Postcards from... Miami
Verstappen: the hard man of Miami
The typically American star-spangled driver presentation on the grid turned out to be just a precursor to the dominant display that Max Verstappen put on throughout the 57 laps of the Miami Grand Prix. As a result of a mistake in qualifying – following an error from Charles Leclerc – Verstappen was forced to start from ninth on the grid, and that led to him choosing the hard compound for his first stint. The Dutchman's pole-sitting team mate, Sergio Perez, instead chose the medium tyres as expected. Did this make the difference between the two title protagonists?
Their team boss, Christian Horner, maintained that it counted for little as Max was “on fire”, but the championship leader was nonetheless particularly impressive during his hard tyre stint, with two decisive phases to highlight. The first was from lights out to lap nine, when – despite the grip deficit compared to those around him, as Alpine's Esteban Ocon was the only driver in the first five rows to also start on hard – Verstappen managed to climb up to fourth solely by virtue of overtaking (including Magnussen and Leclerc at the same time on lap four). The second was between laps 31 and 45, when rather than make life easy for Perez – who had got the gap between them down to less than 15 seconds – Verstappen actually stretched his advantage, despite having tyres that were about 20 laps older. When the reigning champion finally made his stop he nearly came out in front of Perez, but ultimately this made little difference as on new mediums, he was past his team mate in just a couple of corners. The icing on the cake to his victory was a fastest lap of 1m29.708s: the first driver to get under 90 seconds. A stunning spectacle from start to finish.
The Alonso radio show
Another driver who put on a show in Miami – as he has done all year – was Fernando Alonso, who is making the most of this extraordinary Aston Martin chapter of his career. He did an impeccable job in qualifying with an unexpected second on the grid and then managed a perfect first stint on mediums up to lap 24: which perhaps made Perez stop and think how an Aston Martin was able to keep pushing on that compound while he had to manage it, maybe with too much caution…
On the hard tyre, Alonso was impeccable once again, neatly getting back his third place and eventually adding another podium trophy to his collection this year.
And he still had time to entertain his radio listeners, as has happened on more than one occasion before. With less than 10 laps to go, Alonso asked his engineer where the other Aston of Lance Stroll was placed, praising the overtake that Stroll had just put on the Williams of Alex Albon. But how did he know? That was thanks to the big screens located around the track so that spectators can see what's going on. Or even drivers. But only the very special drivers like Alonso, who somehow manage to keep an eye on what's happening outside of their orbit even when travelling at 300kph…
Alpine claimed a double points finish in Miami, with Pierre Gasly eighth and Esteban Ocon ninth. It was an identical result to Jeddah (which however came after scoring no points in both Melbourne and Baku) allowing Alpine to draw a level fifth with McLaren in the constructors' championship. This wasn't a result that made headlines, but nonetheless it demonstrated a strong fightback from the French team that had aimed initially to continue the solid growth that it demonstrated from 2021, but now realistically acknowledges that the goal in 2023 is just to hang onto fifth place. That's by no means an easy situation to manage, but Formula 1 is a sport where every plan has to be long term by nature. There are no miracles: fairy tales like those enjoyed by Brawn GP in 2009 only come along once in a lifetime.
Haas impresses on home turf
Nobody knows the ups and downs of Formula 1 better than Haas, which since 2016 has been flying the American flag at the pinnacle of motorsport. Gene Haas's team secured its third points finish of this year in Miami and claimed its highest-ever grid position, courtesy of fourth place for Kevin Magnussen. True, the Dane claimed pole at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix in Brazil last year but this counted only for the sprint race: he ended up starting eighth for the actual grand prix. Furthermore, Magnussen made the most of changeable weather to seal the top spot in Brazil, whereas in Florida he claimed the result on merit, in equal conditions to everyone else. The first of what will be three home races for Haas was a positive one, with the team currently eighth in the championship, but fifth – which would equal the team's best result in 2018 – isn't beyond the realms of imagination.
Miami finds its way
Miami's ‘second album' was a hit with the public. All 270,000 tickets were sold and it was shoulder to shoulder celebs in the paddock, from the worlds of sport, cinema, music and business. Most of all, the entire city reverberated with the F1 ‘buzz' that Liberty Media had always wanted to create since the first plans to hold a race in Florida were laid back in 2017. Originally, the track was planned to run along Miami's port area before crossing the bridge that links the city to Key Biscayne, but that spectacular plan didn't come to fruition and the final location ended up being around the Hard Rock Stadium, somewhat further out.
One year on from its debut, the organisers ensured that the 2023 race was much slicker and more welcoming, even for those who were working. This year, the hospitality units were all located on the football ground where the Miami Dolphins normally play. The centrepiece of the show was the all-American driver presentation on the grid, starring music celebrities such as Willi.i.am and LL Cool J. Not everyone liked it – with a few drivers saying it was not for them – but if the sport wants to open up new frontiers as it has already done in the USA, this is the road to follow.