Why some drivers fear they “can’t put on a good show” for expectant Miami crowd RaceFans

How will the Miami Grand Prix be decided? Could it come down to variation in tire strategies and the different approaches to downforce levels taken by the leading teams?

Perhaps. But it may also be dictated by a grip-less track surface which will make overtaking unexpectedly difficult plus punishing heat prompting more reliability woes.

The former scenario would surely make for the more enjoyable race. And the top championship contenders are arranged in a way which appears to promise an exciting contest.

Ferrari have swept the front row of the grid, points leader Charles Leclerc ahead of Carlos Sainz Jnr. The Red Bulls line up behind them, Max Verstappen followed by Sergio Perez.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Miami International Autodrome, 2022
Leclerc fears Ferrari are vulnerable on the straights

The racing line is likely to offer a considerable grip advantage so Verstappen will fancy his chances of splitting the Ferrari drivers at the start. But even if he doesn’t he stands a chance of taking the fight to them, for reasons Leclerc pointed out as soon as he got out of his car after claiming the 12th pole position of his career.

Once again Red Bull appear to enjoy superiority in straight line speed over Ferrari. The two long acceleration zones on the Miami International Autodrome therefore look like good hunting opportunities for Verstappen.

There are more unknowns that usual for the strategists due to the unfamiliarity of the track. However Pirelli’s head of motorsport Mario Isola suspects some drivers will be pushed towards making extra, second pit stops due to wear on the front-right tire. This is punished especially by the long left-hander of turns six, seven and eight, where drivers can ill-afford to back off too much, as it would leave them vulnerable down the following, long straight.

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“If this wear on the front right is confirmed, because I’m expecting some other track evolution in this case, it can be a two-stop strategy,” said Isola. “The strategy is dictated by the wear because we have wear both on the soft and the medium. So it’s not that the medium is running a lot longer than soft.”

Kevin Magnussen, Haas, Miami International Autodrome, 2022
Gallery: 2022 Miami Grand Prix qualifying day in pictures

But if the Miami Grand Prix has the ingredients for an absorbing encounter, it also threatens to disappoint. Since their first experience of the track on Friday, many drivers have warned the quality of the track surface will not produce good racing. Daniel Ricciardo reiterated that point on Saturday evening.

“I can tell you there won’t be grip off-line,” he said. “You won’t need to wait to see it tomorrow. It’s definitely different.”

Ricciardo is concerned the lack of grip away from the racing line could make the grand prix a follow-my-leader affair. “I’m totally okay with not having the same all 23 places we go, I’m okay with having points of difference to make some unique circuits and have their own character. But in saying that, this isn’t a nice surface to drive on.

“It’s not like ‘oh, it’s challenging’ it’s that you literally have to just stay on that one line, otherwise you’re not really on the track anymore. So instead of making it a good challenge it just makes it a little bit, in a way, one-dimensional because you only have that one option of one line where there is a bit of rubber building up. So I don’t want to lie and say I like the surface.”

His McLaren team mate Lando Norris was no more complimentary.

“On the racing line it’s not bad grip, it’s reasonable-ish. It’s just very hot, which makes it feel even worse,” he said. “The fact is just that off-line it’s just really, really terrible.”

He is concerned the state of the track threatens to disappoint the spectators at the heavily promoted new event.

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“We come to the races and there’s so many fans here and everyone expects such an amazing race so when you come to it and they’re trying something new with the surface and something they’ve not really done before then I think we end up in a position like we are,” he said.

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren, Miami International Autodrome, 2022
Ricciardo expects very poor grip off-line

“You don’t want every track to be exactly the same, you like differences, you want them to be unique. But when there’s so much expectation you want good racing and you want us to provide good racing and entertainment and then there’s a surface which they’re trying and they just king of wing it, in a way, to see what it’s like, it’s not good enough because then we can’t do what they require in a way, we can’t put on a good show, we can’t race.”

The other factor which may give headache teams is the effect of the punishing heat over a full race distance, which no one has come anywhere close to reaching over three disrupted practice sessions.

Verstappen battled with overheating problems in Friday’s opening session before missing almost the entire second session with hydraulic problems leading to cooked brakes.

Lewis Hamilton believes the heat could present challenges similar to those that the Malaysian Grand Prix used to present, notoriously one of the more physical races that drivers had to contend with.

“The race is going to be tough,” he said on Friday. “Particularly as the tires were overheating and it’s very hot out there.

“It’s a track where I think today I’ve already lost a couple of kilos. So over the next couple of days, another two tomorrow and then the race, it’s probably going to be right up there. It reminds of driving – a little bit, not as fast – but Malaysia, KL [Kuala Lumpur] – it’s not far off that. KL’s still number one in terms of the heat, then it’s Singapore and now it’s here.”

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Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Miami International Autodrome, 2022
Verstappen had more reliability problems in practice

Remarkably, after a disrupted build-up, Saturday’s qualifying session ran incident-free. That was the exception of the weekend so far. Saturday’s W Series race had to be red-flagged due to a not particularly serious single-car crash, which ended up causing a 25-minute disruption.

With a low grip surface, a tight, twisty layout and sweltering heat to contend with and the field surprisingly closely packed together

The Miami Grand Prix may produce surprises, but drivers are clearly concerned that it seems unlikely to serve up the kind of drama the promoters envisioned.

Over to you

Will Leclerc extend his championship lead with another win? Might we see our first victory this year for someone besides him and Verstappen?

Share your views on the Miami Grand Prix in the comments.

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