Miami to host Formula One ‘mini race’ after local objections put 2019 Grand Prix plans on hold

Exclusive: Although plans to host a Miami Grand Prix in 2019 hit a speed bump, The Independent has seen plans for a demonstration event which is due to take place on 17 October

Christian Sylt
Friday 07 September 2018 11:30 BST
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Formula One cars are set to roar though the streets of Miami next month even though a full-blown race in the city has been given the red light until at least 2020.

In May, Miami’s City Commissioners voted to negotiate with F1 about hosting an annual Grand Prix for a decade from next year. However, the plan stalled just two months later after locals objected to the layout of the 2.6-mile track. It is due to run down the palm-tree lined Biscayne Boulevard and pass through the peaceful Bayfront Park which fuelled the opposition.

Although the plan to host a race in 2019 hit the skids, The Independent has seen plans for a demonstration event which is due to take place on a 690m stretch of Biscayne Boulevard on 17 October. It isn’t known which teams will hurtle down it but they will all be in the area as it will be held five days before the US Grand Prix in Texas.

The street demo is set to be the flagship of a four-day ‘fan festival’ which will also feature a line-up of supercars, a stage, giant screens showing the race in Texas and a garage located in the hotly-debated Bayfront Park.

The map shows that the cars will race down Biscayne Boulevard before doing donuts at the bottom and passing back up. It could make its mark as donuts involve cars revving their engines whilst turning in tight circles with their back ends drifting out. Smoke billows from the tyres and tracks tend to be left on the tarmac so Miami might have to do a considerable clean-up job afterwards, especially as the runs are due to go on for four hours.

It is set to be similar to the event in London in July last year when 100,000 people turned up to watch F1 cars zipping past Trafalgar Square. The format was replicated this year in Marseille in the run-up to the French Grand Prix and an F1 spokesperson says Miami will follow suit. "We are having a festival in Miami and we are finalising all of the details. We don't have the details yet but, like Marseille, there is a car run."

Even though the cars in Miami will be travelling below racing speeds, it has driven discontent from locals as they only found out about the plan through a public records check. Last week Itai Benosh, Treasurer of the Biscayne Condominium Association, wrote to Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell asking “was there any approval of this event by the City Commission? Can anyone just decide to close Biscayne Blvd for a high-speed race? Under what authority is the city allowing it?”

There was an F1 festival in Marseilles ahead of the French Grand Prix in 2018
There was an F1 festival in Marseilles ahead of the French Grand Prix in 2018 (Getty)

It is understood that the route isn’t final and still requires approval from the Florida Department of Transportation and the PortMiami local authority. However, it seems likely that it will be waved through as the event would drive interest in F1 which could help to smooth the way for a Grand Prix.

“It is the screening of a race on a big screen, and a mini race on Biscayne Blvd. and it will close the park for about three weeks. The purpose is obviously to gain support from residents,” says Andres Althabe, president of the Biscayne Neighborhoods Association (BNA).

He adds that he will be meeting the Mayor of Miami later this month to discuss the plans for the Grand Prix which are still being negotiated. “I have seen no evidence that Formula One or the local promoters had discontinued the effort to get a contract signed. Even if they are planning a first race only in 2020, they will need to have a signed contract very soon,” says Benosh.

Typically the running costs of races are paid by the organiser and covered by ticket sales while the government foots the bill for the hosting fee as the Grand Prix promotes their destination.

Hosting fees come to an average of $30.4m annually but the agreement with Miami makes no mention of a payment. Miami doesn’t need F1 to drive tourism so if the authorities had been asked to pay the going rate it could have sent the race straight to the pits.

It is believed that instead of the organiser being liable for the running costs, as is usually the case, the risk and reward of the Miami Grand Prix will largely be shared with F1 itself. The race is due to be organised by Stephen Ross who owns the Miami Dolphins NFL team and has an estimated net worth of $7.6bn.

There is good reason why F1 has pulled out all the stops for Miami. Last year the sport was sold to American investment firm Liberty Media and soon after it took the wheel it announced that it plans to boost the number of races in its home country.

F1 currently only has one race there – the US Grand Prix in Texas – and this has led to the sport trailing in popularity behind the home-grown NASCAR and IndyCar series. Time will tell whether the event in Miami can rev this up.

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