MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, David Beckham, Dan Marino.
Fans. Approximately 85,000 of them, possibly more than for any other one-day event in Hard Rock Stadium’s history.
South Florida got its first taste of Formula One racing Sunday with the inaugural Miami Grand Prix.
Safe to say many arrived curious.
Safe to say many left as fans.
Max Verstappen, the defending world champion, won a race essentially decided in the first quarter (after all, this is a football stadium), but that doesn’t mean his two deft early moves sucked the drama out of the day.
Charles LeClerc slashed Verstappen’s 7½-second lead to a half-second with seven laps to go, recording the fastest lap to that point and giving Verstappen a taste of what it’s like to drive in the left lane of I-95 at only 65 mph. LeClerc did everything to get on Verstappen’s nerves but flash his high beams.
It was hot stuff, all right, thanks to a heat index of 93 at the start and teams’ curious decision not to install air conditioning in their cars. Verstappen was the first, but hardly the last, driver to exit his car afterward drenched and drained.
“I think I need a drink, mate,” he said. “It was an incredible Grand Prix, very physical as well. I think we kept it exciting until the end.”
Tom Garfinkel says inaugural event will lose money
Race organizers were pledging even before the race to see what they could do to enhance the chances of lead changes that are a lifeblood of this sport. Because Formula One has a 10-year contract to race here — after not holding any races in Florida since 1959 — Miami has ample more room to make this event better, even if it tests the brain to conceive of any way to make it much bigger.
As it was, installing the 3.36-mile track was only the start. Inside of a year, workers constructed 173 tents, 53 hospitality structures and 36 garages, all the while knowing every bit of it will have to go, except for the paddock area, now that the show’s over.
The paddock actually is larger than the Dolphins’ new training facility nearby, yet it was constructed in 10 months as opposed to the training facility, which had a cushy two years to complete.
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No wonder, then, that Tom Garfinkel, managing partner of the Grand Prix and CEO of the Dolphins, shook his head no Sunday when asked whether they’re making money on this year’s race.
Will they turn the corner in 2023?
“Ask me after Year 2,” Garfinkel said. “I don’t know. If you would have asked me six months ago, I would have expected this to make money based on where the revenues were headed and based on where the expenses were headed.”
You can guess the rest of the story. Inflation and all.
“It was very important for us to deliver a great event,” Garfinkel said. “The expenses far exceeded our expectations, but it was because we were trying to do everything first class, to be on brand for what Formula One is.”
Change, improvements certain to come
Fans who didn’t know otherwise never would have guessed what they encountered Sunday was a temporary layout. Still, nobody is pretending that this event won’t see change. Odds are that organizers were making mental notes on what worked and what didn’t even before Verstappen took the checkered flag.
Two things that fall into the latter category were food concessions and ticketing. Issues in transporting some food-service staff to the site resulted in long lines Friday. And some fans who purchased “campus passes” were surprised to learn Sunday that those tickets did not include seats even though stamped on their tickets were section numbers, rows and seat numbers indicating otherwise.
Before anyone feels sorry for Stephen Ross’ wallet, on the positive side, there is a possibility that down the road, some structures won’t have to be rebuilt every year. They could serve multiple purposes. Garfinkel recently met with FIFA representatives in another pitch to secure matches for World Cup 2026 — including his new desire to land the final.
“There’s a lot of opportunities to use some of these structures, to leave them up and do things for the World Cup that I think would create sort of a soccer festival as opposed to just a couple of matches,” Garfinkel said.
You had to wonder if Joe Robbie had been looking down from above and what he might have been thinking. Robbie built this stadium with his own money, opening in 1987 with those orange seats, no canopy and little resemblance to what it is today, both physically and practically.
It was no surprise the Hurricanes and Marlins chose to play here, but if you saw the Miami Open moving here from picturesque, waterfront Key Biscayne, you probably also laid $2 on Rich Strike in the Kentucky Derby.
There are big-name concerts. A drone race, which Ross promoted. Now, Formula One — which historically came to only 10 other U.S. cities — sees fit to make Miami Gardens and Hard Rock Stadium No. 11.
What’s next? A Panthers outdoor game?
Dwyane Wade, Williams sisters among the celebs
As for our first taste of the sport, nothing topped the paddock as the place to see and be seen. Dwyane Wade was there. Venus and Serena. Paris Hilton. Elvis?
DJ Khaled briskly walked through, talking about yachts to a nodding camera crew while flapping his arms. Sort of like a deejay.
That guy — that’s Pharrell Williams. Looking Happy, naturally.
Drivers? Them, too. Every few minutes a driver would casually stroll past.
“Oh, George Russell!” said one fan as Russell paused to accommodate a selfie.
“It’s amazing,” said Beckham, the soccer icon and owner of Inter Miami of MLS. “It’s what Miami does best. It’s a sporting town, an entertainment town.”
Sunday, it was.
It definitely was.
Hal Habib covers the Dolphins for The Post. Help support our journalism. Subscribe today.