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IT'S RACE WEEK: 5 storylines we're excited about ahead of the Miami Grand Prix
Straight from Azerbaijan it’s time for Formula 1’s first trip across the Atlantic this year as we head to Florida and one of the newest races on the calendar. Ahead of the second race of the back-to-back that’s restarted the season, here are some of the talking points that will be on the agenda in the Miami paddock this weekend...
1. Red Bull driver battle heating up
I’m allowed to say it: The Azerbaijan Grand Prix was not a thriller. Baku is a circuit that has the potential to deliver absolute chaos at times, and has been voted the best race of the season in the past, but you can never guarantee excitement and it was a largely processional few hours on Sunday.
But processional isn’t necessarily boring, and certainly not when there is a growing title fight on our hands.
Sergio Perez - for the second time this season - got the better of team mate Max Verstappen to close the gap in the championship standings to just six points, having already won the Sprint on Saturday.
And it’s the fact that Perez also had all of the answers he needed against Verstappen in Saudi Arabia that makes the battle so intriguing. It’s not simply that Verstappen’s misfortune or reliability has made for a fight, but both drivers have been performing at a high level and now can boast two wins apiece heading to Miami.
Perez is clearly more comfortable on street circuits so far but will be taking confidence from his ability to really put pressure on Verstappen at times, and Miami is another semi-permanent venue that he could excel at. It’s game on in the drivers’ championship.
2. Ferrari’s growing threat
At the same time that Perez has ensured Verstappen is not running away with the title at this point of the season, so too has Charles Leclerc provided a reminder that there could be external threats this year.
Don’t forget, Baku was only round four of 23 so the gaps being opened up now still have plenty of potential to be closed, and Leclerc impressed with some stunning one-lap pace in Azerbaijan to take two pole positions and back that up with second in the Sprint and third in the main race on Sunday.
That was Ferrari’s first podium of the year and showed an increasing level of consistency as Leclerc was able to run near the front all weekend, but perhaps more encouragingly it came without any upgrades on the car.
Ferrari are targeting this weekend’s race for their first significant developments to be introduced, and if they provide a further step forward then we could well see the Scuderia in the mix for pole position again, and also able to stay that bit closer to Red Bull in race trim.
3. A true home race for America’s new star
Logan Sargeant’s arrival on the Formula 1 grid has been met with added excitement as America finally has a full-time driver to get behind, and it could be argued he has three home races this year with Austin and Las Vegas still to come.
But Miami really is Sargeant’s home race, with the Floridian hailing from Boca Raton and doing a lot of his early karting just a matter of minutes away from Hard Rock Stadium where the Miami International Autodrome is now located.
It has been an encouraging start to the Williams driver’s rookie season, having been competitive without the results to show for it in the opening few rounds. He reached Q2 for the first time in Baku and backed that up with the same performance in the Sprint Shootout before a crash then ruled him out of the Sprint itself.
He’s had time to get acclimatised to the surroundings of the new Miami track having been present for Williams last year but he’s yet to drive on the circuit, so there will be another steep learning curve for Sargeant to face but if he can continue some of his good form he’ll give his home fans plenty to cheer for.
4. Alpine looking to bounce back
There was less to cheer for at Alpine over the past seven days, as a disastrous Azerbaijan Grand Prix weekend prevented the team from showing their potential. Alpine had an upgraded car to test out during FP1 but a reliability issue for Pierre Gasly saw his session end in a cloud of smoke, before he then crashed in qualifying.
It wasn’t just Gasly on the back foot though as Esteban Ocon changed his car’s set-up after the Sprint Shootout (another session where Gasly had a mechanical problem) and had to start from the pit lane, leaving him facing a tough battle across both races.
It was a gamble that nearly paid off as Ocon ran in the top ten for the majority of the race but luck wasn’t on his side as there was no late drama to allow him to make a pit stop and rejoin in the fight for points, and with Gasly classified one place ahead of his team mate in 14th it was a weekend to forget.
That comes after the painful end to the Australian Grand Prix when the two Alpine drivers collided – but the pace they have shown at other races suggests there is plenty more to come from them in terms of results, and Miami provides the first opportunity to respond.
5. One of the most lively events of the year
If there’s one thing that we can guarantee about all of the teams in Miami, it’s that they are in for an extremely busy couple of days. Last year’s inaugural race was one of the most intense and spectacular weeks as the whole city embraced F1’s arrival, and this year looks like providing more of the same.
Teams will be carrying out activations and cool events throughout the next five days, and when matters turn to the on-track action there’s plenty to enjoy, too.
Aside from a brilliant atmosphere in the grandstands - the section around the Hard Rock Beach Club providing a party scene after modelling itself on Mexico City’s Foro Sol - the track has been resurfaced in an attempt to improve the racing itself.
Add in a bigger capacity to try and fit even more fans into the Miami International Autodrome, and a paddock that will be based on the field within the Hard Rock Stadium, and it’s sure to be a unique weekend.
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