World champion Max Verstappen will try to ignore all the hustle and bustle this weekend when he tries to reduce Charles Leclerc’s lead with a third win of the season at Miami’s inaugural Grand Prix.
Fresh after winning the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix where he led Sergio Perez home to a powerful Red Bull one-two, the 24-year-old Dutchman arrives in Florida trailing leading champion Leclerc Ferrari by 27 points.
After four races, both drivers know it is a long way to race for the title and will be aware that their long-awaited Formula 1 duel has captured the imagination ahead of Sunday’s eagerly awaited race.
The fifth round of the battle of the new era between the younger generation of runners takes place at the self-proclaimed Miami International Autodrome, a fast-paced street track built around the parking lot at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.
The stadium is, ironically rich, home to the NFL’s Miami Dolphins whose name serves as a reminder of the pain caused by their new ground-effect cars this season as they collide up and down, ‘floating’ at high speeds on the plains.
“It’s an exciting new challenge and a step into the unknown,” said Toto Wolff, head of the Mercedes champion team whose cars have suffered extreme porpoises this year.
“The track looks challenging, with the right mix of turns at low and high speeds, and should be a spectacular show for this sport to a growing fan base in the US. We are ready for a fantastic event. “
The race will be the first of two in America this year, adding to the successful United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, and pre-event excitement has sparked suggestions that it will be F1’s answer to the Super Bowl, along with A-list of celebrities and huge crowded catering areas.
The third American race in Las Vegas should join the calendar next year.
“I think this weekend is going to be pretty crazy,” Verstappen said. “I’m looking forward to the race – I drove the track on the simulator and we practiced and prepared as much as we could without visiting real life.
“I love racing in Austin, so it’s fun to be able to go to another state to see excitingly as F1 gets bigger in the US.”
“It looks positive,” said Valtteri Bottas of Alfa Romeo, when asked about track layout and prospects for good racing. “Let’s see how it will be in real life. It looked good to me on paper. As an event, I’m sure it will be amazing.”
Horner fights Hamilton
While Leclerc and Verstappen are the main attractions, there will also be a lot of interest in the ongoing fights of seven-time Mercedes champion Lewis Hamilton after a poor start to the season.
With no win in four races, he is already 58 points behind Leclerc and has written off his own hopes of a title challenge, but he was unexpectedly contradicted by Red Bull boss Christian Horner.
Horner told the acclaimed F1Nation podcast: “Lewis had a horrible weekend, but he hasn’t forgotten how to drive. Just five races ago they were fighting for the World Championship.
“He will fix that car and he can still be a factor in this championship. We do not underestimate any of our opponents. “
Hamilton finished 13th in Imola where teammate George Russell suffered acute back pain on his way to fourth, and both have since been in a Mercedes simulator to help repair and develop their problematic car.
“We’ve learned as much as we could since then,” Wolff said. “In the wind tunnel and in the simulations and found several directions to improve the car.
“We will conduct experiments in Miami to link these simulations and hopefully confirm the development path for the upcoming races. Both drivers were in the simulator and the factories were producing updates. “
With a sold-out weekend of around 420,000 spectators, Mercedes will desperately want to end the agony of the early season and rediscover the competitive pace and performance in a key market for car sales for all major brands.
But Ferrari and Red Bull, like McLaren, Renault and domestic favorites Haas, probably won’t make it any easier.