We’ve all had our fun laughing at the fake marina constructed for Formula 1's Miami Grand Prix. It’s been memed to death across social media. Sky Sports F1 reporter Craig Slater even dove in on live television and did a pretend backstroke atop the simulated water with microphone in hand. But what if I told you that, within our lifetimes, it’s highly likely that there will be water inundating the Miami circuit? That’s the future reality Sebastian Vettel acknowledged with his bold choice of T-shirt during Wednesday night’s Opening Party.
The event is basically an opening ceremony, with glitzy introductions for drivers and team principals and, in this case, a concert headlined by Norwegian DJ and F1 fan Kygo. One moment stood out: While every other driver wore team apparel on the podium, Sebastian Vettel walked up wearing a T-shirt that read “Miami 2060. 1st Grand Prix Under Water. Act Now or Swim Later.” Vettel’s T-shirt was only briefly acknowledged—host Naomi Schiff offhandedly commented that she “loved the shirt” at the end of her interview with the Aston Martin driver.
The statement we saw on the four-time F1 champion’s chest is largely correct. In analysis by Climate Central leading into Miami’s 2020 Super Bowl, we learn that flooding of more than six feet over the local high-tide line could inundate Hard Rock Stadium with a foot and a half of water—and the Miami Grand Prix circuit was built around Hard Rock Stadium. Such a flood event could occur “through a combination of sea level rise, tide, and storm surge,” the report states.
How likely is it that a storm event could cause all three of those conditions? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) projects that the sea level around southeast Florida will rise by two and a half feet by 2060. Hard Rock Stadium sits roughly five feet above sea level on a flat, open swath of land less than nine miles from the coast, susceptible to sea level rise as well as ocean tides.
This being South Florida, hurricanes are always a likelihood. NOAA projects that the climate crisis will intensify hurricanes, noting an increase in Category Four and Five storms.
This wouldn’t be a new occurrence for a Miami-area race venue. Carl Fisher, a co-founder of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, was also a real estate developer. Fisher helped develop Miami Beach in the 1920s. He also built Fulford–Miami Speedway, a 1.25-mile board track. Six months after the track’s inaugural IndyCar race in 1926, the speedway was destroyed by the Great Miami Hurricane. The storm brought winds up to 150 mph and destroyed the entire area. What remained of Fulford-Miami Speedway was salvaged to repair homes ravaged by the storm.
It might seem frivolous to talk about the fate of an F1 race when so many people live in the area that would be underwater in this scenario. But Vettel’s sartorial statement helps put the threat of the climate crisis in concrete terms, painting a dire picture that’s hard for any F1 fan to ignore. Given the controversies surrounding the Miami Grand Prix, and F1's recent faltering history with social and political statements made by drivers (including via T-shirt), Vettel’s decision took guts. Let’s see how F1 chooses to respond.