Ah, Miami. Julia Tuttle founded it; the only major American city founded by a woman. Two national parks surround it. Suntan lotion was invented here. It is a world-class, international city, with the pulse and beat of a vibrant and passionate Latino population. The city fosters inclusion and diversity. It features Key Biscayne’s blue-green waters. You have the multi-hued and modern highrises along Brickell Ave., and notable areas and institutions like Little Havana, Calle Ocho, the Design District, Joe’s Stone Crab, Nobu, and of course South Beach. The latter exudes the epitome of the glamorous beach scene with sand, surf, and sexy bodies. It all sits upon a slice of land not much thicker than the thong the 70-year-old just over there has somehow hung himself into, despite his obvious appetite for KFC and Budweiser.
Miami is an aquatic city with palm trees and boats, businessmen and bikinis. An obvious spot for a Formula 1 race—except the F1 Miami Grand Prix isn’t actually held here.
Welcome to Miami Gardens, and a Little History
Say what now? No, see, the Miami International Autodrome lies 20 miles north and west of all this. There is a Starbucks, Burger King, and Walmart nearby. The 3.36-mile circuit, with 19 corners, is comprised of the parking lots and service roads around Hard Rock Stadium, otherwise known as home of the Miami Dolphins. And it is the perfect spot to hold an F1 race in South Florida in 2022
Forty years ago, Ralph Sanchez, a Cuban American businessman, had a vision to bring auto racing to the heart of Miami. And in 1983 the first Miami Grand Prix was held downtown, in the form of an IMSA Camel GT sports car race. The circuit ran along Biscayne Boulevard, serpentining its way through Bicentennial Park. For the better part of a decade, it helped revitalize this part of downtown Miami.
Much like what race promoter Chris Pook did for the Long Beach street race, Sanchez’s vision helped transform the area for the better. Today, it’s packed with office buildings, retail businesses, the Miami Heat’s NBA basketball arena, restaurants, and hotels.
The early ’80s marked the beginning of the Miami Vice era. The city itself and the lifestyle within, chock full of pastel colors and shady and fascinating characters, were just as big of stars as Crockett and Tubbs. The show was also a forerunner of the adage that folks should sometime stay in their own lane. Indy 500 winner Danny Sullivan starred in one memorably ludicrous episode in 1986. The “spin and win” IndyCar driver’s Miami moment stood as perhaps the most painful bit of Hollywood-produced motorsports make-believe to ever hit the small or silver screen. (That is, until Sylvester Stallone and Driven easily snatched that honor in 2001. )
But those street races decades ago were special events with boats lining the bay, fans filling the stands, and television broadcasting Miami to the world.
A New Beginning
Hosting a race today in a heavily populated and dense urban core, while potentially feasible, is no longer the best option for a racing series, promoter, sponsors, fans, or the people who live and work there. There have been several street races in Miami proper since, as several series attempted to replicate the Bicentennial Park era to no lasting avail. Which brings us to this new ideal location in Miami Gardens.
Stephen Ross owns a lot of things, including the Miami Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium. He developed Time Warner Center and Hudson Yards in New York City. He has donated $378 million to the University of Michigan for various buildings and projects. In 2019, he bought the Miami Open tennis tournament and moved it from Key Biscayne to the Hard Rock Stadium campus where the F1 track has been built. It’s fair to say Ross sets high expectations. It’s equally fair to say Tom Garfinkel, vice chairman, president and CEO of the Dolphins and the stadium, and managing partner of the F1 Miami Grand Prix, has exceeded those lofty standards.
The F1 Miami Grand Prix Venue
Five years ago, Ross and Garfinkel conceived the idea of Miami hosting an F1 race. Construction began nine months ago, and this weekend their baby will pop out on the global stage. And trust this: A star is born.
The circuit has been described as a “hybrid” racetrack, meaning it’s a permanent racing surface that will serve other purposes during the rest of the year. A small section of the track will return to the Florida Turnpike. Other sections will be used for football and concert parking. And part of it will be used during next year’s Miami Open tennis tournament. Seventeen manhole covers will once again be accessible, only to be paved over once more just prior to next year’s race.
This hybrid model may be the future of all sporting venues. The Hard Rock Stadium campus has hosted Jay-Z, Beyonce, and U2 concerts. Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Serena Williams, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Derek Jeter have all competed here. It has hosted two baseball World Series, numerous Super Bowls, and BCS college football playoff games. Now it welcomes Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, Fernando Alonso, and F1’s other stars.
The facility is ready for it. There are eight zones for fans to choose from. The most notable include The Beach—site of the Hard Rock Beach Club—complete with two real swimming pools, tons of sand, cabanas, and a viewing deck. At the opposite end of the circuit is The Marina. Yes, the one that’s replete with the fake water so many F1 fanboys on social media and a British TV talking head have whined about and mocked in recent days. Laugh all you want; the corporate guests occupying the sterns of these dry-docked boats will be less than 30 feet from the action, elevated, sipping a mojito, and not needing any Dramamine.
Race organizers expect 85,000 fans in attendance on each of the event’s three days. Seventy-five portable kitchens are in place, as will be more than 100 chefs and nearly 3,000 support staff, 30 local restaurant partners, with food and drink at 850 points of sale. An estimated 300,000 aluminum cups will be used instead of single-use plastic bottles.
Corporate guests will be coddled within a staggering display of hospitality areas. McLaren, Ferrari, Red Bull, MSC Cruises, and Glenfiddich—to name just a few—have constructed the most lavish entertainment areas I have witnessed in three decades of covering all manner of sporting events.
And yet, the best value and best viewing will be for fans who purchased the “campus pass” tickets. The three-day pass will set you back $1,200.00, but it will give you access throughout the Hard Rock facility. Watching the race from the spiral ramps at the corners of the football stadium itself will give you far more track to see than any reserved, expensive grandstand seat will. The northwest ramp in particular is fantastic, with clean sight lines down to the braking zone at Turn 17 and the cars heading back toward you as they come onto the front straight. Pass holders will want to arrive early on Sunday and stake out their spots.
The only real negative I have heard so far is concern about the two long straights between Turns 8 and 11 and Turns 16 and 17. Have the F1 masterminds found a cure to the porpoising most of the teams have experienced this year, or will these two nearly mile-long stretches of track remind fans of a SeaWorld show? If they do, it’s not the circuit’s fault, but rather a result of where this year’s new cars are right now in terms of their development and inherent characteristics.
If anyone still cares that the Miami International Autodrome is 30 minutes from the ocean, it’s time to get over it. This is a state-of-the-art entertainment facility. It makes Circuit of the Americas near Austin, Texas—a track that hosted its first F1 race only 10 years ago—seem old, tired, and outdated.
Indeed, the Hard Rock Stadium campus represents a new direction for F1, and fans should get used to it. It’s a world-class racing destination for the in-crowd, and for the most ardent F1 fans, locals, and visitors from around the globe. A facility with palm trees and pastel colors, speed and glamour, and massive amounts of fun on a multi-sport/entertainment campus in suburbia. This looks like a near perfect venue not all that far from the Miami of your dreams.
If you long for nostalgia, head back to South Beach, and look to your left: Matteo just cracked open a cold one.