SSpring break fever has overtaken Formula 1. It has Charles Leclerc playing catch with the Marlins’ Jazz Chisholm Jr, Lewis Hamilton starting with Tom Brady and Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris chasing James Corden around the paddock in jerseys. team cut. This could only happen in Miami. And it’s a miracle that it didn’t happen sooner.
This weekend, F1 will stage its first-ever race in Miami as the United States hosts a pair of Grand Prix races for the first time since 1984, when the series landed in Detroit and Dallas. But this time, rather than returning to Motown or Moo Town, F1 has parked its huge traveling circus here, in the land of white sand beaches, neon lights and sweltering heat. And the local buzz isn’t just a product of the city’s heavily poured daiquiris and mojitos.
It’s yet another watershed moment for a sport that has long struggled to break into the US market. And while F1’s embrace of social media, TV coverage from Netflix Drive to Survive and Sky Sports (via ESPN) has played a big part in winning over viewers across the pond, many of whom cared no less about motorsport to begin with. with, it is curious that the American seduction of F1 has not To start up in Miami – America’s exotic foreign getaway.
Instead, it bounced off the coasts, lingered in Central America and exploded in Indianapolis — and not in a good way. (Austin, however, is cool, weird and has successfully brought F1 to the United States.) The closest the series ever got to Miami was Sebring, Florida, a legendary racing location three hours north that has served as the backdrop for the 1959 United States Grand Prix one-off.
But of course that was before Americans Liberty Media took over F1 in 2017 in a bid to make the global giant domestically relevant. While Long Beach, Watkins Glen and other old-time United States Grand Prix venues have their charm, Miami has always been the closest America has come to a true F1 city. It’s cosmopolitan, seedy and a playground for a few celebrities – Hamilton, not least. There is a culture of miserable excess, flashy cars and racing between stop lights. Miami’s glittering coastline has it all: tall yachts, tanned bodies, colorful deco architecture, and water literally mixed with prescription drugs.
IndyCar raced here in the 80s and 90s, Nascar held its season finale in nearby Homestead for almost two decades and Formula E raced around Biscayne Bay in 2015. Really, you’d be hard pressed to find a more postcard-perfect venue for an F1 race. With Las Vegas on the schedule next year, this is clearly just the tip of F1’s US expansion.
Yet Miami wouldn’t be Miami if it weren’t also peddling illusions. Although Formula 1 fought for a downtown race along the city’s iconic waterfront, it was held half an hour north of downtown in Miami Gardens, the dormitory community home to the Hard Rock Stadium of the Miami Dolphins; finally, an influential neighborhood association could not vibrate to this new Miami Sound Machine of noise pollution and traffic jams. (Formula E cars, with their near-silent electric motors, got around the first problem at least.)
The race itself will follow a makeshift 5.4km street circuit around the stadium, under a road overpass that will surely come to a halt once things turn green down below. In an effort to bring more of that Tubbs and Crockett flavor to the race – appropriately sponsored by a cryptocurrency company, as Miami plans to become the Wall Street of blockchain – organizers have added a swimming pool, two floors of shacks and a fake marina yacht that looks like something out of Minecraft. But it’s not just the Normos who adopt the typical Miami artifice. Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Pharrell are also expected.
Seven years ago, at the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Hamilton openly pondered how to get Americans into Formula 1 in a pre-race press conference. Taking the stage here at a sponsored event earlier this week, he called the Miami GP a “dream”.
But not everyone is caught up in the festivities. Miami Gardens, Florida’s largest city with a majority black population, has been dreading the arrival of this motorsports Super Bowl since their attempts to ship the race elsewhere were thwarted three years ago. In 2020, a group of residents led by former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Betty Ferguson sued Formula 1, Hard Rock Stadium, the Dolphins, and former Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez for racial discrimination. “It’s environmental racism,” Ferguson said, “pure and simple.”
Last May, a recall election was called to remove council members who voted to bring the race to Miami Gardens. (Ultimately, the recall effort failed to attract the required number of signatures to cast a vote.) Worse than those lawmakers who got into bed with F1, residents felt for accepting a bad deal – one that only promised $5 million in community benefits and 5% of the city’s revenue. So count about $25 million in total. What’s more, residents of Miami Gardens have been locked into this deal for a decade, with F1 chairman Stefano Domenicali promising to leave “a positive and lasting contribution to the people of the local community”. Never mind that the aggrieved residents have sworn to keep fighting.
It’s an undercurrent of controversy that puts Miami squarely in league with Sochi, Saudi Arabia and other questionable F1 crash pads. It is therefore clear that a Grand Prix would finally end here. Hamilton’s neon dream is now more than a rowdy carnival of serious F1 escapees. It’s a real homecoming.