Saturday - Miami Gardens
Once again, I'm impressed with the traffic flow around the Hard Rock Stadium, if not with the stifling heat and humidity in Miami.
When first this Grand Prix was confirmed and a May date mooted, a number of folk questioned why F1 would cross the Atlantic twice in as many months - for this race, and again for Canada - it was pointed out that Miami gets unbearably hot in June and Montreal is too icy in June. Too true.
Talking heat: it seems increasingly likely that this year's calendar will be reduced to 22 races unless Formula 1 replaces Russia's date with a double-header in Singapore, which night race was, in any event, the next event after the cancelled slot. While F1 bosses were adamant that Qatar was an option, Middle East sources were equally adamant that the desert peninsula is way too hot for comfort in September. It seems reason has won.
The big talking point in the paddock is, though, the question of an 11th team, namely that of Michael Andretti. F1's money structures decree that all teams receive a slice of the prize pot, generally around $1billion per annum, thus averaging out at $100million each. Each additional team whittles that down, with an 11th team reducing the amount by around 10 per cent, and so on.
Hence vigorous pushback from existing teams and the compensatory $200m 'anti-dilution' payment imposed on newcomers under the current Concorde Agreement – the document which outlines the obligations of FIA, F1 and teams. This fee in turn gets shared amongst existing teams.
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The conflict involved in welcoming an 11th team
At the heart of the matter lies conflict: the FIA's mission to grow global motorsport on F1 on one hand, and the financial structures of F1 as commercial rights holder and its 10 private enterprise teams on the other.
Thus, the opposing ideals collide; compounding the matter is that the FIA regulates the new team entry process, while F1 controls the purse strings.
Thus, a new team may well pass FIA muster but not be accepted by the Club of Ten unless it pays $20m to each of its future competitors on the basis that, as Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff said in the Saturday FIA press conference: "Each of the organisations sitting here on the podium has probably put more than a billion into the Formula 1 projects over the years, so it needs to be accretive."
Maybe, but each of those teams have also taken out (well) over a billion bucks in terms of marketing value and profits or they would have gone under or withdrawn from F1… Mercedes keeps banging on about F1's excellent return on investment. Will $10m here or there reduce that markedly? If so, F1 has a frail business model, which is inexcusable for a billion-dollar business.
There are doubts whether such an anti-dilution structure is even legal: consider if VW, Ford and General Motors - all of whom invested in massive factories, yet taken out multiples of that in ROI - insisted to governments that Tesla pay significant upfront revenues before selling its first cars on the basis that upstarts dilute their markets shares and thus income. They would have been laughed out of ministerial chambers…
Monopolistic springs to mind and the matter could be tested in the courts. That said, the current Concorde expires end-2025, so the clause could be dropped thereafter, in which case Andretti (and others) could delay their entries until 2026, which is when new regulations kick in in any event.
In the interim, F1 would be all the poorer for not having wider variety on the grid, but that is the price the sport pays for its greedy ways…
Discussions over Miami track surface
The other talking points are the deteriorating track surface and some of the circuit safety installations, in particular the barriers that were tested by Carlos Sainz on Friday and Esteban Ocon during FP3, the latter recording a crash reading 51G.
Despite representations from drivers, the FIA is understood to be adamant the barriers did their job. As for the surface, the tar specification will clearly need to be changed for next year.
As I leave the circuit at 21:00, bolts of lightning flash spectacularly across the night skies above the 'City of Vice', followed by torrential rain belting down such that traffic slows to a crawl on the expressway. Will it be enough to wash the Miami Autodrome surface 'green', I wonder?
If so, we're in for some fun opening laps come the start at 15:30 local time.
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