Phoenix became home to the United States Grand Prix Formula One race.

For three years, the motorsport that has always had international interest descended on the desert.

Zak Brown, the CEO of McLaren Racing today, was there in 1991 and shares what he remembers from the race.

A Mural in downtown Phoenix honors Ayrton Senna, the legendary McLaren driver who would win the final race in Phoenix in 1991.

Fast forward to today and the sport is growing exponentially. That's, in part, due to Netflix's hit series "Drive to Survive" which exploded during the pandemic. 

The reality show peels back the curtain of the sport allowing viewers to get a firsthand look at the competition, drama, and grit it takes for drivers to keep their seats, and teams to secure funding and try to reach their goals of winning a championship.

Formula One has raced in Austin since 2012 and this year, the sport added Miami as its newest destination. In 2023, the United States will be getting a third race in Las Vegas.

Credit: 12 News

Lando Norris and Zak Brown in Phoenix

Days after the Miami Grand Prix became the most viewed live Formula 1 race ever in the United States, two of the sport's stars stopped in Phoenix.

McLaren's young star, driver Lando Norris, and team CEO Zak Brown sat courtside at the Footprint Center for a Suns playoff game. 

They sat alongside McLaren Vice-Chairman Jahm Najafi who is also a minority owner of the Suns.

Last year during the NBA finals, McLaren's racecars sported Suns logos in a showing of support.

RELATED: McLaren Formula 1 team supports Phoenix Suns, teams connected through Jahm Najafi

"The atmosphere you get in America is just quite different but always in a good way, you know? There's always more shouting, screaming, it's just the atmosphere you get in America is very special. That, the food's great and the people are lovely so it's a beautiful combination," Norris said.

Norris and Brown took time to speak with 12 News about F1's skyrocketing popularity in America and the exciting season currently underway.

"We had some very strong races beforehand so it always sucks to kind of go back to not scoring as highly in a way but it was just an unlucky weekend at the same time," Norris said after ending his weekend in Miami early following a crash. 

"I don't think we need to do too many things differently. It's just regrouping and we have a few new things hopefully which can bring us a bit more performance."

Catching you up to speed

For Arizonans new to the sport, here are some of the basics. 

The sport is an individual and a team with both drivers on each of the ten teams competing for points at each race which take place in some of the most lavish cities in the world. At the season's end in November, the driver with the most individual points and the team with the most collective points win.

The current F1 season started in March and is only five races deep.

"We're getting closer to the front of the field and Mercedes and we've had a change in the fuel to an E10, more sustainable fuel, which has kind of mixed up the engine power unit order a little bit," Brown said. 

“I think it’s gonna be an exciting season. There’s been a new development in how the cars are designed to make racing more exciting. I think we’ve accomplished that."

To catch the new fans up to speed, Ferrari and Red Bull are leading the way for now with Mercedes and McLaren following behind.

But as Norris, Brown and the millions of passionate fans around the world will tell you, in this sport, anything can happen.

“Every car on the grid is different and everyone has different strengths and weaknesses," Norris said.

The next race is Sunday, May 22nd at 6 a.m. PST in Spain.

   

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