Beyond the glamour, the celebrity guests and the fake marina, last year’s inaugural Miami Grand Prix was defined by one factor – a complete lack of grip.
After drivers offered their feedback, race organisers listened to their concerns and resurfaced the entire circuit in a bid to improve driveability and racing for this weekend. So after the first day of practice, the biggest question to be answered was if the resurfacing had succeeded in giving drivers the grip they had been looking for.
“The conditions out there aren’t great,” admitted Sergio Perez after setting the fourth-fastest time in the second hour of practice. “Especially the grip in FP1 – it felt like intermediate to wet tyre conditions.” The opening practice session was held in warm and dry – though humid – conditions.
Fernando Alonso was more positive than his Red Bull rival. “So far, I think the new track surface seems to be better,” he suggested. “But we were basically just cleaning the racing line today. It seems when you move away from it, it’s very slippery – so that could make overtaking difficult.”
That lack of grip off-line was demonstrated best in the first practice when Nico Hulkenberg suffered a peculiar spin at turn three, a simple, full-throttle right hander, sending the Haas into the wall and causing significant damage to the rear of his car. Luckily for Hulkenberg, his quick-working mechanics managed to fix the damage to allow him to take part fully in the second session.
But that, a series of other spins and Charles Leclerc’s shunt at the end of the second hour demonstrated how much of a challenge drivers face to stay disciplined and on-line this weekend.
“I wanted it a bit too much, a bit too soon and paid the price for it,” admitted Hulkenberg, who is experiencing the Miami International Autodrome for the first time this weekend. “It happens sometimes and luckily there wasn’t too much damage and we picked things up in FP2.”
Even though there was not a single drop of rain throughout Friday, that might not be the case for the rest of the weekend. The FIA’s weather radar reports a risk of a potential thundershower around today’s qualifying session with a 40% chance that tomorrow’s grand prix will start in wet conditions. If rain does fall, grip will be harder for drivers to find even if the track dries out quickly in the Florida heat, as the rubber laid down on the circuit so far will be washed away.
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These unusual circumstances carry echoes of the 2020 Turkish Grand Prix, another race held on a recently repaved circuit that offered very little natural grip. When the rain fell over Istanbul Park that weekend, drivers were left fighting with their cars in incredibly challenging conditions.
While grip levels are not quite as dire as that weekend, there is little besides F1’s five sessions to contribute to cleaning up the fresh track surface. F1 is only sharing the circuit with a Porsche support series this weekend.
Track evolution is therefore likely to remain high. This could be seen in how times quickly began to tumble over the course of the day. By the time the chequered flag flew to end second practice, Max Verstappen’s quickest time of a 1’27.930 was two full seconds faster than George Russell’s best time set in the same session the previous year.
As to be expected, the Red Bull looks comfortably the most hooked up car around the Miami circuit over a single lap. In particular, Verstappen and Perez were able to carry significantly more speed than the Ferraris into corners such as turns seven and the long right-hander of turn 12.
Once again, Red Bull seemed a cut above their rivals along the straights, with both Verstappen and Perez both topping out at over 340km/h on their fastest laps of Friday – around 8km/h faster than Ferrari or Mercedes. However, Aston Martin’s revised rear wing for this weekend appears to have brough them closer to the Red Bulls in terms of maximum velocity – Lance Stroll was the closest to the RB19s at the end of the long back straight with his DRS open during Friday’s second practice.
Heading into the weekend, it was difficult to guess which of Red Bull’s three rivals would be closest to them in Miami. Aston Martin had been nearest to them in Jeddah, Mercedes had enjoyed the rub of the green in Melbourne before Ferrari and Leclerc pushed them the hardest in Baku. So far, it seems that Ferrari are again the closest rivals to the championship leaders, with Carlos Sainz Jnr and Leclerc both posting times quicker than Perez’s fourth-best time of the day.
But an encouraging start to the weekend for Ferrari was tinged with some frustration in the final ten minutes of the evening session when Leclerc suffered a snap of oversteer entering the long left-hander of turns six, seven and eight, spearing into the TecPro barriers.
However the driver did not seem to be overly concerned by the setback, seemingly relieved at avoiding any damage to the team’s new floor, its first significant upgrade of the season. “I pushed a bit too much, I lost the rear, tried to recover from it, but I had no grip to turn the car,” Leclerc admitted. “But no big damage – obviously the front-right is gone, but apart from that no damage at the rear of the car, which is the most important.”
Sainz was also left feeling far more confident in his car than compared to how he had been just one week prior in Baku. “It looks like everything is back to normal again from Baku, which is what I expected,” he said.
“We made some progress through the day with the feeling of the car. We tried the new floor – also looks like it’s working well. So overall a positive Friday.”
Heading into qualifying, all eyes will be on whether Leclerc can wield his upgraded Ferrari to full effect, repeat his Baku performance and deny the Red Bull pair pole position. He appeared a stronger threat than Perez, who languished some way off Verstappen’s pace on the first day of running.
“I haven’t had the greatest of Fridays, but my lap was also pretty bad – I locked up on the final corner – so there’s quite a bit to come,” said Perez.
“Together with my driving. I’m not driving really, really well today. So I think if I’m able to improve my driving and get myself a bit more comfortable, it should be alright.”
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|Position||Number||Driver||Team||FP1 time||FP2 time||Gap||Laps|
|1||1||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||1’30.549||1’27.930||44|
|2||55||Carlos Sainz Jnr||Ferrari||1’30.724||1’28.315||0.385||49|
|4||11||Sergio Perez||Red Bull||1’31.566||1’28.419||0.489||45|
|5||14||Fernando Alonso||Aston Martin-Mercedes||1’31.231||1’28.660||0.730||49|
|8||18||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin-Mercedes||1’31.337||1’28.930||1.000||47|
|13||24||Zhou Guanyu||Alfa Romeo-Ferrari||1’32.134||1’29.181||1.251||48|
|14||77||Valtteri Bottas||Alfa Romeo-Ferrari||1’31.902||1’29.189||1.259||49|
|18||22||Yuki Tsunoda||AlphaTauri-Red Bull||1’32.169||1’29.613||1.683||52|
|19||21||Nyck de Vries||AlphaTauri-Red Bull||1’34.637||1’29.928||1.998||34|