After check-out it’s an easy 30-minute ride from the eastern side of Miami region to the circuit with almost zero traffic; however, I’m told commuters from other areas, particularly the north, hit major jams.
First stop is breakfast – in true US style we are well fed and watered, with full menus for all meals – before hooking up with Jason Jenkins, Senior Vice President for Communications for the Miami Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium, and thus our go-to guy for the weekend.
Jason kindly offered to host Sandor and I on a tour of the circuit and stadium, and what a mightily impressive place it is. Clearly enormous foresight and thought went into the various guest facilities, from merchandising and food through to what are called ‘bathrooms’ in the USA. I saw few queues, and then only short ones.
Our tour took in the ‘marina’ – boats perched on water-coloured platforms – and all I can say is: if local high-rollers enjoyed Disney-esque F1 as they sipped champers in bright sunshine, great for them. I saw enough evidence elsewhere of genuine fans sat in traditional stands to prove the Grand Prix caters for all demographics.
During the walkabout I am, though, shocked by merchandising prices – $100 or more for team/driver caps is a blatant rip-off, being double European prices. Such profiteering should be clamped down on by teams, whose brands get tarnished in the process. That said, USA is the land of free enterprise and buyer beware.
© XPB Images
How Miami GP organisers will learn from debut event
Next up is an interview with Tom Garfinkel, CEO of HRS and the Dolphins in addition to his role as Managing Partner of the Grand Prix.
Tom is a true motorsport fan, having spent his early years with Miller beer and Texaco in sponsorship and marketing, before overseeing business operations at Chip Ganassi Racing for five years. He reckons to have attended “over 300 races during my career”, so knows of what he speaks.
The Miami Grand Prix will not turn a profit this year, Tom says, but is adamant it will become sustainable. Valuable lessons have been taken onboard, and clearly solutions for the deteriorating tarmac surface and the turnpike chicane section will be found, but for the rest Priority #1 is to make the fan experience even better.
The ultimate target is to have regular 100k daily attendances – so up 20 per cent – while further on-track events a week or so after the GP before the dismantling process starts are a possibility, much as Monaco hosts Formula E and historic racing on the F1 circuit.
Tom admits, though, that there was an issue in the high-end Paddock Club on Friday: having paid $12k for passes, fancy punters found themselves high and dry after the coach ferrying hospitality staff was delayed.
More developments in plans for new F1 team
On my way back to the media centre, I learn from a team boss that Michael Andretti has been working the paddock, chasing signatures for a petition to waive the $200m ‘anti-dilution’ fee required from new entrants.
I’m told only two teams agreed – Alpine, his potential engine supply and technical partner, and McLaren, whose boss Zak Brown is a long-standing friend and business partner of the family.
I hear the matter could soon be headed for the courts unless a solution is found – the last thing listed company Liberty Media can afford is a legal stand-off with the USA’s first family of motor racing…
After lunch – ham and cheese croissants followed by fruit, lest you’re interested – I prepare for the grid walk. As expected, the place is packed with so-called celebs, most of whom I’ve never heard of nor would want to meet, save one: Guy Laliberte, co-founder of Cirque du Soleil. A billionaire, he’s a true F1 fan and regularly attends Grands Prix, but keeps a low profile away from the ring that made his considerable fortune.
Post-race it’s interview session time, before packing up and hitting the road to Orlando for the flight home, taking in a detour to visit NASA in Cape Canaveral. Exiting the media centre, I’m given a lovely memento of the first Grand Prix staged at HRS, home of the Miami Dolphins: a half-scale NFL helmet in the colours the home team. It makes for a great addition to my collection of mini F1 helmets. Thanks Tom and Jason.