Having long beavered away after being serially rebuffed, Formula 1’s commercial rights holder Liberty Media has reached an “agreement in principle” for a grand prix in Miami.2021 F1 season will feature two rounds in America, which in itself is no given if the PR activity on the race’s social media feeds is any indication.
Why, though, the insistence on Miami in the first place? After all, the Land of the Automobile offers numerous potential venues if the price fits, and the word is that the Miami Grand Prix attracts minimal hosting fees at best.
Furthermore, why F1’s insistence on negotiating with the owners of the Miami Dolphins NFL franchise despite numerous setbacks? Finally, why a May date when that month is packed with European races – three in 2020?
Ever since Miami was first mooted as F1’s second US host, folk have linked the Dolphins tie-up to a key date, namely September 2016, when Liberty was in the final throes of making a final offer for the sport’s commercial rights.
While paddock speculation then had it that the media company had sealed the deal for the remainder of F1’s commercial rights lease, Donald Mackenzie, boss of F1’s then-owner CVC Capital Partners, let it be known that another entity was still in the running.
That company was said to be RSE Ventures, an investment firm controlled by Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who had submitted a bid in conjunction with a Qatari sovereign wealth fund-backed consortium and an unnamed private equity firm. The net effect is that RSE’s interest upped the ante, in effect causing the price to spiral much to Liberty’s dismay.
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The obvious solution was for Liberty to persuade RSE to drop its interest in F1, with the payoff believed to be the hosting rights to a Miami Grand Prix on a profit-sharing basis (with Liberty). Once the profit-share deal entered the public arena, existing promoters demanded similar treatment.
Although said demands were largely thwarted, the net result was pressure on hosting fees. Still, RSE’s withdrawal is said to have saved Liberty a packet and gained it a race in the USA, with CVC being the overall loser.
Another surprising aspect to the announcement is the suggested May 2021 date for the inaugural race, for this points to two Atlantic crossings in as many months given that Canada’s round is generally staged in June, a fortnight after the Monaco Grand Prix.
Clearly, then, Liberty hopes to persuade the principality to move the race forward from its traditional Ascension Day long-weekend slot, enabling Miami to be twinned with Montreal
Intriguingly, Monaco’s contract also expires after 2020, and given its zero-fee status one wonders whether Liberty hopes to exert some form of pressure on the Automobile Club de Monte Carlo to accept an earlier date – and perhaps also drop its wasteful Wednesday-Sunday format in the process – in return for retaining its bargain basement status.
This, however, raises further questions, particularly about the future of the Spanish Grand Prix. Not only does the Catalan round have a mid-May 2020 date, but it only secured a one-year deal for next season at the 11th hour. The obvious question is: having been close to extinction his year, will Spain’s race disappear after 2020?
Either way, if Formula 1 does in fact crisscross the Atlantic four times in the course of a single season – once each for Miami, Montreal, Austin/Mexico and Brazil – another hike in air miles would make a mockery of the sustainability project which is said it will launch by year-end. All that waste for arguably amounts to a vanity race on Liberty’s home ground.
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