6 burning questions for F1 Miami Grand Prix

6 burning questions for F1 Miami Grand Prix

MIAMI — As a new day breaks here at Hard Rock Stadium for the Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix, the biggest question is the same one that has captured the sport for the past three seasons.

Can anyone catch Max Verstappen?

On Friday he put what he described as a “terrible” car on pole position for the F1 Sprint Race, which he then won in dominant fashion. During yesterday afternoon’s qualifying session for the Miami Grand Prix Verstappen, like many other drivers, struggled to get the tires in the right window under the searing Miami sun. But it was another pole position for the Red Bull driver, leaving the rest of the field wondering if, not when, they might be able to catch him.

“It has just been extremely difficult to put a lap in where everything just works,” said Verstappen following qualifying. “For some reason it’s just extremely difficult to make the [tires] work around the whole lap. Yeah, sometimes you have little moments here and there and it’s just not very consistent, let’s say it like that. And that makes it very difficult to, let’s say, try and hit a perfect lap.”

Early in the week it looked as if McLaren might have the best shot at catching Verstappen at the front of the field, as both Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri looked strong in the first two portions of Sprint Qualifying. But they will start the Miami Grand Prix on the third row, with Norris in P5 and Piastri in P6. Perhaps they can fight up the field from there, but tire management will be critical on what is expected to be another hot day.

Heading into Sunday Ferrari might be the team to watch for, in terms of bringing a threat to Verstappen and Red Bull. Charles Leclerc will start alongside Verstappen in the Miami Grand Prix, and the Ferrari driver finished just 0.141 seconds behind Verstappen in qualifying. Still, tires will be critical in that effort, particularly at the start and into the right-handed first turn. Because as we have seen many times before, if Verstappen can fend off the field at the start, it might just be the ball game.

After finishing second in the F1 Sprint Race, Leclerc laid out the potential road map for catching Verstappen in the FIA Press Conference.

“Yeah I had a quite a good start and then I was in the inside of Turn 1. Obviously I didn’t want to take too many risks because we’ve got also qualifying later on and if you have a crash in the Sprint then you probably don’t participate later on. So I tried to end it there. We both braked very very late with Max but eventually he got to keep the position and then I was pushing very hard but in the first three laps they had a bit more pace,” outlined Leclerc. “Then we had a similar degradation, so tomorrow, it’s a long race, so qualifying will be important to be starting as much in front as possible, and then hopefully we can put them under pressure with the strategy.”

Will Leclerc rely on strategy, or will he take a bigger risk heading into Turn 1 later today with bigger points on the line?

Adding to the intrigue is the fact that both Verstappen and Leclerc have a teammate on the second row, with Carlos Sainz Jr. starting third, and Sergio Pérez starting fourth.

According to race pace simulation data from F1.com, Ferrari is the team that will pose the biggest challenge to Red Bull:

But as we have seen so many times before, every time Verstappen is pushed, he answers the call.

Which version of Daniel Ricciardo shows up today?

The F1 Sprint Race here in Miami was a dream for Daniel Ricciardo.

Qualifying for today’s main event was something of a nightmare.

Ricciardo put together a masterful performance over both the F1 Sprint Qualifying on Friday, and then the Sprint Race itself on Saturday morning. He put his Visa Cash App RB F1 Team RB01 on the second row with a fourth-place qualification, and then finished the Sprint Race itself in P4, fending off Sainz and Piastri over the closing laps.

“It’s so nice to fight at the front, of course. But then to be, just holding off what we know are faster cars it feels like … yeah, it’s a statement and it’s nice,” described Ricciardo to the media, including SB Nation on Saturday. “Nice to have that dog in me. A lot of people like to talk shit so it’s nice to hold a couple of middle fingers up, subtly.”

But later in the day during Qualifying, Ricciardo struggled with the tires like so many other drivers. The result was an elimination in Q1, and when you add in a three-place grid drop due to a penalty he received in the Chinese Grand Prix, the VCARB driver will be starting at the back of the field.

“Today’s afternoon was frustrating and obviously, I’m not happy with it as there’s a big contrast with what we achieved in the Sprint. I saw Lando’s lap in SQ3 yesterday, where he was struggling from the start of the lap, sliding everywhere with his rear with the softs, and honestly, I felt the same today,” noted Ricciardo in the team’s post-qualifying report. “I started sliding out of Turn 1 and it just got worse and worse throughout the rest of the lap. There’s no real explanation right now. I feel that we have a good car, but I think that in the last run of Q1, the tyres were simply operating on a different level of grip.”

Still, the driver noted that he’ll put his head down for what he described as a long race.

“Tomorrow will be a long race, obviously starting last doesn’t help, but we’ll have a lot of laps trying to come through the field,” added Ricciardo. “I’ll put my head down for it!”

F1 Miami Grand Prix 2024 Previews

Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Will McLaren’s upgrades propel them to the front?

In the never-ending battle of F1 upgrades, McLaren brought a whole host of them to South Beach. As we outlined earlier in the week, the team seemingly upgraded the entire MCL38, including upgrades to the front wing, the front suspension, the front corner, the floor, the sidepod inlets, the engine cover, the rear suspension, the rear corner, the beam wing, and cooling louvers.

Apart from strong showings in SQ1 and SQ2 those upgrades have not delivered the stunning results the team is looking for. Norris, as described above by Ricciardo, struggled in SQ3 and after topping the timing sheets in both SQ1 and SQ2 he could only qualify ninth for the Sprint Race. That event ended early for him on Saturday, when an opening-lap crash saw his Sprint Race cut short.

As for Piastri, he started the Sprint Race in sixth — after posting the second-best time behind Norris in SQ1 — and finished the Sprint Race there, with Ricciardo fending off him and Sainz down the stretch.

Saturday’s qualifying session for the Miami Grand Prix was more of the same, with both drivers showing some promise early, but settling for a third-row lockout when the dust settled in Q3. Norris will start today’s main event in P5, with Piastri alongside him in P6.

The team is obviously hoping that the pace they showed on the medium compound early in Sprint Qualifying will tell the ultimate tale of today’s Miami Grand Prix. But they also have two very fast teams in front of them in Red Bull and Ferrari.

Can Alpine break into the points?

Early in the week you could see the tension in Pierre Gasly’s face. Meeting with the media on Thursday the Alpine driver did his best to answer all the pressing questions about the A524, the team’s challenger for the 2024 campaign. It has been a slow start for Alpine this year, as they fight hourly to deliver the upgrades they so badly need to improve their car.

The tension in Gasly’s face from Thursday gave way to some optimism following Saturday’s qualifying session. Both Gasly and teammate Esteban Ocon advanced to Q2, and with Gasly set to start today’s feature race in P12, and Ocon in P13, it is the team’s best starting position of the season.

For Gasly, it just shows they are moving in the right direction.

“I think we can be pleased,” said Gasly following qualifying to the media, including SB Nation. “And it just shows we are heading in the right direction.”

Can they finally break through with their first points of the season?

Can Mercedes find that “halfway house?”

In the wake of Saturday’s qualifying session, that saw George Russell qualify seventh and Lewis Hamilton eighth, Russell described the team’s current situation with the W15 as almost an overcorrection to an overcorrection.

“The problems you know Lewis and I faced last year was with this sort of spiteful rear end, and now suddenly we are struggling to turn the car at its low speed corners, and it’s the front [end] That’s that’s sort of washing out,” described Russell to the media. “So I think we’ve just gone too far in in the other direction, and we need to kind of find a halfway house from what we had last year and where we ended up right now.”

Can they somehow find that halfway house today?

It is probably unlikely, given the narrow window both Mercedes drivers find themselves in with the W15. Hamilton, for his part, described it as being on a “knife’s edge,” and that is a difficult place to be when competing against the best drivers in the world.

The answers for Mercedes might take more time than a Saturday night debriefing session. You can be sure that Russell, Hamilton, and the entire team will do everything they can to fight through the field, and perhaps some strategy options will give them a better window for fighting forward.

But they remain a team searching for answers as Sunday begins.

F1 Grand Prix of Miami - Sprint & Qualifying

Photo by Qian Jun/MB Media/Getty Images

Will Logan Sargeant deliver the drive he needs?

There have been many storylines over the course of a week in Miami.

But the biggest, aside from the constant chatter about Adrian Newey’s future, involves Logan Sargeant’s own future at Williams.

Earlier in the week reports surfaced that a team had submitted a request to the FIA, seeking a dispensation for 17-year-old driver Andrea Kimi Antonelli to receive a Super License before he turns 18 in August. The rumors held that the team in question was Williams, hoping to perhaps slide Antonelli — who has been testing for Mercedes this spring in addition to his duties in F2 — into Sargeant’s seat some point soon.

The FIA did confirm that such a request was made, and while Williams Team Principal James Vowles brushed aside those questions at the FIA Press Conference on Friday, he did make it clear that F1 is a “meritocracy,” and Sargeant needed to earn his spot.

“Let’s put it this way. I haven’t spoken to Kimi since Abu Dhabi last year. Hopefully that puts it in context. I know nothing about what’s going on at Mercedes’ tests right now. We are looking, as everyone else is, for where we want to be on driver line-up for next year and we have our own young driver [program]. In the case of Kimi, I can’t really adjudicate on the level he’s at. In case of him coming into the car this year, I’ve always said from the beginning, it’s a meritocracy,” described Vowles. “Logan has to earn his seat. And at the moment, he has some tough targets where he has to get much closer to Alex. But there is nothing on the radar at the moment for replacing him.”

For his part, Sargeant has put together what he calls a “comfortable” week, and despite not advancing to Q2 on Saturday, the Williams driver noted that he was happy with his performance.

“I could have squeezed a bit more out of it and got through to Q2,” said Sargeant to the media, including SB Nation, following qualifying. “But most importantly, I feel like the changes we made between the sprint race and quali were in the right direction, which would ultimately help us for tomorrow.

“But yeah, I was happy with what I did today.”

The young driver also made it clear that this is the most comfortable he has felt all year, starting with Friday’s single practice session.

“And I feel like, I mean, jumping in FP1 this weekend is the most comfortable I felt all year and I feel like I was straight away on it,” described Sargeant. And if I look since Australia, I feel like it’s been going relatively well, from Japan, getting almost everything out of it.

“Of course, China was disappointing. But again, here today, I feel like I did a good job. Just looking for that last tenth, but nonetheless, just enjoying it, being home and, and keep delivering the best I can.”

But can he deliver today?

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