Yesterday, Formula 1 had the first ever Miami Grand Prix, sponsored by Crypto.com. Putting the extremely hyped and ultimately pretty boring actual race that was the Crypto.com Miami Grand Prix to one side, blockchain-based scams Ponzi schemes pyramid schemes Fan Engagement Experiences and Investment Opportunities have become a larger and larger presence in the sport over the last couple of years, which is a bummer for me personally, but also makes sense.
For some of us, the appeal of Formula 1 is seeing little passive aggressive men drive very fast and very well. For other people who are objectively less cool, the appeal of Formula 1 has something to do with wealth fantasy. I mean… I guess I get it. It’s a sport where most of the drivers live in tax havens, date models, and either make or are already worth obscene amounts of money. It’s a sport where the great grandson of a WWII-era weapons inventor caught on fire and was replaced by the son of a Russian fertilizer oligarch. It’s a sport where people are from Monaco and everyone acts like that’s normal. Formula 1 is sponsored by luxury watch brands, oil companies, UAE airlines, Swiss banks, fancy hotel chains, and tobacco companies that had to come up with different branding so they can pretend they’re not tobacco companies.
It’s also a sport that has had its struggles with corruption, fraud, cheating, fake energy drink sponsors that turned out to be scams, and an incredibly weird little dude who basically owned the entire series for years. So in a lot of ways, there’s really no sport better suited for crypto partnerships than F1.
Over the last several years, cryptocurrency exchanges, coins, and blockchains have become increasingly major sponsors for Formula 1 teams and races. Currently, Haas is the only 2022 team to not have a crypto sponsor, with all nine remaining teams partnering with at least one different crypto-related company.
The Wall Street Journal’s headline “NFT Sales Are Flatlining” couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Crypto.com Miami Grand Prix’s boosters of the non fungible variety. Not only did multiple Miami Grand Prix NFTs drop around the race to a pretty underwhelming response, but Mercedes-Benz sponsor FTX actually held a three day NFT-tastic beach festival as part of the grand prix’s festivities.
What is the landscape of crypto in F1? Is it a crash-heavy Jeddah street circuit or more of a Caesar’s Palace parking lot? Let’s start by taking a look at some F1 NFTs to find out.
No discussion of F1 and NFTs would be complete without F1 Delta Time. The Formula 1 Ethereum blockchain game made F1 one of the first major brands to get in on web3 gaming, but announced its shutting down in March. There is no indication of this on NFT exchange OpenSea, though, where you can still buy tokens for the cancelled game. In fact, a whole two weeks after the announcement was made, someone sold their useless, functionally worthless F1 Delta Time Lewis Hamilton NFT for $11,714, which is either very funny or very depressing.
Partnered with Crypto.com, Aston Martin was the first F1 team to mint NFTs, with Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll’s first runs in last year’s AMR21 minted in March, 2021. (Traders currently have these listed between one and three thousand dollars.) I can’t think of a worse way to celebrate noted tech-eschewing environmentalist and four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel than to buy a commemorative NFT of his 2021 season, except maybe a commemorative NFT of his 2020 season. You can also buy an NFT of this year’s car (currently in 9th place in the Constructors’)— the AMR22— for a whopping $90,000, or $70, if you’re willing to slum it and get one of the bronze editions. Or one of several NFTs of different components of the AMR22, in three different tiers of rarity. There is very little action on any of these listed for sale.
Alpine, formerly Renault, is partnered with Binance, the largest crypto exchange in the world, which is banned in seven US states and was under investigation for money laundering as recently as last year. On Binance, you can purchase Alpine fan tokens for about $5 each, and use them to vote in polls like “choose the new Binance Esports livery,” or spend them on Alpine NFTs.
Alpine’s most recent NFT offerings are gacha-esque “Mystery Boxes” themed around five different 2021 races. Each mystery box contains what is essentially an animated gif trading card of differing rarity. While the initial mystery boxes sold out at launch in February, plenty of opened boxes are listed for purchase and auction on Binance. I would love to tell you something about the market value of these NFTs, but there’s no rhyme or reason to the pricing that I can see. On the low end, Monaco GP NFTs are listed around $10-$20. On the high end, there’s a Monaco GP NFT listed for $258 Million. It’s worth noting that there doesn’t seem to be much action on any of these listings at any price.
McLaren has something called the McLaren Racing Collective running on Tezos, their NFT exchange sponsor. What is the McLaren Racing Collective? Great question. I have no fucking idea. If you buy 22 individual car part NFTs, for a total price of $4,019.78 (assuming you bought them at drop at McLaren’s set price rather than from a trader after they sold out), you will be able to combine them into a single NFT that is the 2022 McLaren Formula 1 car, and then, you will… have that. You can say you bought 22 NFTs and now you have a picture of a car. There’s also last year’s car, if you want to do this process twice and have two pictures instead of just the one. Except that only 35 people can complete their 2021 cars, since only 35 rear wings were minted, while 500 rear left tyres were minted. That’s what makes it valuable, I guess?
Anyways, they tell you to join the Discord server so that you can have people who will be impressed when you’ve done this, because no one normal in your life will think it’s cool.
You can purchase a total of 47 different McLaren NFTs through their Tezos store: the two cars as well as three more standard trading card style NFTs of McLaren’s drivers. Or you can just save jpegs of Danny Ric on your phone like I did. I can send you some of mine if you want. For free.
Alfa Romeo has the distinction of partnering with three different crypto companies: a metaverse, a cryptocurrency, and Socios, a web3 sports fandom app with fan tokens and NFTs (that I can’t look at directly because Socios is no longer supported in the United States). All of Alfa Romeo’s NFTs are on Socios and Socios’ blockchain Chiliz, so I can’t see them to make fun of them, how dumb they look, or how much they’re being sold for. Touché. Incredible forward thinking on their part. We can only imagine, I guess.
Red Bull Racing’s F1 team released three NFTs in December, 2021. The only one I can currently find for sale is a commemorative Max Verstappen 2021 Championship trading card someone is trying to get $330,033 for. (No bids so far.) However, with Red Bull sponsored both by Tezos and crypto exchange ByBit for the 2022 season, there are probably more on the way.
graffiti’s never been this easy ???? ????
— Scuderia AlphaTauri (@AlphaTauriF1) May 7, 2022
Red Bull’s sister team AlphaTauri is partnered with the Fantom blockchain, and launched their first NFTs for the Miami race. The NFTs are two videos?? I think?? Of helmets that AlphaTauri drivers Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda painted, with all proceeds going to charity. Unlike the other NFTs I’ve mentioned so far, these ones are redeemable for actual, physical things: the real helmets the NFTs are based on as well as signed pairs of gloves.
Tsunoda’s helmet design is kind of giving me hints of 1990s paper cup, whereas Gasly’s looks like a hot French guy smeared some paint on a helmet. The auctions finished at just over $1000 for Gasly and just under $1000 for Tsunoda.
While these are the team’s first NFT offerings, Gasly is basically a veteran at this point. He was the first F1 driver to drop his own back in October, and also dropped four for the Miami race: three 1/1 helmet NFTs and 500 trading card NFTs. (See the replies to Pierre’s announcement tweet for a very French ratio, and the replies to his announcement Instagram post for a very crypto spambots.) Gasly’s NFT redeemables include a “VIP Hospitality Package for 2 at 2023 Monaco GP,” which a cursory Google search says normally costs several thousand dollars per person. That is a lot of money! I don’t know if the other items on the list are an “or” scenario or if you get the Monaco GP and a meet and greet with Pierre Gasly and the signed helmet replica and a range of Pierre merch, or if you can just be like “nah forget the race tickets worth thousands of dollars… can I just get a truck full of snapbacks”?
It’s… more understandably appealing? To have something you’d actually want to spend money on in addition to an animated gif you’re buying for thousands of dollars? (Gasly’s NFTs sold for $7K, $1.8K, and $5.5K) I guess? Although it does kind of feel like when you Venmo your dealer with a note that says “soda” because you happened to drink a soda from their fridge when you were over there buying drugs. Like yeah you “bought” a $100 Diet Pepsi. Technically you can say that. Is there a word for that? I’ve never done this, also, for legal purposes. I read about it in a book.
Check out those colours! ???????? pic.twitter.com/fCzkStHr1P
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) May 2, 2022
As I mentioned at the start of this article, FTX did a huge push at this weekend’s grand prix, which included Mercedes-AMG Petronas’ first ever NFTs dropping for auction.
Mercedes’ first foray into NFTs comes in the form of three 1/1 looping videos by Canadian artist Mad Dog Jones. While they may look like the kind of weeby cyberpunk scenes usually found looping over a YouTube chillwave playlist, … there’s no real end to that sentence. That’s what these look like. They look like backgrounds from Dramatical Murder just with F1 cars in them instead of hot anime guys. They look like t-shirt art from 2008. They look like NFTs. As of this writing, their recent bids are in the six to ten thousand dollar range, which is insane.
Like the AlphaTauri NFTs, the purchase of each includes an actual physical object (rear wings used in the Miami race or a full size replica art car that was on display at the NFT beach party), so, again, it seems like they’re more auctioning off some Miami race memorabilia with a free gif rather than the other way around. The site says that Mercedes’ “proceeds from the auction will go to the charity Ignite — a joint charitable initiative from Mercedes-AMG Petronas and Mission44, to support greater diversity and inclusion in motorsport.”
On one hand, there’s something particularly scummy about connecting a charity to make motorsports more accessible to regular people of different backgrounds with an auction that passively legitimizes a speculative market that is both largely a scam and largely in freefall. The NFT market is one that’s fundamentally predatory, relying heavily on regular people falling for a sales pitch that this is “the next big thing.”
On the other hand, maybe these NFTs will slip past mostly unnoticed, since interest in them is so low and it’ll just be a quiet way to make some money. That’s not a gamble I would want to make, personally. Like that’s simply a risk I would not be willing to take. But, you know, I heard somewhere that fortune favors the brave.