Why Miami GP with fake marina beats original F1 plans for a Bayside race


F1 might have had to change its original Miami plans, but after a long motor sport journey the famous Florida city finally has a grand prix


F1 has finally found a Miami home by the Hard Rock Stadium

This weekend’s Miami GP is set to be a huge success. Tickets have been sold out for a while, sponsors have been queuing up to get involved, and Formula 1 drivers who have tried the track in team simulators have been upbeat about the prospects for entertaining racing.

It’s good news for Liberty Media and the F1 organisation, not least because they are involved in a partnership with the local promoter in what is the first example of a new type of financial arrangement.

Amid all the hype and excitement it’s easy to overlook the fact that this first race is arriving three years later than planned – and it’s being held on a very different type of circuit to the one that was originally envisaged.

The race was supposed to take place downtown, against a backdrop of the city’s famous bay area. Instead it’s being held in the car parks of a football stadium, with a fake marina among the more notable features of the venue. Meanwhile F1 folk, fans and corporate guests are staying downtown – in hotels that would have been a short walk from the original location.

Racing on the streets of Miami was not a new idea. The first Miami GP IMSA race took place downtown at Bicentennial Park back in 1983 under the auspices of the late promoter Ralph Sanchez. The last event on the site, in 1995, was a one-off CART/Indycar race won by Jacques Villeneuve. Then from 1996 Sanchez switched the focus to his newly-built Homestead Speedway, some distance from the city.

MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 27: The #14 Pontiac Firebird of Bob Raub races on the track past palm trees during the Budweiser Grand Prix of Miami, IMSA Camel GT race, Bicentennial Park on February 27, 1983 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images)

Miami GP first held an IMSA event in 1983

Brian Cleary/Getty Images

However, that wasn’t the end of street racing in Miami. A CART/Champ Car race was run in Bayfront area in 2002 and 2003, without the involvement of Sanchez, and then in 2015 there was a Formula E event.

It was in this general area, adjacent to the American Airlines Arena that hosts the Miami Heat basketball team, that the F1 track was supposed to be located. Announced in early 2018, the track also included a spectacular run across a bridge to Dodge Island, although the layout did not appeal to Lewis Hamilton.

“Miami is a super cool place, and I was very, very excited to hear about it,” said the then World Champion. “And then I saw the layout. I think it could be a lot more fun. You’ve got two of the longest straights, but maybe when we drive it, it will be more fun.

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“I dread the thought of a street circuit like we had with Valencia, which wasn’t really a great street circuit. It can be very hit and miss, but maybe it’s a hit…”

Bernie Ecclestone, who was close to Sanchez and had talked with him in the eighties about bringing F1 to Miami, was sceptical that it would ever happen.

“All these things, it’s all of a case of how much?,” he said in 2018. “Not only did we try to do things in Miami, I even got the guy [Sanchez], who was a good friend of mine, to build the [permanent] circuit in Miami. He eventually did it at Homestead or somewhere, but it never really worked.

“And when I was trying to do the street race, and we more or less got it on board, it was going across to the island and back again. And everybody looked at it and thought, ‘Christ, it’s going to cost a fortune, and it’s going to disrupt the place’.

“They had the Formula E and they stopped it, because it was too much trouble. And they have enough things going on in Miami, it’s not like nobody’s heard of Miami.”

Miami was a big deal for Liberty. Chase Carey and his colleagues had been running the show for a year after Ecclestone’s ousting, and their main achievement in terms of the calendar was renewing deals with China and Singapore. Miami would be the first new event created on Liberty’s watch, although behind the scenes plans were well advanced for a Vietnam GP in Hanoi.

2018 Miami GP circuit proposal

The first proposed Miami F1 layout in the Bayside area

“We have been very clear from probably the day we came in about our goals and ambitions to grow the sport in the US, and grow the sport also in Asia,” Carey said at the time. “And we have actually been pretty clear on one of the key components being adding a race initially in a city.

“We are very proud of the race we have in Texas, but we have talked about destination cities, and I guess the three we have thrown out most often have been New York, Miami and Las Vegas. So it fits with what we have been talking about and saying.

“There are obviously steps we have to go through, we are engaged with other cities in the US, but we think Miami would be a wonderful city to host a race. We are working through the process to determine if that is something we can put together with the city in a way that works for both of us.”

Miami International Autodrome - Circuit

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However that year F1 became adept at thinking on its feet, returning to Istanbul, the Nürburgring and Imola after long absences, and hosting new events at Mugello and Portimão. In 2021 Liberty finally got to run its major new events at Zandvoort and in Saudi Arabia, and in April it was able to put Miami on the calendar for 2022, with an early May date.

The timing couldn’t have better. When the first Miami GP plans began to fall into place early in 2018 no one could have envisaged the boost that hit Netflix series Drive to Survive would give the sport in the USA, creating a massive demand for tickets.

Meanwhile last summer the Miami GP organisation announced a team of people responsible for making the event happen that included veterans of several other Grand Prix projects.

They were headed as CEO by Richard Cregan, the former Toyota F1 team manager, who latterly moved into the circuits business and worked with Abu Dhabi and Sochi. His colleagues included VP of operations Mark Boyd (previously with Abu Dhabi and Vietnam), VP of strategy Ashley Davies (Australia and Vietnam) and sporting director Andy Beaven (Abu Dhabi).

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All of that F1 experience had been added to a stadium organisation that hosted the SuperBowl as recently as 2020, as well as events as diverse as a Barcelona v Real Madrid football match and the annual Miami Open tennis tournament. These people know how to run an event, in other words.

“We went to a few races, trying to learn as much as we can,” says promoter Garfinkel. “Always observing, always paying attention, and always trying to learn new things – how the paddock works, what’s different about the races, and what can we do differently or better? So talking to people, asking questions, where their pain points are, so we can try to fix them before they happen.”

He has no regrets about having to move from the city to the stadium: “I think we’ve actually ended up in a better place. Certainly the first priority was having great racing. And so that was a constraint downtown, there weren’t going to be a lot of passing opportunities. So we’ve now got three DRS zones with three different overtake areas.

“Beyond that, we had a blank sheet of paper to create a great race track. So, I think the important thing is ending up in the right place, and I believe we really did.”

A temporary track would have been just that, involving lots of compromises and a huge effort in building it up and taking it down every year. With a stadium at the heart of the new venue a lot of the required facilities were already on site.

“We’ve got a lot of club spaces and hospitality areas that are pre-existing,” says Garfinkel. “Bathrooms, kitchens, a lot of things that make it easier for us to put on a great event.

IMOLA, ITALY - APRIL 18: (L-R) Chase Carey, Greg Maffei, President & Chief Executive Officer of Liberty Media Corporation, Tom Garfinkel, CEO of the Miami Dolphins and Stefano Domenicali, CEO of the Formula One Group, pose for a photo following a press conference to announce the 2022 F1 Miami Grand Prix ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Emilia Romagna at Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari on April 18, 2021 in Imola, Italy. (Photo by Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

(Left to right) Chasey Carey, Greg Maffei, Miami Dolphins CEO Tom Garfinkel and Stefano Domenicali have finally got the Miami race they want

Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

“And so we’re going to take advantage of all of those things. There’s a lot of things we’re adding to what we have there to make it a great experience. But I don’t know that it would have been as good had we not been doing it where we are.”

The track itself has been created by British firm Apex Circuit Design, with support from the F1 organisation’s Craig Wilson. A lot of work has been done by former Williams engineer Wilson on what makes for good overtaking.

The bottom line is that the Miami GP may not be in the prime coastal location, but in theory the actual circuit is much better than the one we would have had.

“I think the most important thing now is that with the land and the area around the Dolphins stadium, we were able to design and build a track that is effectively a permanent circuit, without restrictions,” says Cregan.

“It’s very hard to do a good circuit in a city, there’s so many things which are restricting you. F1 were involved from the beginning, from a simulation point of view, from a design point of view.

“And we’ve effectively ended up with a very good track, and I think it’s very fast, very flowing, plenty of overtaking opportunities. So I just think it’s going to be it’s gonna be exceptional.