For the fifth round of the 2022 Formula 1 World Championship, the sport heads to Florida for the first of two races to be held in the United States this season.
With the sport finding a new foothold in the United States under Liberty Media, with no small thanks to the Drive to Survive series, Miami is one of the most eagerly anticipated races of the season – particularly as the 2022 title battle starts to find its narrative.
The newly-constructed circuit, while built in the car parks surrounding the Hard Rock Stadium that’s home to the Miami Dolphins NFL team, is very far from the car park offerings that F1 tried in Las Vegas in the 1980s.
Fast and flowing, the 5.4-kilometre long track will boast three DRS zones and represents a set-up challenge for the teams – while there’s plenty of aero demands through the twisty bits, there are two long straights to ensure a fine balancing act is needed.
Added to that is the likelihood of high tyre wear. While the new and reasonably smooth surface isn’t overly abrasive in itself, the tropical air temperatures in the mid-30s Celsius mean soaring track temperatures and a hard life for the C2, C3 and C4 compounds that Pirelli have brought to Miami.
The championship battle heats up
After a stuttering start to the season for Red Bull and Max Verstappen, due to their reliability woes in Bahrain and Australia, the title fight burst into life last time out at Imola.
With Verstappen leading home a Red Bull 1-2, as well as Charles Leclerc throwing away valuable points through a late-race spin, the team are just 11 points down on Ferrari in the Constructors’ Championship. Verstappen’s deficit to Leclerc in the Drivers’ standings also looks far less intimidating, with the reigning World Champion slicing Leclerc’s advantage from 46 to 27 points.
Following Red Bull’s floor upgrades and weight-saving measures ahead of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, it’s Ferrari’s turn to make some tweaks for their F1-75 for the first time this season.
While the Scuderia’s major updates will still have to wait until the Spanish Grand Prix, the team are set to introduce a revised rear wing this weekend. But this won’t be the biggest of their tweaks – Ferrari have also brought along a new floor design that Carlos Sainz trialled during the post-Imola Pirelli tyre test.
The new design is aimed at reducing the onset of porpoising, as well as softening the overall oscillation. While Ferrari’s speed has been potent over the opening handful of races, their car was also one of the most vicious at porpoising. Will the new floor allow them to unlock more performance and respond strongly to Red Bull’s Imola dominance?
Aside from the technical factors, it’s also going to be fascinating to watch Leclerc’s response to his Imola error. With the pressure starting to ramp up as Verstappen finds his feet, will his late crash play on his mind? After all, between himself and Verstappen, he is the first of them to have made a costly mistake.
Mind management will be just as critical as technical performance this year, and Leclerc has already shown the first crack.
Where might Red Bull and Mercedes slot in?
While Red Bull appeared to have an answer for Ferrari in all conditions at Imola, there are still some question marks to be asked about the RB18’s overall versatility. Very fast and pliant when in the right set-up window, the car looked markedly different when on track in Australia.
As the team’s knowledge and understanding of the car grows, the consistency of finding this window will surely improve. But, for now, it’ll be a concern heading to every weekend until hitting the track.
More reassuringly for Red Bull, this weekend returns to the normal format and ensures three hours of practice time over Friday and Saturday before parc ferme conditions kick in.
Verstappen will also be looking to up the pressure on Leclerc’s shoulders this weekend, having sliced the Ferrari driver’s lead so decisively at Imola. Backed by an ever-stronger Sergio Perez, the Milton Keynes versus Maranello battle looks set to rumble on for another chapter this weekend.
But might Mercedes be able to start thinking about joining in? While George Russell and Lewis Hamilton were well off the pace at Imola, the team claim they have found several potential solutions for their porpoising issues – these solutions are set to be tried out this weekend.
The general belief of the team is that, once a solution for the porpoising is found, the W13 will prove the measure of the Ferrari and Red Bull. Reduced porpoising will allow them to lower the ride height and, with that, exponentially improve the downforce generated by the floor.
If one of the experiments that Mercedes has planned results in a ‘magic bullet’ fix, then Hamilton and Russell could suddenly find themselves fighting at the sharp end.
A weekend of unknowns
While conditions are set to be extremely warm and humid throughout the weekend, the flipside of the tropical climate is that heavy rain is extreme, short-lived and quite likely.
Weather forecasts for the area suggest heavy rain showers might strike on each afternoon of the weekend, which could cause chaos during qualifying and the race.
These bursts of rain can be extremely localised, making it very hard to predict if the circuit itself will be hit by the rain. As a result, it adds a whole new challenge and headache for the teams’ strategists.
The unpredictable weather possibilities, the set-up challenge that is likely to send teams in different directions, the potential of yet another swing in the championship, and all set to the backdrop of F1’s latest conquest…
It’s going to be an unmissable weekend.