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Hollywood and Formula 1 are having a moment

Actors Ryan Reynolds and Michael B. Jordan bought a stake in Alpine. Brad Pitt is making a movie with Lewis Hamilton. And Netflix's "Drive to Survive" continues to pull in viewers.
Split image Ryan Reynolds, Lewis Hamilton driving car, and Brad Pitt.
Ryan Reynolds, Lewis Hamilton and Brad Pitt. Han Myung-Gu / Rudy Carezzevoli / Gregg DeGuire / WireImage / Getty Images

The world of Formula 1 is abuzz with the news that Hollywood actors Ryan Reynolds, Rob McElhenney and Michael B. Jordan are leading an eye-popping $218 million investment in the Alpine F1 Team.

The move by the American actors is somewhat surprising. Alpine is a French team led by two French drivers, Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly, and it is hardly a household name in the U.S. But the decision to lend money and star power to the cause represents a vote of confidence among the Hollywood luminaries in the future of Formula 1 and the vast potential of the American market.

It adds to the growing ties between Formula 1 and the U.S. film industry, painting a brighter future for the sport through its penetration into American popular culture. Brad Pitt is starring in a Formula 1-themed movie he's making with Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, a seven-time world champion. And Netflix’s "Drive to Survive," which is fueling American interest in the sport, has been confirmed for a sixth season.

“What they’re thinking is that it’s mutually beneficial. When these different areas of media reflect on one another, it’s going to have crossover and bring fans from one into the other,” said Grant Wiedenfeld, an associate professor of media and culture at Sam Houston State University in Texas and the author of the 2022 book "Hollywood Sports Movies and the American Dream."

“Maybe there’s some aspect to the business, but I don’t think it’s [Reynolds’] accountant telling him to go invest in this. It’s this crazy idea of ‘Wow, this is an interesting scene to be involved in,’” Wiedenfeld said. “There’s a sense of adventure to it. ... It’s unexpected, and that’s what makes it exciting for him and the public to follow along with it.”

With a record three American races on the calendar, as well as an American team in Haas F1 and an American driver in Logan Sargeant, the seeds of future growth are planted. But U.S. viewership still trails that of NASCAR and other sports, like pro football.

“We’ve seen a major increase on social media with Formula 1 in the last year. It has an appeal that’s different from NASCAR or IndyCar, the domestic leagues — probably because of its diversity, the diverse location of drivers and races,” Wiedenfeld said. “I’d be surprised if it can knock NASCAR off its perch, but I think it’s definitely going to have a foothold.”

The Reynolds-led firm Maximum Effort Investments said it's focused on “unlocking value through the power of storytelling, and we believe there is tremendous untapped potential in Alpine Racing.”

Reynolds needed no introduction to Alpine’s stars.

“I must say I’m personally a fan of him and his work!” Gasly told reporters Thursday ahead of this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix. “He’s definitely one of my favorite actors. And yeah, definitely super excited to meet him at some point during the season.”

Gasly said the U.S. investors and the firms they’re fronting will help “to expand, to improve” on the vision of the Alpine team.

“They got really good expertise in also other sports — NFL, NHL, in football, in many other disciplines — that we’ll be trying to use as much as we can to improve our strength,” he said.

Ocon told Autosport that the news was “fantastic” and that he and Reynolds have exchanged WhatsApp messages since the deal was finalized.

But if Reynolds and McElhenney believe they can bring championship glory to Alpine the way they did for the Welsh lower-league soccer club Wrexham, they have a long way to go.

Eight races in, Alpine is a distant fifth in the 2023 constructor standings, taking a step backward from last year, when it finished fourth. It hasn’t won a championship since 2006, when it was known as Renault and secured back-to-back titles with Fernando Alonso leading the way. The sport’s new cost cap rules mean the influx of cash can’t be directly used to improve the car.

Alpine was the subject of personnel drama last year when Alonso abruptly left for Aston Martin and, soon after, reserve driver Oscar Piastri snubbed the team by signing for McLaren, instead. Behind-the-scenes details of the chaos were documented in "Drive to Survive."

Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi said in a statement that the U.S. investors' acquisition of a 24% stake in the team will “boost our media and marketing strategy,” as well as help build new equipment and facilities to try to reach his goal of “catching up with top teams.”

For Hamilton, the movie with Pitt isn't his first brush with Hollywood. He told Vanity Fair that Tom Cruise, whom he calls a friend, asked him to play a fighter pilot in "Top Gun: Maverick." He was elated by the prospect — until he learned that filming would conflict with his racing duties. He turned Cruise down in what he described as “the most upsetting call that I think I’ve ever had” to make.

Hamilton still hasn’t let it go.

He told Motorsports News this month that he’s not sure he’ll be on screen in the new movie with Pitt and that he’s playing more of a background role in terms of “making sure that it’s diverse, making sure the sport looks how it’s supposed to look in the future in terms of being more accessible.”

“I’ll wait for my proper movie debut later on, because I’m going to need to train and practice. I don’t want to suck at it,” he quipped. Then he added: “If ‘Top Gun 3’ ever happens, I’m going to be in it. And I will miss the race, just so you know.”