F1’s Miami GP has settled into its identity, finally balancing sport and show

Each Formula One race has its own identity.

Monaco is known for its history. Circuit of the Americas is the American track for motorsport fans. Las Vegas embraced the sport’s glitz and glamor. But nailing down the identity of the Miami Grand Prix is complicated as the world of F1 merges with the culture of a vibrant city known for its food, art, and nightlife.

It’s a race where people want to be seen, with celebrities and influencers flooding the campus. And it is unashamedly Miami, merging the racing product with high-end entertainment and local culture. The attendance continues to grow each season, even with the viewership numbers dipping in 2023. This year, the race set a record for the live U.S. television audience as Lando Norris secured his first F1 victory. However, it doesn’t mean Florida’s F1 race has escaped criticism, whether about the track in year one or the over-the-top driver introductions in year two.

However, Miami and F1 somehow struck the right balance in year three.

“Certainly, the fact that it is in Miami, it really represents our brand of the race as much as anything. We’re proud of the differentiated product for our fans,” said Tyler Epp, the race’s president. “We’re proud of our unique paddock. We’re proud of the unique opportunity for our fans to see everything that Miami has to offer through the lens of Formula One.”

Bringing Miami to F1

The race organizers imagined the Miami GP taking place downtown along the waterfront, and in August 2017, they, F1 and Apex Circuit Design tried potential layouts. But their hopes stalled in city hall due to opposition from the community, and in turn, they switched gears, heading north toward Miami Gardens. Using Google Earth and site visits to plan potential layouts, 36 track designs were simulated for the current location.

It resulted in a complex that feels like Miami, even if it’s not downtown near the lively South Beach.

At the track’s center is Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins. A fake marina rests inside Turns 6, 7, and 8—the real thing is associated with South Florida. Around the campus, the NFL team’s traditional aqua color is used throughout the grandstand seats, branding, and most run-off areas. Epp said that was intentional. It’s a nod to the Dolphins and the city of Miami as a whole.

But the racing hasn’t been great. The drivers complained about the low grip in the first season, which led to it being resurfaced ahead of the 2023 grand prix. Though the racing the first two years didn’t seem to live up to the hype, especially last season as Max Verstappen dominated, the number of overtakes did increase from 45 to 52 over the 57-lap race, signaling the track had potential. Remember Verstappen’s double overtake on Kevin Magnussen and Charles Leclerc?

Meanwhile, bringing Miami vibes to a race weekend went smoother, though not without its critiques (like the extravagant driver intros in 2023). They’ve found ways to integrate Miami into the race weekend beyond the marketing and designs. “Miami is about the diversity of food, beverage, entertainment, art, and really the opportunity to experience the different diversity of cultures that exist in this community in a very authentic way,” Epp said. “And we’ve tried to do that as part of the race as well.”

There is a community food truck program, and 10 community restaurant partners were featured around the campus in 2024. But the food component of the race weekend went viral this year and came under heavy criticism.

The a la carte menu from the Hard Rock Beach Club, described as Miami GP’s spin on a luxurious day club in Miami, featured expensive food items like nachos for $180 and lobster rolls for $280. However, a critical, overlooked detail is that these platters served six to eight people. Expensive? Yes. But consider the amount of food and where it was offered.

General Admission Campus Pass holders (which started at $450 for the three days — $150 per day) had access to much more affordable food options, like burgers and chicken fingers to Latin food, sushi and Mediterranean plates. The price per item typically ranged from $12 to $25.

Food price ranges at the 2024 Miami GP

Ticket Type/Setting Cost Range

General Admission/Campus Pass

$12–$25 per item

Formal settings (i.e., MIA Marina or North Campus)

$25–$50 per item

Hard Rock Beach Club

$180–$400 per item

“You can go upstairs in the top of the stadium, walk around, and see most of the track, the concessions, are open like they are for football. There are options that are less expensive, and there’s a lot of them open across the campus,” said Tom Garfinkel, the Dolphins’ CEO. “And there’s a lot of them that are more expensive, and there are options that are really expensive because Mario Carbone is there making your vodka rigatoni, and it’s going to cost a lot of money.

“We’re just trying to provide options across that spectrum, and sometimes people are just going to point one thing out and say that’s really expensive without providing the context that it’s actually a lobster roll for a suite for 10 people. There are inexpensive options, and that is important for us.”

Listening to feedback

Each year, Miami has continued to mature, addressing problems that arise while finding different ways to connect with the diverse fanbase. Take the over-the-top driver intros from 2023, which received heavy criticism from drivers. They weren’t brought back for this year.

Miami joined F1’s calendar in 2022, after the popularity boom that occurred stateside during the COVID-19 pandemic and has grown each year since. The 2024 edition saw a record 275,000 people attend over the grand prix weekend, and an average of 3.1 million viewers tuned into ABC’s broadcast of Sunday’s race, making it the largest live U.S. television audience on record. The race had a lead-in from Game 7 of Orlando Magic versus Cleveland Cavaliers, and the NASCAR Cup Series race, set to start at 3 p.m. ET the same day, was delayed three hours due to rain.

Given the growing number of people traveling to, from, and around the campus, Garfinkel said the race focused on improving traffic.

“I saw some things on Twitter that were really encouraging like shuttles, parking lots – there’s one north and one south where people can park their car, get on a nice coach bus, get dropped off, and when they want to leave, get on the bus and go back to where their car is,” Garfinkel said. “Those types of things, we’re bringing people, 50, 100, you’re waiting less than five minutes to get on one of those buses to get out of here. We’ve worked hard at a lot of those things to alleviate some of the traffic.”

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The quality of racing has been an ongoing criticism of the Miami GP. (JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

However, they also invested in tunnels and pedestrian bridges to help alleviate traffic concerns — $17 million, according to Garfinkel. And it was also purchased with the idea of having the capacity to grow in the future.

Miami Gardens is near the Florida coast, seven feet above sea level, and has a tropical monsoon climate. The average daily temperature across the three Miami GPs is 80.7 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius). With that heat and humidity (usually 70 percent) in mind, Epp said the Miami GP has also addressed the continuous water and shade issue, doubling the number of shade structures compared to 2023 and tripling the number of water stations. The partially roofed stadium is also open to fans, including the restrooms and the seats inside that overlook the field where the paddock sits.

Some of the race promoters talk with one another, working together to find out how to improve each of their respective grand prix weekends. Epp noted that the three U.S. races are slightly different because of a mixed fanbase of long-term and newer fans who may engage with the sport through ‘Drive to Survive’ or social media. Over the years, they’ve learned how to meet a diverse fanbase where they are. Hard Rock Stadium sees everything come through the campus, whether it’s F1, the Miami Hurricanes and Dolphins games, tennis and various concerts.

“I would also stress the fact that the U.S. F1 fan base is not one type of person, right? It has its own segments, just like everything else does,” Epp said, adding that they’ve experienced this with the Dolphins. “You have people who are really young, and they’re really into it for a certain reason. We have some people who don’t even watch the races, and they just follow ‘Drive to Survive’ and follow it on social. And then you have people who are building their entire weeks and weekends around when the race is and making sure they don’t miss qualifying and getting up at the middle of the night to watch it from Japan. That avid fandom and then everybody in between.”

Three very different F1 races

When the Las Vegas Grand Prix debuted in November 2023, questions arose about whether it would diminish the Miami GP’s allure and become a direct competitor with two glitzy, A-lister-heavy races in the same country.

“Diminished? No, I think the sport’s got bigger here. It’s got a lot more awareness. Every city that I go to, people are excited. It’s now a sport here in the States,” Lewis Hamilton said in Miami. “Before, it was just an event that arrived once a year. Now, we’re kind of a part of the culture here, which is really, really cool. It’s been amazing, and I think all of us are super grateful for the U.S. finally embracing this sport and having the love and passion for it that we all have grown up with.”

Plus, the cultures of Austin, Las Vegas and Miami are vastly different.

“Austin is, for me, for the really petrolheads, for the motorsport fans in (the) U.S. It’s like I mentioned Road Atlanta, Road America — traditional circuit. And also the circuit itself is a real circuit,” Alessandro Alunni Bravi, Sauber’s team representative, told The Athletic in Las Vegas last year. “Miami is the jetset. It’s glamorous and, of course, is on the east coast. We know that (the) U.S. East Coast (and) West Coast, in terms of culture, is different.

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The 2024 Miami GP saw a record 275,000 people attend. (JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

“We need to go to Miami. You have different feelings. We have seen the impact that Miami Grand Prix had on Formula One, and (it) is the first grand prix that, more than Austin, boosts the popularity together with Netflix in (the) U.S.”

It’s a matter of rising tides raising all boats – the races, in a way, complement each other. LVGP’s Renee Wilm noted how they’re all at different points in the calendar and geographically. They all may be in the United States, but given the size of the country, it’s equivalent to multiple races on the same continent, she said.

Each is unique and will face its own critics, but to stay competitive, they must maintain their identities and attract consistent attendance figures. In short, Miami needs to stay Miami, striking a balance between meeting the diverse, ever-changing fanbase and maintaining its own identity.

“I think Miami, Austin and Las Vegas are all three very different cities with three very different cultures. We’re trying to be uniquely Miami here, and Vegas does what Vegas does, and Austin does what Austin does,” Garfinkel said. “And I think those differences are all positive because it means that fans can choose which one they enjoy the most or choose to go to all three and have three different experiences.”

Top photo: Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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