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Wednesday October 17th, 2018 2:18PM

Miami gives early go-ahead for Formula 1 grand prix

By The Associated Press
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Formula One's efforts to expand its reach across the U.S. got a key boost Thursday when Miami city commissioners agreed to enter formal negotiations to host a race as early as next year.

The unanimous vote allows city staff to work out a contract with F1 that could be voted on later this summer. Miami officials have said they hope for a 10-year deal on a race that could be staged in October, toward the end of the annual F1 season.

Formula One has been looking to expand in the U.S. since the U.S. Grand Prix was revived in 2012 at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Miami would be the fourth race in North America, along with the annual Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal and the Mexican Grand Prix in Mexico City.

A Miami race also would give F1's American owners, Liberty Media, a coveted showcase event in a U.S. city with international interest for fans of the global series.

"Formula 1 in Miami represents a fantastic opportunity to bring the greatest racing spectacle on the planet to one of the world's most iconic cities, and we are delighted that the journey is underway," said Sean Bratches, Formula One's director of commercial operations.

Although a contract must still be approved, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez called Thursday's vote a "big step" toward getting the race done. He noted the race faced very little opposition in the public comment period at Thursday's commission meeting. Suarez said the city and F1 will work to address any concerns about traffic and noise in Miami neighborhoods.

F1 officials have been scouting locations since 2017 and the city last week released an early proposal of a course that would take the cars through downtown high-rises, into the Port of Miami and over water on two bridges. Reigning F1 champion Lewis Hamilton said he was excited about the prospect of racing in Miami, but deemed the proposed course boring.

"Miami is a super-cool place and I was very excited to hear about it, but when I saw the layout I was like 'meh'. It could be a lot more fun," Hamilton said in Barcelona ahead of Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix.

F1's previous efforts to schedule races in the U.S. included New Jersey and Los Angeles before Liberty Media zeroed in on Miami. The location would also give F1 a gateway for fans from South America, which has only one F1 race, in Brazil.

"I think it would be great to have a race there," McLaren driver Stoffel Vandoorne said. "I think the U.S. has always been kind of a territory where we want to promote the sport a bit more."

Mario Andretti, the last American to win an F1 season championship in 1978, called Miami a "very attractive venue."

"There's a lot of room for growth with F1 in the US. Why not a second race?" Andretti said. "It would be some sort of a coup (for Liberty) because Miami has been talked about for a long time and then it always goes into never-never land."

The U.S. Grand Prix in Texas gets more than $25 million annually in state and local tax money to pay F1's rights fees and other expenses. The proposed Miami Grand Prix would include a business partnership with Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross to promote and stage the race.

While no financial details have been released by F1 or the city, Suarez has said he expects "99 percent" of financing for a Miami race to come from private sources with any city funds to be under $500,000.

Ross helped lead the plan to relocate the Miami Open tennis tournament from Key Biscayne to the Dolphins' stadium complex in Miami Gardens in time for next year's tournament. He also brought several international soccer events to Hard Rock Stadium, which is seeking to host World Cup matches in 2026.

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AP Sports Writer Tales Azzoni contributed from Barcelona.

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More AP auto racing: https://racing.ap.org

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