Miami’s unexpectedly treacherous surface puts another disrupted qualifying session on the cards · RaceFans

After months of anticipation and a build up to a race weekend unlike many seen before, Formula 1 finally explored the Miami International Autodrome for the first time across Friday’s two practice sessions.

With two hours of running in the books, there had been plenty of lessons learned about what kind of challenge the new Miami circuit will offer drivers this weekend, but not a lot of clarity over what the potential running order could be on Sunday.

As an entirely new venue built around the grounds of an NFL stadium car park, few expected the virgin asphalt around the circuit to offer much grip. But after Friday, the Miami track had revealed itself as a kind of Jekyll and Hyde circuit. Stay on-line and everything’s fine. Venture off it, however, and you’ll put yourself at real risk of disaster – just ask Carlos Sainz Jnr or Valtteri Bottas.

Five red flags flew during the rain-affected qualifying session in Imola two weeks ago. Similar disruption could easily recur today even if it stays dry, as the track is treacherous off-line.

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren, Miami International Autodrome, 2022
Loose stones are making track slippery

“The biggest difficulty was just the asphalt,” McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo explained after second practice.

“It seems like just the stones are getting loose and kind of get washed just off the line. So if you miss a little bit the apex, then you’re sliding off and it’s difficult.”

Charles Leclerc agreed. “The asphalt will spice things up,” he said.

“There is very high grip on the racing line and very low grip off it, which will make it difficult to overtake. It is also rather aggressive on tires, so it will be important to manage them well throughout the race.”

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After shunts for Bottas, Sainz and a loose wheel causing Nicholas Latifi to stop on the circuit, the two practice sessions were disrupted by multiple red flags, denying many of the teams the ability to gather the useful long run data that they desperately wanted at such an unknown circuit.

Practice was “messy” said Perez

“It was a very messy session,” said Sergio Perez. “In total I did one medium lap and two soft laps. And then on the high fuel, there was nothing we could really do with all the red flags and the time we lost. So we’re going blind to the race, basically.”

Having brought the medium spread of tire compounds to Miami for its inaugural grand prix, Pirelli’s data from Friday suggests to them that both a one-stop and two-stop strategy should both be plausible for Sunday.

“There was good grip from the start and tire wear here seems set to decide the strategy,” Pirelli’s Mario Isola surmised.

“On paper there seems little to choose between a one-stopper and a two-stopper, but the wear rate will tip the balance. We saw this morning the damage that could be done to a tire by going off the track onto the abrasive run-off area and it’s incredibly easy to make a mistake here: with the front-right tire being the crucial one to look after.”

George Russell, Mercedes, Miami International Autodrome, 2022
Mercedes look in good shape in Miami

When the checkered flag fell on Friday evening, Mercedes and George Russell ended the fastest day of all – only the second time Mercedes had been quickest in a session in 2022. They had benefitted from three main factors: Upgraded front and rear wings on the W13 , Sainz and Max Verstappen having their sessions ended early and the warm Miami weather.

“We always knew that the warm conditions here in Miami would suit our car better,” Russell explained.

“We’ve suffered with getting temperature in the tires at previous races so that’s a big factor here. The car is running well but it’s only Friday, we’re not getting carried away. It’s probably been the most productive Friday we’ve had this season in terms of learning.”

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In second place, Leclerc enjoyed a typical Friday afternoon, productively wracking up the miles for Ferrari with little fuss and ending the session inside of the top two.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Miami International Autodrome, 2022
Gallery: Miami Grand Prix practice in pictures

“Things went smoothly on our side and we tested everything we planned to,” Leclerc said. “It looks like everyone is close together, which should make for an exciting weekend.”

McLaren’s recent run of form had marked a complete turnaround of their dismal pace at the start of the season. But after the first day of practice, Lando Norris was feeling less confident about the team’s chances in Florida.

“We’re not where we want to be and Mercedes are quite a long way ahead of us and let’s say they’re almost a comparable team, with similar power units,” Norris said.

“I think positive – things went in the right direction. We just might need to go in our direction a bit more. Hopefully we can make another step into tomorrow and gain even more.”

Heading into Saturday and qualifying, Norris believes the closeness of the field will mean that even the slightest error or loss of time on a qualifying lap could cost drivers dearly.

“It looks very close, between everyone, from the front to the back,” he said.

“Everyone is much closer than they have been lately, which is tough. I think every little bit of time can be the difference between a few positions. It’s going to be a tight qualifying, so every little thing we can get out of the car into tomorrow will be helpful.”

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With every tenth so crucial in qualifying, there’s likely to be a lot of tempers flaring on Saturday due to the traffic that will almost certainly cause problems in – especially through the agonisingly tight sequence from turn 11 through to turn 16 in the second sector.

“It is a tricky circuit and most of the corners are blind, which makes it difficult in terms of navigating traffic,” Sebastian Vettel explained. “This will likely be an important factor in qualifying, especially in Q1 when you need to find space.”

Track conditions will be challenging enough if it stays dry, but there is also a slight chance of showers and even one of the region’s characteristic thunderstorms which would further increase the likelihood of more red flags flying in qualifying.

Combined practice times

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2022 Miami Grand Prix

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