Formula 1 is heading back to Florida with a new race around the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami from 2022. A specially-created course through the parking area and perimeter roads of the stadium — home to the NFL’s Miami Dolphins — will greet racers when they arrive in the pan-handle state for the first time since 1959.
The circuit has been created by Apex Circuit Designs working alongside the in-house Formula 1 team, featuring the stadium at the heart of the track. With three DRS zones it is set to be fast and furious mix of long straights and sweeping curves, confined by unyielding barriers.
Officially known as the Miami International Autodrome, the circuit makes its debut as the fifth round of the 2022 F1 series, from May 6-8.
Miami has long been a hub for motorsport and the city is no stranger to organising racing on its streets. As far back as the 1980s, Ralph Sanchez was organising sportscar and IndyCar races on the downtown streets, before the creation of the oval and road racing course at Homestead in Miami-Dade county saw them move elsewhere.
Discussions had even been held with Bernie Ecclestone about a Formula 1 race around this time, with a course rumoured to include a high-speed section along the waterfront. Ultimately, the talks came to nothing and it was the Champ Car series which was first to return, using a course around Biscayne Boulevard which incorporated few of the original IMSA course roads.
After a hiatus, in 2015, the Formula E championship arrived for a one-off event on a short 1.4-mile course that went around the AmericanAirlines Arena, but then swung further north.
This clearly whetted appetites further and sights were soon adjusted with the focus on finally securing a Formula 1 event. In January 2018 Miami was announced by new Formula 1 owners Liberty Media as the host of an F1 Live event later in the year, which by May had morphed into the announcement of a full race for October 2019.
Bayfront circuit proposed
Apex Circuit Designs was brought into work with Formula 1 and the event promotor to create the circuit, which was again based in the downtown area. The course began on Bayfront Park, before heading out along the waterfront and over the Port Boulevard bridge to Dodge Island and back again.
It would be fair to say that the initial reaction to the circuit was, at best, muted enthusiasm and, at worst, outright hostility. World Champion Lewis Hamilton put it simply: “Miami is a super cool place, and I was very, very excited to hear about it, and then I saw the layout.”
Local residents were equally unimpressed, with the Biscayne Neighborhoods Association (BNA) soon announcing its opposition, criticising the lack of communication prior to the official announcement and raising fears that event would burden them with extra bills.
Formula 1 ploughed ahead, however, announcing in July 2018 that Miami’s City Commission was to vote on a 10 year deal for the race that also included a further 10 year option. Critically, the deal included no hosting fee - enraging the organisers of other Formula 1 races around the world.
Protests force a change of plan
Amid all the controversy, the decision on the race was postponed by the City Commissioners. By April 2019 it had become clear that hopes of a race that year had foundered and with opposition closing on a number of fronts, a new approach was needed.
Happily, one of the prime movers behind the race, Stephen Ross, also owns the Hard Rock Stadium, home to Miami Dolphins NFL franchise. Further north of the downtown area, it boasted considerable car parking areas and ancillary roads around the stadium which could provide something of a blank canvas for the designers.
The team from Apex made several site visits and, combined with several days spent analysing the area on Google Earth, began creating a range of different options for the configuration of the track. In total, a staggering 75 variations were penned, which were slimmed down to 36 which then went on to be simulated and tested.
The initially-announced final layout included a section of 199th Street, which again sparked controversy from locals, concerned about the impact on traffic and congestion in the local area, alongside the traditional concerns over noise, disruption and cost.
Further protests and delay
Just as with the Bayfront Park proposals, the plans soon found themselves mired in legal challenge, with Miami-Gardens residents going on to sue the Miami-Dade County and Mayor Carlos Giminez for racial discrimination.
This didn’t help the prospects of the circuit being included on the F1 calendar, with 2020’s schedule coming and going without the inclusion of the Miami Grand Prix. The Coronavirus pandemic only served to complicate matters further.
Meeting the concerns of the local residents was clearly going to be key to resolving the impasse, so a revised layout was announced which cut out the section along 199th Street, in favour of a slightly meandering section running alongside it through the parking lot.
Then, a compromise deal was worked out between Stephen Ross and Mayor Rodney Harris, which would see the city receive USD $5 million in funding over 10 years for residents and businesses. Also funded would be a STEM programme to offer paid internships for high school and college students, while the circuit would also feature noise mitigation barriers and air quality monitoring throughout the event.
Finally, the deal is done
In April 2021, the Miami-Gardens Commissioners voted to approve the deal and the Miami Grand Prix was formally announced, with a date to be slotted in during the second quarter of the 2022 schedule.
The 19-turn track – which will have a top speed of around 320km/h or 198mph – will feel similar to Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit, with a part street circuit, part permanent venue feel. The site is largely flat, but features several small undulations, which have been integrated into the design.
The main elevation change can be found between Turns 13 and 16, with the track heading over an exit ramp and under various flyovers across uneven ground. In particular, the Turn 14-15 chicane has an uphill approach, with a crest in the middle of the chicane which then drops down on exit.
Centre stage is the Hard Rock Stadium itself, forming the backdrop to the start and finish, with the pits and paddock club complex directly adjacent to the north side of the stadium. A total of three DRS zones are
Complicating the design process is the need to ensure the other parts of the stadium site can continue to operate unhindered, including part of the site currently being developed to provide the Dolphins with a new training complex. Further constraints come from the existing network of underground drainage which itself needs to take account of the high local water table.
Construction begins to a tight timescale
The first moment of ground-breaking on the new circuit campus was in April 2021. Over the course of 12 months, 24,000 tons of asphalt and a total of 1,130 tons of concrete were used across the site, creating not only the track but all of the associated infrastructure for the grandstands, fan zones and corporate areas.
The foundations for the Pit Buildings were first laid on September 1, 2021 and the permanent features of the track were finished in January 2022.
In September 2021 it was also revealed that the circuit was to be officially named the Miami International Autodrome. “I’m happy to reveal that the official name of our circuit is the Miami International Autodrome,” said Tom Garfinkel, Managing Partner of the F1 Miami Grand Prix.
“We’ve worked hard to create a circuit that has great racing and multiple passing opportunities. In addition, we are working to innovate fan experiences across the Hard Rock Stadium sports and entertainment campus in Miami Gardens; experiences that reflect how Miami has become an International curator of culture across food, art, fashion, music, and sports. ”