“Well, we certainly had challenges coming into the race, getting all of this done in time,” Tom Garfinkel says, sitting in the plush surroundings of a permanent Paddock Club suite somewhere above the Williams garage.
“We did do a lot of changes, we did make a big investment in things. So last year, honestly, it was just trying to pull it off. (Doing that) in less than 12 months with all the other events we had; that was a huge challenge. This year, it’s like ‘OK, we want to try to be perfect this year’. We’re not just trying to pull it off. We’re trying to get this right in every way.”
The Miami Dolphins CEO is catching his breath before the main event. It’s Sunday morning at Hard Rock Stadium, and pretty much all that’s left to do now is race. So Garfinkel can afford to relax to some degree – at this point, he’s at the mercy of the show that the 20 drivers are going to put on in a few hours’ time.
But I’ve got bad news for him: Miami isn’t perfect this year, and won’t ever be.
It’s the right attitude to have, of course, but far more successful and established races than the Miami Grand Prix also have their issues. Austin, for example, can boast enormous crowds and lower ticket prices, but has had its fair share of traffic and concessions problems. Spa-Francorchamps is legendary but getting people in and out of the venue, plus the weather, can be a huge headache.
I’m being a bit unfair only mentioning those two, because the list could include pretty much every grand prix on the calendar in some way, shape or form. If you’re in the business of bringing tens of thousands of people (as a minimum) to an event, someone’s not going to have a great time.
What Miami has shown, though, is that it is doing the most important thing it should do after year two, and that is prioritizing being the best event it can be by listening to feedback and improving, rather than being overly concerned at the bottom line immediately.
“From a business standpoint, there’s a lot of different ways of looking at making money, there’s a lot of different measures of profit,” Garfinkel says. “I would say that our focus right now is on investing in a great experience. We do have a long-term deal with Formula 1 and we’re confident this will be a profitable endeavor.
“And it’s not like we’re losing a ton of money or anything like that. At this point, we’ve got great demand, we’re trying to put on a great event. And if we do that, and we can get this kind of attendance every year and this kind of experience for people, it’s going to be profitable.”
Perhaps that much was clear by the number of discounted tickets available in the immediate lead-up to the race, although Formula 1 insists the event had around 90,000 each day and was a sell-out on Sunday. Garfinkel is coinfident that the priorities of a number of different fanbases had been accommodated.
“I think the hardcore race fans are taken care of because ultimately, the most important thing is the drivers, the cars, the competition on the track,” he says.
“So we tried to create a great circuit for racing, and we weren’t happy (after last year). F1 and the FIA didn’t ask us to or in any way demand us to change the racetrack.
“We could have patched up a couple of things and when we could have gone racing. But we wanted it to be right, which is why we made the investment to repave it, so I think ultimately the racing people are coming here to see these drivers and these cars and the competition of the race and that’s always the most important thing.
“You can create a great environment around that. The whole week in Miami or down here around the event itself. You’re going to get more casual race fans to come out and enjoy the food and the wine and the music then whatever else is going on, and then fall in love with the racing.”
Sunday didn’t deliver a classic race, but it provided as much as action as could be hoped for in a season dominated by one team. Behind the top three there were fights for positions and overtakes right up to the flag, though it lacked the chaos or controversy that could really hook in the more casual viewer.
Beyond the immediate interest, Garfinkel wants Miami’s race to cement itself to an extent that it leads to career opportunities within F1 for locals, building on the outlook of former Dolphins executive Jason Jenkins who died last year.
“I’d like to see 15 years from now there’s some kid from Miami Gardens, who’s an engineer and a race car working in PR and F1, and it only happened because we brought this race here,” Garfinkel says.
“The impact on people’s lives here… I get a little emotional… (Jenkins) said it and lived it last year, he believes strongly that the impact that this event is going to have on people’s lives will be bigger than anything in South Florida for a long time. Those are his words. And I believe that, and I believe that’s a part of what we’re doing here.
“If you think about this to the impact of, we’re living in a society that’s more isolated than ever, even pre-pandemic, kids are growing up on their phones, and they’re communicating with each other on their phones. And there’s things called Blue Zones, which are these areas in the world where people’s life expectancy is past 100. And they do studies on these places – Harvard did the biggest study on happiness ever – and the number one thing that was correlated to happiness was social interaction and connection with other people. More than what you eat, how much you exercise, there’s actually studies that show that loneliness has the same correlation to negative impact on life expectancy as smoking.
“The reason I say all that is, what we do, whether it’s the NFL games, whether it’s this, whether it’s music, concerts, you’re bringing people together to have shared experiences, and enjoy life together. It’s just not the same thing where you’re sitting alone at home watching TV as when you come out, and you’re with people enjoying these things.
“I think the business that we’re in, not just what we do here, but the business that we’re all in, is really important. It’s just about bringing people together at a time when we have polarization and isolation and all these problems. And yeah, I think that has a big impact on people.”
It’s a noble outlook that might help Garfinkel ignore some of the external criticism of the race that appears to come more prominently from afar than actual attendees, but people still need to be able to afford those experiences. With grandstand tickets well north of $1000 even when prices were cut close to the race, wanting to be part of that shared experience comes at great cost.
That’s an area that could well be addressed after the initial outlay to simply put on the race starts to level off, while feedback is already being taken to try and improve the event for 2024.
It was clearly better this year, and the target has to be better again next, especially with Vegas on the horizon. But perfect? That’s always going to feel a long way off.