Why F1 fought so hard for a race in Miami – and it may come at the expense of Spain’s

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That Formula 1 stages its first grand prix in Miami during 2022’s second quarter – thus likely back-to-backed with Montreal’s round – marks the end of F1’s longest-running soap opera. Forget Kimi Raikkonen’s much-rumoured move to Ferrari in 2006 (that episode lasted a year before confirmation) or recurring talk of Nigel Mansell returning to F1 during the mid-1990s (two years to not happen): Miami’s saga stretches back to 2016.

No sooner had Colorado-based, NASDAQ-listed Liberty Media committed to purchasing F1’s commercial rights off CVC Capital Partners – thus arguably saving F1 from destruction – than talk surfaced about ambitions for a street race in the third largest city on the USA’s east coast, on a circuit taking in the scenic Biscayne Boulevard and, according to early circuit plans, passing through the Port Miami Tunnel.

Numerous legal, political and societal obstacles plus varied changes to the originally designed layout endangered the project. At one stage all indicators were that the race was dead, yet F1 remained bullish about the Floridian race.

An additional event in the country with the world’s highest GDP – $20 trillion, versus China on two-thirds that – makes obvious commercial sense. Yet the lengths Liberty went to in order to secure a race in a country with a lukewarm relationship – at best – with F1 are nothing short of astounding. On Sunday, F1, though, announced a 10-year deal – rather than the typical three or five – although there are likely to be break options.

Red Bull, Miami Fan Festival, 2018
F1 visited Miami for a Fan Festival three years ago
The USA has held more rounds of the world championship than anywhere bar Italy, Britain and Germany. Yet its 70 races were hosted by a total of 10 circuits, under a variety of titles, with at times as many as three events in a season or none for five years and more. Since 1958 F1 has visited Sebring in Florida, Riverside on the West Coast, Watkins Glen in New York State, Long Beach (California), Las Vegas, Detroit, Dallas, Phoenix, Indianapolis and Austin.

The USA’s average of seven grands prix per circuit underscores this tempestuous relationship, for Italy has hosted the most rounds (101) at four circuits (the next highest tally), while Monaco has staged 65 grands prix since the inception of the world championship in 1950, at all one venue. True, the principality has no alternate venue, but between 1955 and last year (cancelled due to Covid-19) it did not skip a year.

As part of F1’s push for a race in Miami it went to extra-special efforts to promote itself on the Florida Peninsula, hosting a Fan Fest there in October 2018 with a view to an inaugural race a year later. But, even before the festival was staged, the inaugural date was postponed to 2020.

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“We are taking a long-term view and as a result, we have decided, in consultation with the Miami authorities, to postpone sign-off until later in the summer, with the aim of running the first Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix in the 2020 season,” said F1’s then commercial managing director Sean Bratches at the time.

Planned Hard Rock Stadium F1 circuit for 2021 Miami Grand Prix
The track will loop around the Hard Rock Stadium
Although the 2020 season was blighted by the pandemic, it did not affect F1’s plans for Miami simply as no deal had been struck and it did not feature on FIA calendars, let alone any draft listing. Yet, during the same period, F1 announced a round in Vietnam (now cancelled), plus its return to Zandvoort. That said, a Dutch round is a no-brainer given Max Verstappen’s popularity, so relatively little effort was required.

As related here, a source close to the Miami project previously told this author that there was considerable history between history between Liberty and RSE Ventures, a Miami-based real estate and sports promotion conglomerate controlled by billionaire Stephen Ross – who this week was linked by The Times to the ill-fated European Super League football tournament, a concept imported from the USA.

Liberty and RSE. In 2015 Ross and Co had teamed with the Qatari sovereign wealth to pitch for the 35.5% stake in F1’s commercial rights then held by CVC. Although the bid ultimately failed, Ross’ appetite had been whetted, and RSE bid against Liberty in September 2015, sending the price soaring.

The source was adamant that Liberty had requested RSE to back off, with the pay-off being a trophy race in Miami – which ticks all boxes for Liberty via an additional race on US territory and for RSE, based in Miami. At the time (September 2017) our source was adamant that a race deal would be struck regardless “of what it takes”, adding ‘In US financial circles word is bond, and Liberty gave its word to [Stephen] Ross.”

Ross, seen with Garfinkel, was linked to European Super League
Then, in 2018 it was confirmed that RSE Ventures, a company controlled by real estate entrepreneur Stephen Ross and owner of the Miami Dolphins NFL team, had been appointed as promoter of the race, assuming all necessary permissions were obtained. Tom Garfinkel, RSE vice chairman and president and CEO of the Miami Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium, was named as managing partner.

The approval process was fraught with legal and other challenges, so a year later messages were posted on the f1miamigp.com website – owned by Formula One Licensing BV, a subsidiary of the commercial rights holder – urging fans to support the race via a petition sent directly by email to various Miami Dade County commissioners.

“A chance to host an event of this magnitude and global recognition is rare, and passing up this opportunity would be a disservice to the community,” the petition concluded. “The most important auto racing event in the world is looking to make a home in Miami! It would be shameful and embarrassing for Miami do anything except welcome F1 with open arms.”

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In the interim allegations of racism surfaced, while a civil rights lawsuit was also filed. In order to appease protesters the promoters promised to revise the track layout to by-pass the 199th Street arterial route, to erect noise reduction barriers and monitor air quality throughout race weekend.

Ex-F1 CEO Carey reappeared for Miami race announcement
All in, extraordinary lengths were gone to all round to secure a single event in a specific location for a specific promoter, yet over a period of close on four years had elapsed yet no approvals had been granted. Had the same focus been applied to Africa, the continent would likely have at least five rounds per season confirmed for the next 50 years…

A fortnight ago it emerged that (recently elected) mayor of Miami Gardens Rodney Harris had managed to amass the required number of votes to permit the race to go ahead from 2022 in the Hard Rock Stadium and the surrounding area. The proposal included a $5 million community package plus science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) project for students, was tabled for April 14th and approved accordingly.

Which brings us to Sunday’s Miami confirmation in Imola. Not only was Garfinkel present at the Italian circuit, but so were Liberty Media president and chief executive officer Greg Maffei –boss to F1 president and CEO Stefano Domenicali (also present) – and F1 executive chairman Chase Carey, Stefano’s predecessor. It was extraordinary show of firepower which brought to mind those ‘word to Ross’ comments.

Domenicali confirmed 2022’s ‘second quarter’ as the likely calendar slot – while Bratches previously spoke of a May date prior to the start of the European season. That would entail criss-crossing the Atlantic thrice in a year (May, June and October/November) so it clearly makes sense to instead pair the race with Canada’s round, given F1’s sustainability drives and social responsibilities.

The two venues are sufficiently far apart (2,200 kilometres) to not cannibalise each other while providing feasible double-event packages for foreign fans, much as Montreal and Indianapolis benefitted symbiotically during the noughties. Such twinning also helps share Canada’s transportation costs while enabling the Texan, Mexican and Brazilian rounds to split the year-end triple header costs.

Start, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020
‘Welcome to Miami’ may mean ‘bye bye to Barcelona’
Domenicali confirmed that the 2022 F1 calendar will list 23 races as per this year, pointing to an existing round dropping out. The smart money is on Barcelona as its current deal is for this year only, but in the longer-term whichever event does drop off could well return should F1 adopt rotational calendars. Thus, it could be Spain in 2022 and Spa in 2023, or whatever.

Such rotations are not, of course, new: Hockenheim and Nürburgring alternated events, admittedly always on German soil, from 2007 to 2014. Whether such a schedule works effectively across borders remains to be seen, but there are no doubts that it has pitfalls: expensive track upgrades can only, for example, be defrayed over alternate years, while marketing programmes are stop-start rather than continuous.

While there are no doubts that the world championship is Eurocentric when measured against population – although with three events in a compact area the Middle Eastern events now arguably shade Europe on a per capita basis – if rotational deals are indeed the panacea, why did Liberty not attempt to strike a timeshare deal between Austin and Miami? The 2016 handshake, of course…

Bearing in mind that the Miami Grand Prix is not additional to the current calendar, F1 teams are concerned about the exact nature of the deal – particularly given the RSE angle – for commercially it needs to be more lucrative than Barcelona, or whichever race drops out, given that European races are cheaper to attend than flyways. Splitting costs with Montreal goes some way towards breakeven, but is it enough?

There are no doubts, though, that an additional grand prix in the USA is welcome news for F1, particularly from a sponsorship perspective – Aston Martin is expanding its US operation and recently signed New Jersey-based Cognizant as title partner. Red Bull hooked Oracle, while its energy drinks marketers would surely welcome a second platform in the land of competitor Monster, a Mercedes sponsor.

Williams owner Dorilton Capital is US-based, while McLaren is vigorously chasing the USA market with its IndyCar programme and F1 can only help in this regard, while Mercedes last year sold almost 80,000 cars in the USA, only marginally down on the previous year’s numbers despite Covid. North America remains Ferrari’s biggest market, and, of course, the company is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

F1’s drive for sustainable fuels should make it attractive to manufacturers such as Porsche, Audi and the Hyundai group, and a second race in the USA is likely to prove a better draw-card than remaining in Spain.

USA flag, Circuit of the Americas, 2019
F1 plans to keep racing in Texas
The race also provides a backstop should Austin drop out – bearing in mind the average seven-race life expectancy and the Texan circuit now having hosted eight editions – after its contract expires next year. There is talk that the Texas Big Event fund, which indirectly sponsors Austin’s race via tax rebates and refunds, could be reduced going forward, so a distinct possibility exists that the F1 race is no longer viable.

Perversely, though, the markets did not react as positively as expected: On April 7th, a week before the Miami Gardens council meeting FWONK shares traded at $45.83; one week later the price had dipped to $44.84 and at time of writing on Tuesday it hovered around $45.43. Has Liberty possibly overestimated the perceived value of a race on home soil, or have investors realised that the bottom-line benefit is not what it seemed?

Equally, if Liberty is prepared to drop a European race in favour of Miami – of all places – what chance other races in F1’s heartland fall by the wayside in favour of rounds in Africa or Asia, where rotation is more complex due to geographic factors? It can be argued that Spanish fans are able to easily travel to, say, France or Monaco on alternate years should their race fall out, but those in Vietnam are unlikely to travel to Kyalami or vice versa.

“Vietnam is not any more in the calendar but it’s still an open option,” Domenicali told RaceFans in February. “It has been an incredible investment and therefore it’s still on the table of discussion for a future event.”

Other potential race promoters have also expressed interest in F1, he said. “That is basically in north Africa [and] South Africa, that I can tell.”

Miami Gardens grand prix circuit
The Miami Gardens grand prix circuit
F1 always was going to head for Miami – given the alleged deal it was only a matter of time, and hence Domenicali included a race in Florida in his projections within a few weeks of taking office while confirming that an Austin renewal remains outstanding.

“Our strategy in the future will be to be more present in the US with more than one grand prix,” he said. “Austin has been very important in the last years of our calendar. It will be also in the future and we are discussing with them the renewal of the agreement.

“And of course Miami is a place where we are looking. I cannot say more than that. But for sure, there is a big interest from both parties to be there.”

All F1 now needs to do is beat the odds by ensuring that the event runs its full 10-year contractual term. If the USA’s historical relationship with F1 is any guide, that won’t be easy.

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Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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50 comments on “Why F1 fought so hard for a race in Miami – and it may come at the expense of Spain’s”

  1. For the same reason a Dutch round makes sense, there’s not much of a chance that Spa isn’t going to pull huge numbers for as long as Max is in Formula 1, so I don’t see Spa disappearing anytime soon. It would take a hell of a lot of mismanagement (Which granted, for Belgium wouldn’t be a stretch) to not make a profit off of that race weekend.

    Like for most people in The Netherlands Spa is closer, especially in Max’s home province, and definitely easier to reach as Zandvoort is just a horrible experience to get to. So I don’t see Spa leaving anytime soon, that venue is gonna be packed.

    Now Barcelona, I wouldn’t even mind seeing it go, since the track is rather unappealing. But I’m sure with two active Spanish drivers, it would be a shame for the fans there to not have a Spanish GP.

    1. Maybe there is an alternative in Spain. I agree the current track has limited appeal

      1. @Mayrton Jerez and Aragon are other FIA Grade 1 tracks in Spain, so options in this regard.

        1. Technically Valencia (remember that track) would also be available, right @jerejj?

          1. @bascb
            Definitely not the street circuit as it’s got hardly anything left, while the permanent one is G2. The only G1 tracks besides Circuit de Catalunya are Circuito de Jerez and Motorland Aragon.

        2. @jerejj‘ The GP layout of the permanent circuit at Valencia actually had Grade 1 license until February 2020, while external layout had Grade 2. But they haven’t renewed their license after this date. Maybe they will also renew their Grade 1 license this weekend during the Formula E race, and we would see the permanent Valencia circuit on the next list of FIA graded circuits.

          1. @bengibaris Maybe, but for now, it isn’t on the Grade 1 track list.

    2. I’ve never liked the track at Barcelona, boring layout.

      Reply moderated
    3. Spa is always packed… with the greatest respect to Max’s pulling power, which I don’t dispute, Spa doesn’t need it to be packed. It’s in the perfect geographical position, right next to Germany as well as the Netherlands, very near to France and just a short ferry trip away for the many British spectators who have made it an annual pilgrimage since time immemorial. That’s because, as well as its geographical advantages, it’s also regarded by long-term F1 fans as the best circuit on the map. So if these things don’t already ensure its permanence on the calendar, nothing will.

  2. Getting rid of Barcelona is about 20 years overdue. Terrible track for racing in F1. To get a half decent race you either need lots of rain (1996), super degrading gimmicky tyres (2012) or the leaders taking each other out (2016).

    I won’t mourn it’s passing.

    1. The more Spain 2016 is mentioned, the more or less likely the two Mercedes will come together ever again.

  3. Shouldn’t we have left Barcelona already? Don’t mind seeing it go.
    I like Austin, I’m not convinced about Miami. But I wont slag it off until it actually sucks.

  4. I know that the racing at Circuit De Catalunya isn’t always that good but i’d much rather watch cars driving around that over a weekend than watching them drive around another flat, featureless carpark circuit which seems to be in the same sort of style of Valencia or Sochi.

    1. I just can’t get that excited about Miami because I just don’t like many of the more modern carpark circuits.

      Same reason I just couldn’t care less about the Saudi or Thailand races. They all just blend together because of how similar this style of circuit tends to look & how uninteresting it is to watch cars driving around them. I just can’t stand any of them & don’t think any of them add anything of any value to the calender.

      If you want to race in Miami, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Russia etc…. then fine. But at least design/build a circuit that can get everyone excited about, A circuit that has character & will offer a good challenge to both car & driver & actually be a fun, exciting spectacle to watch cars lapping.

      1. I meant Vietnam, Don’t know why I put Thailand.

        1. Thailand would actually be OK. Buriram has a nice little track.

          1. Thailand was mooted to join around 2015 if I remember correctly.
            It was supposed to be a night street race in the streets of Bangkok, but much like Vietnam’s case it fell apart just before the season began.

    2. Singapore and Baku are excellent street tracks and infinitely more entertaining than Barcelona. It’s not a given that Miami would be awful.

      Then again Sochi is always terrible and Baku year 1 was a contender for most boring race of all time…

      1. @black I don’t recall anything regarding a Bangkok street circuit mentioned at the time.

        1. @jerejj Posting the link backfired somehow

        2. just search: “f1 bangkok 2015 racefans” and you’ll find some articles

  5. Very interesting read again, I do wonder whether we’ll be losing Imola instead (doesn’t seem to be mentioned) whilst retaining Barcelona? Won’t that still mean there will be 23 races and also losing a race in the second quarter?

    Just a note that I’m struggling to read so many paragraphs with no sub-headings – 2000 words is very hard to read in one go! I’m not sure if others are struggling with these articles though admittedly, please take this comment in the right light.

    1. @john-h I copy-pasted parts of my post regarding this from the latest Paddock Diary:
      With 23 race weekends, Miami and China (not mentioned either) would almost certainly mean no Imola and Algarve in F1 next season unless for extraordinary circumstances like this and last year.
      If Vietnam can happen, another present F1 track (Circuit de Catalunya or other) would lose out.
      Everything will become clear over time, but Imola and Algarve are pretty much definite sacrifices since they only ever got a chance, thanks to COVID.

      1. Ah of course, China indeed @jerejj and Vietnam I’m sure will happen @hunocsi after all the investment they put in. Seems like Barcelona will indeed go then, alongside our much loved Covid substitutes (more sadly). Thanks for the replies.

      2. That assumes that they are sticking at 23 races – however, Liberty Media have explicitly told their investors they are planning to move to a 24 race calendar in the next few years, so at least one of those races may stay to meet that target.

        1. @anon That was last year, but time will tell. Domenicali’s words regarding next season precisely are more relevant than Carey’s words late last year since they’re more recent.

          1. @jerejj Carey’s statement was barely five months ago, and it is worth considering that Carey is unlikely to have made those comments lightly when you consider the context.

            The SEC could view it as deliberately providing misleading advice to investors if Carey was telling those investors the calendar was going to 24 races if the sport did not intend to do so, given that he’d be implying that the sport would be receiving more in hosting fees than it actually would.

            It’s also worth noting that Domenicali hasn’t explicitly ruled out having more than 23 races on the calendar in his interview with Auto Motor und Sport back on the 12th. In that interview, whilst he said that it would be logistically difficult to have 24 races a year, he did state that the championship “could have 24 races” – in other interviews, he’s also indicated the current plans for 2022 might be a 23 race calendar, but he’s left some wriggle room and he has also left room for expansion after 2022.

    2. @john-h As probably Vietnam will try to get back on the calendar, I would have thought that Imola and Portimao will be the ones to leave, although my third thought was Barcelona when Miami was announced on Sunday.

      But I recall that Barcelona was originally left out of the calendar one year — 2020 maybe, when it made place for Zandvoort? And it got re-added a few weeks later, but that’s why I thought it to be the 3rd most likely option to go now, but with Sainz at Ferrari and Alonso back on the grid, maybe the interest in F1 will pick up once again.

      1. @jerejj‘s reply wasn’t there when I wrote mine, but yeah I forgot that China is not on the calendar this year, and Domenicali mentions they want a race in Africa, too… Sounds like a bit too much for all to fit now.

        1. @hunocsi Indeed, but Africa isn’t necessarily an immediate short-term future thing.

          1. @jerejj I imagine it won’t happen before 2023, but the Saudi race was added pretty late to the calendar, too, so who knows. Nevertheless, it will probably mean another estabilished race has to go (if we’re lucky it’s something like Singapore, but I guess that’s unlikely), especially if they’re sticking to 23 races (and if I recall correctly, Domenicali said so a few weeks ago).

  6. Where does the “third largest city on the USA’s east coast” statement come from?
    I can’t find an interpretation to support it either via city nor metropolitan area definitions.

  7. Coventry Climax
    21st April 2021, 12:54

    That’s a lot of words to get to the obvious, as far as I’m concerned.
    What’s astounding about a US owned company, trying to reach the potential of a huge market, which just happens to be their homeland?
    The main question, to me, would be if the (any, for that matter) new circuit is better, racing-wise, than the circuit that is discontinued.
    We’ve seen so many boring, characterless circuits added to the calendar. I don’t care where the circuit is as long as it’s an absolute stunner of a track. OK, not quite true; I’d like to see F1 leave countries with a questionable reputation where human rights are concerned. In that light, you can argue whether even the US is a decent choice.

  8. Seems like Liberty’s strategy is to add more races so the competion for the limited slots on the calendar is increased. With higher demand, they can increase the hosting fee further -> more money for liberty

    1. The largest hosting fees come from the countries with bad global reputations that their governments are trying to clean up. That’s why Russia, UAE, Bahrain, China, and Azerbaijan all pay far more than European venues. F1 doesn’t care if they lose a small number of fans that don’t take a cavalier attitude to the value of human life. At the same time F1 picks up more fans in Asia and the Middle East. People in these areas spend more money on luxury goods than Americans and Europeans, so it is a good fit for their sponsors, it’s just sad to see.

      Check out the wiki article on sportswashing if you are not familiar.

  9. hey on the bright side they do speak spanish in miami.

  10. first 3 corners on a map look like Barcelona start

    Reply moderated
  11. As a relatively new F1 fan in the US, I am stoked for another F1 event coming to the States (even if it ends up replacing Austin). I have been googling the topography of Miami Gardens and while it isn’t Spa, hopefully they are true to their word regarding overtakes and sporty racing which will make up for the lack of interesting surroundings.

    I have yet to attend a F1 race (due in no small part to the pandemic) so Miami might be my first go of it. Once travel gets back to normal I am also looking forward to going to Montreal as well and while I don’t want to lose any of the classic tracks outside of North America, I think it is only rational that Liberty is looking to expand here. This article gave me a lot of great context to this decision by F1 and bring on Miami!

    Reply moderated
  12. I think Circuit De Catalunya is a beautiful track if you are driving on it. It has everything you need to have a great time mostly. Bad thing is that modern F1 is not very suitable for racing there. Nonetheless it’s a perfect track for F1 testing.

    Reply moderated
  13. Martin Elliott
    21st April 2021, 20:31

    What about the suggested different Miami ‘circuit’ layouts.

    The fact the Biscayne Bay was even considered when FIA say safety is paramount was a good demonstration of how little that applies at ‘non-permanent’ circuits. How would rescue and recover have worked on a 6 way highway used in both directions on a bridge over water?

    I assume The Hard Rock is a known entity, perhaps already used for our cousins races between concrete walls?

  14. Bye Barcelona, you will not be missed!

  15. Other tracks in the US would be much better. Miami even reminds of the Indy F1 track. Not a good reference.

    Real race courses give so much to the drivers and us fans.

  16. I would think that if F1 was interested in sustainability they would favor race tracks rather than street circuits but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Why spend all the money and resources to build a track around a stadium that will only be used one weekend a year rather than holding the race at a track that will be used many times for multiple events and track days throughout the year?

    I don’t have much interest in attending this race nevermind my dislike for street circuits. I’m from the US and visit COTA every year but I try hard to stay away from Florida – it is like a third world country. Do an internet search for “florida man” or “florida woman” and you’ll get a glimpse.

    I’m not optimistic about this event but if it sees Barcelona removed from the calendar I’m cool with it. Now just two more new venues to kick Sochi and Yas Marina off the calendar, please!!

  17. “That would entail criss-crossing the Atlantic thrice in a year (May, June and October/November) so it clearly makes sense to instead pair the race with Canada’s round, given F1’s sustainability drives and social responsibilities”

    Nothing to see here folks…move along now.

  18. Welcome to the F1 Pay-as-you-watch, Liberty Superleague. All business and no sport. Only the big teams are allowed to win. There is no way to lose! (unless you run out of money – what a way to lose a race!). Only billionaires can apply. And we’re happy to go to places like Saudi Arabia to do their sport-washing (for a hefty fee…).

    What are we doing?

  19. Barcelona will not be missed. However a GP in Spain is necessary- Aragon as I understand is a G1 circuit.

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