Formula One’s plan to hold a Grand Prix on the streets of Miami has hit the skids as it has emerged that a contract for the race was not finalized by the July 1 deadline given by the City Commission
In May, Miami’s City Commissioners voted to negotiate with F1 about hosting an annual race for a decade from next year. Their resolution, which can be found here, stated that the City Commission “directs the City Manager to continue to work to formalize the Host City Agreement (‘Agreement’) between the City of Miami and Formula One World Championship Limited and to finalize the Agreement no later than July 1, 2018.”
However, Stephanie Severino, deputy director of Miami’s office of communications, says that “as of right now a contract has not been finalized.” It is unclear why the contract has yet to reach the finish line, but the plan for the race has fueled significant opposition in just the few months since it was announced.
The authorities initially unveiled a layout for a 2.6-mile track that would run down the palm-tree-lined Biscayne Boulevard, just steps from the seafront that Miami is famous for. As we revealed, the track also passed through an area of scrub land that has been earmarked for developing into a park. This reportedly led to the course being re-routed, but it has since raced into another storm.
The track still passes through a peaceful area known as Bayfront Park and locals say it will breach noise regulations. Last month a group of 11 residents sent a cease and desist order to Miami’s City Hall demanding that it puts the brakes on negotiations over the race and drops the Ultra Music Festival which is also held in the park.
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“F1 not only affects traffic much longer than Ultra; it is even louder. Ultra closes the park for three months and F1 would close it for another almost four months,” says Andres Althabe, president of the Biscayne Neighborhoods Association (BNA). “The threat of a lawsuit is clear and this new layout of the race circuit only makes the situation worse,”
Ominously for F1, a recent article in sports publication Autosport quotes Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo saying that not only did he expect residents would sue but “they’re probably going to win.”
If they succeed in giving the race the red light it would make a much bigger dent in F1’s plans than those of Miami. As we have reported, F1 is so set on racing in the city that it is understood to have waived its hosting fee which usually comes to an average of $30.4 million annually. Furthermore, instead of the organizer being liable for the running costs, as is usually the case, the risk and reward of the Miami Grand Prix is expected to be shared with F1 itself.
The race is due to be promoted by Stephen Ross, who owns the Miami Dolphins NFL team, but F1 is the driving force behind it. In January last year the series was acquired for $4.6 billion by Liberty Media which has its headquarters in Colorado and is listed on the Nasdaq with the ticker FWONK. Soon after it took the wheel of F1 it announced plans to boost the number of races in its own back yard.
The United States is a growth market for Liberty as F1 trails in popularity there behind home-grown rivals NASCAR and IndyCar. This has been driven by the exposure of the series as the US is currently only home to one F1 race, which takes place in Austin, Texas.
Liberty said it is targeting “destination cities” such as Los Angeles, Miami and New York. Nothing has been heard of the plans for Los Angeles and F1’s commercial boss Sean Bratches recently said he believes there will have to be a change of power in New York before a race takes place there.
Although the wheels have begun to turn in Miami the lack of a contract is a major roadblock. Even if it swerves around this obstacle the plan could still be in for a bumpy ride due to its route.
The tension is clearly accelerating as Althabe says that at a recent meeting “the representative of the promoter said to us in reference to residents involvement in the negotiations: ‘it’s not your park, it’s everybody’s park’. Well, it happens that we think exactly that but we end on a different conclusion: it is everybody’s park, so companies cannot close it for their for profit events unless the residents see the closure as a positive use of ‘everyone’s space’.”
As we recently revealed the BNA is considering lodging opposition to the race contract if it is eventually finalized. “We are now waiting for the contract that the City Manager will present to the City Commission, but if we don’t have a clear understanding of the benefits that the race will bring to the City of Miami, we will consider opposing the City Commission approving the contract,” said Althabe.
The speed which the negotiations are moving forward is one of the key concerns. Not only is Miami crucial to F1’s plans but it has told the world that it wants to race there. It puts Miami in the driving seat of the negotiations.
Liberty hasn’t signed a single new race since it got the keys to F1 so it is understandable why it would want Miami on the calendar sooner rather than later. In contrast, Miami doesn’t need the race for promotion or to drive tourism so even though it comes at a low cost one wouldn’t expect it to rush ahead. However, that seems to be exactly what is happening.
The City Commissioners’ resolution stated that the race is due to take place in October 2019 which is at most 15 months and 30 days after the contract was due to be finalized. As the table below shows, it would be faster than almost any other new F1 race over the past 15 years.
The Austrian Grand Prix was added to the calendar quicker than any other race with just 10 months and 30 days between the announcement that its contract had been finalized and the event taking place. However it isn’t comparable to the race planned for Miami as it is held at a permanent track which required little improvement and didn’t affect residents as it is located in the Alps.
The second-fastest event to race onto the calendar was the European Grand Prix in Valencia which took 14 months and 23 days. That was a street race but its rapid gestation period isn’t a good example for Miami’s authorities to follow. The race was dropped two years ahead of schedule in 2012 and its facilities ended up derelict as this report revealed.
In contrast, the third fastest race to join F1 was the Mexican Grand Prix which is one of F1’s biggest success stories. It took 15 months and nine days to rev up which is around the same length of time that has been allocated for Miami. However, unlike Miami, that too is held at an existing track which had previously hosted races.
They are the only events which took less time to get on the F1 calendar than Miami is due to have. Next up is Singapore and although that only took marginally longer, and is a street race, it is held in a sovereign city-state. That is a long way from a western municipality like Miami and time will tell whether its F1 aspirations can stay the course.