© Oracle Red Bull Racing
Welcome To Miami
A grand prix on a car park in America? It’s been done before…but not like this.
Magic City Vibes
Some of the venues Formula One visits are simply the right place at the right time, others speak to a deeper ambition. In the Bernie Ecclestone era, there’s some great examples of ambition at work: going behind the Iron Curtain to Hungary in ’86; or taking F1 to South-East Asia in ’99 and the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang; perhaps the first Middle East grand prix in Bahrain, or the first night race in Singapore.
In the modern era, the one that stands out is Miami. F1 have been chasing this since the moment Liberty Media acquired the commercial rights. The Miami Grand Prix is the template: the ‘destination’ venue where the race comes to the fans, rather than the fans coming to the race. It’s the shape of things to come.
It's been a slow, and at times, a litigious process, with possible circuits and concepts being considered and discarded before the current location was settled upon. The 5.412km Miami International Autodrome at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens is F1’s 76th venue. They are all unique, but some are more unique than others, and none more so than this, F1’s latest home. It brings the wow factor like nothing before.
The first thing to note about the circuit is not what it is, but what it isn’t. It isn’t a street race, although it does include sections of track on a street. And it’s neither a permanent nor a temporary circuit… though it does have elements of both. It is, and you’ll have to pardon the phrase, a permanent temporary (or temporary permanent) circuit. Designed and constructed in the manner of a permanent race track, but with all of the surface furniture designed to be removed after the race, returning the circuit to its natural state as the parking lot of the Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins.
However, it's important to note this isn’t a race on a parking lot. F1 has done that before in the US, when F1 went to Las Vegas in the early 1980s for the Caesars Palace Grand Prix. In contrast, this is a properly constructed, graded and micro-milled F1-standard circuit, that just happens to be embedded into a parking lot.
It’s an astounding venue for F1 that, at least according to the sims, looks like it’s going to produce a high-speed, overtaking-friendly thrill-fest. Though in the absence of any actual racing, we’ve mostly been wowed by the breadth and scope of the hospitality, entertainment and sheer spectacle the track seems intent to offer. It raises the bar, and that bar was already pretty high.
Apex Circuit Design, our neighbours here in the county of Buckinghamshire, are responsible for the layout and, like any circuit dropped into a built environment, their initial design comes not from the contours of the landscape (it’s Florida, so there weren’t any of those anyway) but rather from the hard points around which the track has to manoeuvre.
In the case of this track, those are the Hard Rock Stadium itself, the tennis complex used for the Miami Open, a cable car, a network of ramps to and from the highway, and all the usual immoveable objects that you’d find in a major event space such as lighting towers and power transformers. With those plotted out, the circuit can begin to take shape around them.
The Hard Rock Stadium / The Paddock District
For the benefit of fans, the circuit is split into a series of zones, each featuring more entertainment and refreshment options than you can shake an alligator at. The Hard Rock Stadium is its own zone. It’s a square(ish) but oriented like a diamond, with corners at the cardinal points.
The pit-straight and garage complex in the Paddock Zone run along the northeast side of the stadium, backing directly onto the concourse to share some of the facilities, before turning right to head around to the other side of the stadium.
Coming out from the pit straight, the track wraps around the southeast and then southwest edges of the stadium, in the Fountains zone. This section of track is seriously quick with a sequence of high-speed linked corners: think Maggotts-Becketts-Chapel, or Sector One at COTA.
The track designers have raised the possibility that cars might be able to run side-by-side through here, which will be rather tense. Also, in a Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez-like development, it also includes the podium, far away from the pit lane where such things are usually housed.
The MIA Marina
The high-speed sector ends with a long-radius corner that wraps around the marina. The fact the circuit has a marina is… interesting. We’re not on the coast, nor are we on an estuary, fjord, sound, inlet or river.
The circuit simply decided that F1 circuits look better with water, and so we have a yacht basin, complete with yachts, which presumably were delivered via flatbed. The drivers will get a good look at these as the track slows down at this point, with a very tricky late-apex left-hander at turn seven and an exit onto the first long straight through turn eight.
The East Campus
The long, long ‘straight’, takes the track under the cable car and past the tennis complex. It includes turns nine and ten, but these are flat-out all day long for F1 cars. At the very end of the straight, after a DRS zone, the cars will be hammering on the brakes for all they’re worth for the turn 11 hairpin in front of the Energy Station which marks the start of the Stadium Section.
The Beach, as it’s been called, has been named this because the venue that builds a marina is obviously also going to build a beach. This section of track is very, very low speed, with a sequence of tight turns and a chicane. Alongside the Energy Station (not the Energy Station, as you understand, just our Energy Station for this weekend. This is where our guests, and there’s going to be an awful lot of them, get to watch the action from) features a lot of grandstands, a stage, a beach bar and also, the thing the rest of the track lacks: elevation.
What makes this section intriguing is that it runs over and under the various ramps for the local highway, with the speeds deliberately kept very low to meet the FIA’s requirements for grade changes, and those grade changes demanded by the FIA’s requirements for bridge clearances.
It’s going to be very fiddly, but with the two very long straights, it’ll be a Baku-like conundrum, because the teams won’t be able to simply pile on the downforce. With this and the high-speed section, front tyres are going to take a pounding in Miami.
The North Campus
Out of The Beach the track drops down a chute after turn 16 onto the long backstraight. The very, very long back straight. 1.3km of it. This was an access road before it was re-laid and machine-milled to within an inch of its life. If the slow-speed section concertinas the cars, then this is where they’ll sort themselves out. There’s DRS down this straight but it’s long enough that anyone with a pace advantage is likely to get the move done long before hitting the brakes for the turn 17 hairpin…
…if they want to. Turn 18 and turn 19 leading back onto the start-finish straight are also full-throttle, so it’s not impossible drivers might want to keep their powder dry and not risk an overtaking move if they think they’ll be vulnerable to giving the place straight back again.