A general view of Hard Rock Stadium ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Miami (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
TECHNOLOGY

F1 Miami Grand Prix: Building Motorsport’s Biggest Party

Miami Grand Prix managing partner Tom Garfinkel breaks down everything you need to know about creating Formula 1’s newest race.

How do you conceive, create, and execute a Formula 1 Grand Prix from scratch?

“It starts with an image in your brain and what you believe it can be,” says Tom Garfinkel, managing partner of the Miami Grand Prix, a new Formula 1 event happening for the first time ever on Sunday in the parking lot of Hard Rock Stadium.

Garfinkel is also the president and CEO of the stadium and the Miami Dolphins, which owns the area where the 3.36-mile street course will host the world’s best racers and the more than 250,000 spectators, teams, executives, and officials over the three-day race weekend.

Garfinkel has experience in racing, heading business operations for American auto racing giant Chip Ganassi Racing from 2001 to 2006. He then held executive stints with the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres before taking the Dolphins gig in 2013. An art major at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Garfinkel went on to attend the University of Michigan’s business school, which is now named for his boss and Dolphins owner Stephen Ross.

Garfinkel told Boardroom in an expansive conversation that he likes to draw on the whiteboard in his office, mapping out what he sees in his head.

 “I look at the 200-plus acres of parking lots here as almost like a blank canvas,” Garfinkel said. “What can you turn it into? I always had this vision for wanting to put something around the stadium, potentially a racetrack because you have have 360-degree views from around the top of the stadium and existing infrastructure.”

The Dolphins group started conversations with Formula 1 in late 2017. F1 originally wanted a race in downtown Miami where racers would have sped across the Port Miami Bridge, but traffic, shutting down the port, and the potential for a Miami Heat playoff game made those plans unrealistic, Garfinkel said.

So he brought F1 exec Chase Carey to Hard Rock Stadium, laid out orange cones where he envisioned a race could be, and took him on a golf cart drive around the conceptual street racing track that doesn’t have the constraints of a city’s grid, which Garfinkel said make street racing tough in the U.S.

When Garfinkel’s group first debuted the Miami tennis open on the same stadium grounds in 2019, it provided F1 with a proof of concept of how the blank canvas parking lot could be transformed for a major sporting event. After a year of due diligence, the pandemic delayed the project by another year. When the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, or the FIA motorsports governing body, finally green-lit the Grand Prix for this weekend, the Miami team had just 11 months to build a racetrack and its surrounding infrastructure.

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Garfinkel called the tight timeline his biggest challenge, by far, in putting this weekend together. It was built at the same time the Dolphins, Miami Hurricanes football team, Miami Open, Rolling Loud, and other major concerts were held on the grounds.

And now that it’s built, the numbers around the race are astounding. The Miami Grand Prix contains:

  • 48 million tons of asphalt for the track
  • 10 grandstands
  • 14 million pounds of steel and aluminum from Tower Event Group and Eventstar
  • 1,100 bathroom stalls
  • 299,813,447 feet of fiber and copper cabling
  • 309 turnstiles across 10 entrances and 16 welcome centers
  • 41 cellular 5G sectors and 69 cellular 4G sectors

As for the track itself, Garfinkel hired former Toyota F1 exec Richard Cregan, who helped get the Abu Dhabi and Russian Grand Prixs off the ground, as Miami Grand Prix CEO. Cregan identified the racetrack engineer designer group called Apex, led by Clive Bowen. Garfinkel originally drew out a racetrack design, which he said stayed mainly intact after 35-40 different iterations, the FIA making tweaks to improve the angles and the race paddock moving from one side of the track for the other.

Here’s a brief track breakdown:

  • 57 laps, with an estimated lap time of 95 seconds and an estimated top speed of 199 miles per hour
  • 19 corners, 3 straights and DRS zones, 3 braking zones for overtaking
  • 820 feet from the start line to the turn 1 apex
  • 2.3 million pounds of concrete
  • 7 miles of safety fencing
  • 18,000 linear feet of ACO drains
  • 740-meter pit lane
  • 36 team garages, 750 race marshalls at 36 marshall posts, 41 intervention posts, and 93 track access posts

“The engineers really feel this is gonna be a great track for racing,” Garfinkel said. “There’s two really long straights, and then some really smaller technical parts of the racetrack for a racecar driver to have to sort of change his brain completely from one part of the track to the other. It’s a challenging track and there’s  going be a lot of passing.”

With the track down pat, there wouldn’t be a proper Miami race weekend without some unique luxury amenities that will cater to the 85,000 spectators per day who paid exorbitant ticket prices to attend.

“I wanted it to be a Disneyland-like experience where you open a map and go ‘do I want to go to Pirates of the Caribbean or Space Mountain?’” Garfinkel said.

With a beach club and yacht club, family grandstands, luxury row where you can check out classic Ferraris, and tons of branded bars and restaurants, Garfinkel wanted to make sure the amenities would be plentiful across the expansive eight-campus zone.

Boats at the circuit during previews ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Miami at the Miami International Autodrome (Photo by Clive Mason – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

A couple of features were inspired by street courses in Mexico City and Montreal. One turn is almost a half circle on the grandstands, he said, which turn into huge, loud parties where DJs like Tiesto and artists like Post Malone and Maluma would perform.

The Paddock Club will be the most exclusive luxury area, like all F1 races, but the setup at Hard Rock Stadium overlooking turn 4 will also feature the 72 Club, with top Miami restaurants Swan, Komodo, and Papi’s Steak, and the Palm Club will feature ZZ’s Club and Carbone, with seats reportedly going for $3,000 a pop.

About that yacht club. You may have seen the gigantic boats docked on realistic fake water with people “swimming” on its dry surface. Garfinkel said the concept was his idea, but also stemmed from former F1 exec and Drive To Survive founding father Sean Bratches and Chase Carey. When F1 wanted this race in downtown Miami, officials wanted an overhead blimp shot for TV of the yachts like in Monaco, Garfinkel said.

“When I was trying to talk them into moving in here to the stadium,” he continued, “they said, ‘yeah, but we’re not gonna have our yachts.’ I told them, you’re gonna have your yachts. And they looked at me like I was crazy.”

Originally drawn up on his whiteboard, Garfinkel said that the yachts would dry dock and what ultimately became a theatrics team would make the surface look like water on TV, with spectators paying large sums to watch the race on those yachts. The cost was steep, he said, but added that it’s also expensive to rent one of the yachts.

“But the idea wasn’t how do we maximize the profit,” Garfinkel said. “It was how do we create a great experience that’s unique and different? And I think if we do that, we’ll win over the long term.”

If the Miami Grand Prix wanted to maximize profits, it would’ve admitted more fans than the 85,000 per day limit for year one of a 10-year contract. There was certainly the demand, Garfinkel said, but they wanted to not only create some scarcity but beta test ingress and egress, bathrooms, concessions, pedestrian bridges and limiting bottlenecks of fans wherever possible. He said the goal is to grow beyond the 85,000-person capacity depending on how this weekend goes.

“The goal is that everyone — the drivers, the teams, everyone in the F1 community, have a great time and leave here thinking they can’t wait to come back next year and tells all their friends to come too,” he said.

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