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How Formula 1 arrived in Miami

F1 cars could reach up to 200 mph during at the new Miami International Autodrome, a massive campus surrounding the Miami Dolphins NFL stadium.

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F1 cars could reach up to 200 mph during at the new Miami International Autodrome, a massive campus surrounding the Miami Dolphins NFL stadium.

Published Updated

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — "Slow down, baby!" Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross pleaded with his CEO Tom Garfinkel.

The duo whipped around their very own Formula One racetrack at 130 mph — Garfinkel, 53, behind the wheel and Ross, 81, beside him for a victory lap.

"He was a little nervous," Garfinkel said with a laugh. “I threw him around the car a little bit, but not too much. It was a lot of fun.”

But there's no slowing down Miami, F1 or future plans for the new Miami Grand Prix.

Miami Grand Prix: What is Formula 1 and why should you watch?
The Miami Grand Prix races into town May 8. USA TODAY Sports+ explains everything you need to know about the high-powered racing sport.
Richard Morin, USA TODAY Sports+

The inaugural event kicks off Friday and culminates Sunday with the 3:30 p.m. ET race broadcast on ESPN. 

Charles Leclerc, the current leader in the F1 drivers' championship, will line up alongside teammate Carlos Sainz on front row. Ferrari is the favorite to win the inaugural Miami Grand Prix.

Reigning world champion Max Verstappen, his Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez and Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas round out the Top 5. Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes will start sixth.

The Miami race is the latest major event at the Dolphins’ Hard Rock Stadium, which has been transformed into a sports and entertainment hub, hosting Super Bowls, college football playoff games, international soccer, tennis and concerts.

Garfinkel gushed about the venue, listing all the big names who have taken center stage, from Jay-Z and Beyoncé to Serena Williams, Neymar and Hamilton. 

The Miami Grand Prix is the second U.S. city added to the prestigious 2022 World Championship calendar. The first was Austin, Texas, which hosts its race in October. A circuit in Las Vegas will join next year.

Miami race organizers and some city officials predict hosting F1 for the weekend will deliver a similar economic impact as the city’s last Super Bowl in 2020, which brought more than $400 million to South Florida.

Clive Bowen, owner of Apex Circuit Design and lead designer of the Miami Grand Prix
It’s a big, brave thing to do to start something so big that it makes the Super Bowl look tiny.

“It’s a big, brave thing to do to start something so big that it makes the Super Bowl look tiny,” said Clive Bowen, owner of Apex Circuit Design and lead designer of the Miami Grand Prix. “Super Bowl is America’s biggest sporting event, and it’s contained within a stadium.

“Every single square inch of this property here has an activation on it. And wherever you look, there’s something to entertain.”

The race for F1

The race for F1

F1 is on the rise in the United States, and Ross wanted a piece of it for years.

He tried to acquire the entire organization, placing a bid with Qatar Sports Investment group before F1 was sold to Liberty Media in 2016.

Now, he has a 10-year deal for the Miami Grand Prix and a vision for it to become one of F1’s most popular races.

Miami Dolphins President Tom Garfinkel (left) and team owner Steve Ross (right) have been instrumental in making the Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix a reality.
Miami Dolphins President Tom Garfinkel (left) and team owner Steve Ross (right) have been instrumental in making the Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix a reality. ANDRES LEIVA, THE PALM BEACH POST

After residents in downtown Miami opposed a street race during initial talks in 2017, Ross and Garfinkel came up with another plan.

Garfinkel, a former art major who loves to draw, scribbled ideas on a whiteboard during preliminary planning with Ross to create a unique and privately-funded race experience at the stadium.

He pulled from his background as the executive vice president of Chip Ganassi Racing from 2001-06 and as part-owner of Hall of Fame Racing team for two years after that.

He then turned to longtime friend Tyler Epp for help executing the vision. They worked together at both racing institutions and the San Diego Padres. Epp left the Kansas City Chiefs after eight years as an executive to become chief operating officer of the Miami Grand Prix.

The design and execution required intense collaboration from Formula One, its drivers and teams, F1’s governing body FIA, Apex Circuit Design, City of Miami and Miami-Dade County officials, the Florida Department of Transportation, and the Dolphins.

"I got to take my hat off to Tom Garfinkel. He’s the tip of the spear," said Rodney Barreto, chairman of the Miami Super Bowl committee. "He’s executing the vision with an owner like Steve Ross, who basically has an open checkbook to get things done.”

Building for speed

Building for speed

Race officials intended to create a street circuit equally challenging for drivers as it is entertaining for viewers. The fan experience at the stadium was at the forefront of Garfinkel’s vision.

The campus offers a variety of grandstand areas, paddock clubs and suites, fan experiences, restaurant and bar options.

A track-level tour takes you through the layout of the 19-turn course.

Turns 1-4 on the track are adjacent to Hard Rock Stadium, with a traditional start/finish straight and pit areas before the first turn — the first of three potential overtaking zones.

Cars will try to maintain high speeds, while concealing their power around Turns 4-8, which approach the Dolphins’ practice facility to the right and circle the whimsical MIA Marina and Yacht Club.

“The cars are going to be on the limits of their performance envelope,” Bowen said. “They’re going to be changing directions faster than your body believes is possible. Your eyes will be tricked.”

The marina, which attempts to bring a waterfront view to a football stadium, will allow fans to watch the race on several yachts in a makeshift bay. Instead of water, the boats sit on trailers surrounded by a water-colored wrap covering plywood to deliver the illusion.

The MIA Marina and MSC Cruises Yacht Club take center stage inside Turns 7 and 8. Here, yachts sit on trailers in a faux marina, meant to provide a waterfront vibe reminiscent of Monaco and unapologetically Miami.
The MIA Marina and MSC Cruises Yacht Club take center stage inside Turns 7 and 8. Here, yachts sit on trailers in a faux marina, meant to provide a waterfront vibe reminiscent of Monaco and unapologetically Miami. Safid Deen, USA TODAY Sports+

It might not provide the waterfront views of Biscayne Bay, which race organizers would have loved in downtown, but it’s still unapologetically Miami.

“We’re not taking ourselves too seriously with a real marina,” Garfinkel said of the most talked about section of his racetrack prior to the event. “But I think it’ll be a lot of fun for people out there.”

Racers will then enter another straight following Turns 9-10, where they could appear side by side and with ample overtaking opportunity before Turn 11.

This section of the race runs under and alongside a 12-car gondola system swaying above stadium grounds, and through the area reserved for the Miami Open tennis tournament every March.

Cars will tightly pass Turns 11-13 around the Hard Rock Beach Club, which features two swimming pools and cabanas. Music stars Post Malone, the Chainsmokers, Zedd and Tiesto will perform on stage there during the weekend.

“People out here just having a good time with cars going by is uniquely Miami,” Garfinkel said.

Turns 14-16 run under the Florida Turnpike and are considered the most technically challenging section of the circuit. Cars must carefully thread the needle under the turnpike overpass with a slight elevation change.

“This is a slow-speed section where cars have to go over the crest, and it’s going to be such a visual treat to see the cars wiggling around there,” Bowen said.

Racers will then attempt to make up for lost time and overtake on the track’s longest straight — a 1.2 km (3/4 mile) stretch where cars could reach 200 mph — before a sharp left-hander at Turn 17. Drivers' top speeds should carry well into Turns 18 and 19 before reaching the finish line.

Miami Grand Prix CEO Richard Cregan said a combination of high-speed and low-speed corners, teams deciding pit-stop strategy to address tire wear and the unpredictable South Florida weather will contribute to the challenging race experience.

There are also 14 pedestrian bridges —the most of any F1 circuit — to make the campus accessible for fans.

One of the best tickets to buy may be a campus pass, which allows visitors to watch the race anywhere, including from the top deck of the stadium where visitors get an aerial view of the entire track.

“I don’t think any other circuit offers the level of views that we do here at the Miami International Autodrome,” Cregan said. “We’ve opened the campus for that purpose so people can explore.”

Temporary but permanent 

Temporary but permanent 

Since F1 announced the Miami Grand Prix race deal in April 2021, the wheels began to turn on the 10-month project with nine months of construction.

It was also essential for stadium business to proceed as usual, working around the Dolphins’ and University of Miami football games, the Orange Bowl semifinal playoff game, Miami Open and other events.

“If you think of the 10-month project, it’s amazing we’ve gotten to where we are,” Cregan said.

One of the best Miami Grand Prix tickets to buy is a campus pass, which allows you to roam about, including the top deck of the stadium where visitors get an aerial view of the entire track.
One of the best Miami Grand Prix tickets to buy is a campus pass, which allows you to roam about, including the top deck of the stadium where visitors get an aerial view of the entire track. Safid Deen, USA TODAY Sports+

A total of 2,870 Geobrugg blocks (concrete motorsport barriers) were installed for the race. Workers laid 24,000 tons of asphalt and used 1,130 tons of concrete across the site, according to organizers.

The track surface, a mix of asphalt and limerock from Florida, with granite from Georgia, is permanent. The race tower, pit garages and infrastructure below ground are also permanent.

But everything else is removable after the race is complete Sunday.

“We can return the site to the Hard Rock Stadium, and they can use it as they used it before the track is built,” Bowen said. “And each year, we’ll renovate where we need to, and we’ll reassemble the racetrack.”

What’s next?

What’s next?

Ross and Garfinkel are always looking for the next big event with eyes on hosting the World Cup final in 2026. 

“That’s what we’re trying to shoot for,” Garfinkel said he told high-ranking FIFA officials last week.

The 2020 Super Bowl in Miami capped the 100th NFL season, and the 2026 game would be Super Bowl 60. If Miami is not awarded the Super Bowl in 2026, 2027 could be the city’s next bid.

At the Fountain Viewing Area, the McLaren Race House and Crypto.com Terrace provide views of the podium and a big screen showing race action. Colombian pop star Maluma will perform here following the race Sunday.
At the Fountain Viewing Area, the McLaren Race House and Crypto.com Terrace provide views of the podium and a big screen showing race action. Colombian pop star Maluma will perform here following the race Sunday. Safid Deen, USA TODAY Sports+

Miami has hosted the most Super Bowls to date (11), with six at Hard Rock Stadium.

The stadium is also scheduled to host a College Football Playoff semifinal in 2025 and could be in the mix to host its next national title game in 2026. The last was in 2021.

“None of them are finalized, but I would hope World Cup would be here. And I would expect another Super Bowl and national championship when they’re available,” Garfinkel said.

Tom Garfinkel​​​​​​​, Miami Dolphins CEO
I would hope World Cup would be here. And I would expect another Super Bowl and national championship when they’re available.

Before speeding too far ahead, Garfinkel wants the Dolphins’ first F1 race to be memorable for all — from the athletes to fans at home or hanging out on a yacht at the stadium.

“If drivers love driving this racetrack, and teams love coming here, it’ll be great for the fans,” he said. “That is the most important thing.”

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