Verstappen Wins, Drivers Call For Changes to Track: Three Takeaways From Miami

Verstappen Wins, Drivers Call For Changes to Track: Three Takeaways From Miami

Published May 9, 2022
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IMAGO / Action Plus

MIAMI—The roar of the crowd echoed throughout Miami Gardens, nearly drowning out the sound of the Formula One cars zipping around the 5.41 km (approximately 3.36-mile) track called the Miami International Autodrome

Max Verstappen seemed to be able to reverse his luck from practice, quickly finding his groove to edge to an easy seven-second lead over Charles Leclerc by mid-race. Meanwhile, the Ferrari star appeared to struggle despite running in the top two spots consistently throughout the afternoon, saying at one point “The car is so difficult to drive,” before pitting for hard tires. 

Rain came through the night before, likely loosening the grip as it washed away some of the rubber on the brand new circuit. Weather, including the heat, aside, numerous drivers complained about the track, and Mercedes had a topsy turvy weekend that leaves everyone wondering if they have found a possible fix for the porpoising. 

Meanwhile, Carlos Sainz, Sergio Pérez and George Russell rounded out the remainder of the top five, and in true American fashion, Verstappen, Leclerc and Sainz walked onto the podium wearing football helmets. The Dutchman has won 100% of the races he has finished and narrows Leclerc’s lead in the driver standings to just 19 points. 

Here’s three takeaways from the inaugural Miami Grand Prix weekend.

Hello, safety cars

Talk with any veteran Formula One fan about safety cars, and they may cringe and reference the controversial 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. 

Fast forward about five months, and safety cars ultimately did play a role in shifting the race, presenting other battles aside from the 2022 normal of Verstappen vs. Leclerc. As the Dutchman continued to push his lead over the Ferrari driver, the race struck a monotonous tone almost despite Leclerc recording the fastest lap on multiple occasions.  

That is until Lando Norris and Pierre Gasly happened. 

With over 20 laps to go, the AlphaTauri star had contact with Fernando Alonso and was running slower. Unaware of Norris speeding past, Gasly’s front left tire clipped the McLaren driver’s rear right, sending Norris spinning. Norris and Gasly both retired from the race, and Alonso was dealt a five-second penalty for his move on Gasly. 

The safety car eliminated the hefty lead Verstappen had over Leclerc. 

The status of Mercedes and the porpoising 

The team has continued to find consistency this season, and although Mercedes made some updates ahead of the Miami Grand Prix, further tinkering left it with a mixed bag of results between practice, qualifying and the race itself. 

One particular problem for the team is porpoising, which refers to the jarring bouncing on the suspension during high speeds, which the driver feels. Typically the cause is related to the cars’ aerodynamics.

George Russell previously highlighted that Imola was “the first weekend where I’ve been truly struggling with my back and, like, chest pains from the severity of the bouncing. But it’s just what we have to do to get the fastest lap times out of the car.

“When the car and tires are in the right window the car, except for the bouncing, feels really good to drive. But the bouncing really takes your breath away. It’s the most extreme I’ve ever felt it,” Russell added. “I really hope we find a solution and I hope every team who’s struggling with the bouncing finds a solution because it’s not sustainable for the drivers to continue with this level.”

Coming into Miami, the team updated its front wing endplates, the rear wing and the beam wing. 

“There’s been a huge amount of work going on in the background, everyone working as hard as they can,” Lewis Hamilton said during a press conference before the first free practice. “You can see we got a new rear wing, for example. So, I’m just grateful for everyone continuing to keep their heads down and for the amazing hard work that everyone is putting in.”

There was improvement in terms of how the team was finishing. Russell was right on Leclerc’s tail, and Hamilton ended in P8 during the first practice. They continued to bounce back in the second session later that day, timing in at P1 and P4, respectively. 

However, their performance dropped on Saturday, falling out of the top 10 entirely during the final practice. Qualifying went better for Hamilton, who snagged P6, but Russell was back in P12. 

Team principal Toto Wolff revealed after Saturday’s sessions that the team “tried something that didn’t seem like a big change,” and it ended up affecting the car throughout Saturday. 

“At the end in qualifying, the drivers suffered again with the bouncing, and the bouncing has such an effect on the braking zones on what the tires are doing.”

Wolff did reaffirm on Saturday that “we believe that our concept has the potential for us to race at the front.” Russell and Hamilton subsequently finished fifth and sixth during the race. 

“It is there; we just need to try and unlock it,” Russell said Sunday. “But I think we still don’t really understand why so unpredictable.”

IMAGO / HochZwei

Drivers call for track changes

The Miami International Autodrome had an interesting track concept. It featured 19 turns with three straightaways, the longest being 1.28 km in length, and included three DRS zones. And over the last 12 months, 24,000 tons of asphalt has been poured around the beloved Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Dolphins, in Miami Gardens. 

While it looked as expensive as it was between the variety of fan zones and the track layout itself that included going by the turnpike, drivers highlighted safety issues throughout the weekend. 

Sainz and Esteban Ocon crashed in the same turn a day apart from each other, but both said the crash was harder than it should have been. The Alpine driver had crashed into the concrete barrier at Turn 14, suffering a 51G impact. 

Ocon revealed to Autosport on Saturday that Sainz mentioned the matter during the driver’s meeting and asked why there was not a Tecpro barrier in the turn.

“What is unacceptable really, it was 51G for what should have been not such a big impact,” Ocon said, per Autosport. “To not have it and [for only] one car it has happened, but when Carlos has complained to the race director, we were all there listening to it, and nothing has been done.

“There was a discussion last night. Carlos said the impact was way too big for what it should have been. Today it felt huge, the impact. It’s probably the biggest shunt of my career, to be fair.

“Yesterday Carlos got hurt. I got hurt today as well. The FIA should push harder for our safety. The important thing is that we’re able to race, and I will be able to race as well.”

Ocon said on Sunday that he felt “50%” after the race, still feeling the after effects from Saturday’s crash. Some of the areas where he still felt the impact included his knees, his lower back and bruises “here and there.” 

But the complaints from the drivers went beyond the barrier. Some called for it to be repaved. Alex Albon said it was “still very slippery,” adding “maybe a resurface for next year would be added.”

Russell said “it was really difficult to race around this track. I don’t know what on earth they’ve done with the tarmac, but it’s awful…I almost crashed coming into the pit lane.

“We requested to get the pit entry blend line removed because we knew that with all the marbles going outside having to go around outside of the corner, it’s gonna cause a crash. That was a shame not to see that implemented.” 

Daniel Ricciardo said he wished the drivers could use more of the track, adding “when you’re following someone, you want to be able to go a little wider, come back on the inside, like criss cross, where today you tried to criss cross and you’re off the track…It’s just no grip on the inside.”

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