Formula One, the world’s preeminent auto racing league, is actively scouting downtown Miami as a potential site for a new Grand Prix.
Executives and engineers with the global racing brand were in town this month, meeting with Miami’s new mayor and the city’s head of film and culture to go over potential racing circuits and logistics. Racing planners have already put together a half-dozen routes that would have high-performance vehicles zooming around AmericanAirlines Arena, over the causeway to Dodge Island, down Biscayne Boulevard and — in what sounds like a non-starter — through the PortMiami Tunnel.
Routes and logistics are being discussed with the hope of bringing a race to downtown by 2020, according to events director Vicente Betancourt, Miami’s film and culture administrator. But everything is preliminary, he said.
“It’s like the Super Bowl of auto racing,” said Betancourt. “Hopefully we can make it happen.”
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NASCAR, the uniquely American form of stock-car racing, holds its season-ending championship races at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Unlike NASCAR, which races almost entirely on ovals, Formula One’s series is comprised of 15 road courses and five courses laid out on city streets.
Under new ownership and looking to expand its U.S. presence, Formula One has been talking much of the year about adding races to its lone United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas. An event in Miami, or possibly Las Vegas or New York, has been publicly discussed. They haven’t mentioned a possible return to the site of their most recent United States run, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The United States Grand Prix ran there using a road course that included part of the oval used for the Indianapolis 500 from 2000-2007.
On Nov. 7, the racing company filed for new trademarks on races in the three locations, according to AutoGuide.com. And the following day, Sean Bratches, Formula One’s managing director of commercial operations, was in Miami with a team meeting with Mayor Francis Suarez and checking out city streets. Betancourt, who began talking to racing organizers in May while visiting France during the week of the Cannes Film Festival and Monaco Grand Prix, said Bratches left Miami with much still unsettled, including the circuit.
“They had their track engineers come down and look at the streets,” he said, adding that any inclusion of the PortMiami Tunnel was out of the question. “We’ve got to see if it works and what it would cost them to actually bring it out. I think the ball is pretty much in their court.”
Miami has hosted street races since 1983 over some of the same streets being looked at by Formula One. Two years ago, the city hosted the Miami ePrix, an electric automobile race under the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile’s Formula E racing series that ended up being a one-time event.
For Formula E vehicles, which travel at speeds up to 100 miles per hour, the city erected barricades and shut down streets around a 1.3-mile track. Some of the barricades remained up for the Ultra music festival two weeks later. Formula One cars can top 200 miles per hour on a roughly four-mile circuit.
Though the event is still mostly an idea, opponents already have emerged. Last month, a conservative state politics group known as Better Florida Alliance took out advertisements in the Miami Herald warning of “months of construction,” “street closures” and “big-time noise pollution.” The ads stated that “elected officials and their corporate fat cat friends want to turn our taxpayer-funded streets into a race track,” perhaps an allusion to the hefty amounts some cities and states pay to court the race.
“I was very blunt with [Formula One] and said we’d love to entertain it but we have no money,” Betancourt said.
Michael Hernandez, communications director for County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, said the county, which owns and runs the port, has not had any discussions with the city or Formula One about a race. Formula One representatives didn’t respond to an emailed request for comment.