Miami Heat: The F1 travelling circus positively entertains
Let’s get straight to it. That Martin Brundle level of cringing that one experienced during the grid walk. It was boomerism at its best where you just didn't know where to look. We knew it was going to be awkward, we had no idea it was going to be that awkward!
It included the typical cringe-worthy babbling of DJ Khaled, David Beckham ghosting Brundle and Venus Williams at one stage forgetting he even existed. Oh and let’s not forget about the pre-race protests by Lewis Hamilton who wore two watches, four jewellery chains and a myriad of rings making him look like a “Mr T” ordered from Wish. Also, let’s not forget Sebastian Vettel who wore his underwear on the outside of his race suit. Puma is no doubt paying top dollar for that publicity stunt. Another act in the F1 circus.
When the flag dropped, though, the bull stopped. Qualifying proved that. George Russell struggled with the car not making Q3 and Hamilton showed some grit, getting more used to the car. Is this a sign of a Mercedes turnaround? Daniel Ricciardo is out-qualified by Lando for the fourth time this season and Valteri Bottas surely must be gleaming, proving his mettle of out-qualifying his ex-teammate, Hamilton. Both Ferraris ensured a front-row lockout with that qualifying pace we’ve come to see this year with Charles Leclerc getting pole and Carlos Sainz second with Max rounding out the top three.
It was a banging start from Verstappen who showed massive commitment, getting the jump on Sainz into the first turn. All credit to Sainz for playing the long game and not getting tangled with Max. He showed maturity avoiding that aggressive driving style Verstappen is known for. Keeping your eye on the mid-pack action, Haas and Schumacher would have scored points for the first time but came together with racing surrogate dad, Seb Vettel towards the end of the race in a crash at turn one. No doubt a “proud dad” moment (they grow up so fast).
A talking point was the Norris and Gasly incident. Yes, Gasly was uncited around a blind corner but a lesson as to how important spatial awareness is in racing. The accident avoidance system that will be introduced in 2023 is now highlighting its value but the question remains… Why didn’t Gasly’s race engineer warn of faster cars approaching, knowing how blind that section of the track is?
The incident triggered a safety car, mixing up the potential outcome of the race, compressing the pack together and cranking the race’s heat up even more towards the late parts of the race. This allowed George Russell to pass Hamilton, Brit on Brit fighting. George has finished ahead of Hamilton in nearly every GP he’s started at Merc and with Russell starting from P12 after dropping to P15 at the start, he’s proving his consistency with a top-five finish in every race.
A race to the finish
About that race pace…. with RedBull clocking pace 7 km/h faster down the main straight… even Ferrari doesn’t have favourable odds – despite DRS. The Ferrari paddock then surely smiled when Perez suffered an engine issue mid-race. The Safety Car gave Ferrari a chance to let the tyres cool down enough for another heat cycle and bring them back to pace. The safety lines being thrown by lady luck associated with racing is something Ferrari can’t rely on as a sustainable solution to bridge the difference. The facts are that RedBull is closing the gap and Ferrari will now need to dig deep to respond. It bodes well for the Championship battles.
Valtteri Bottas seemed to be on a roll but on lap 50, he ran wide and clipped the wall with both Russell and Hamilton passing. What a turnout that could have been if he had just kept it together. That’s racing for ya. Another benefactor during the Safety Car period was Charles Leclerc who sniffed a possibility, coming close on Lap 50, almost passing Verstappen. The current champion, though, seemed to be soaking up the pressure edging over a three-second lead over Charles. Carlos Sainz finished in third and Perez in fourth.
The Constructors and Championship battle tightens once more and Ferrari responds well after Imola as the biggest travelling circus now jumps back over the big pond called the Atlantic for the Spanish GP in Barcelona.
The artificial props that surrounded the race and the awkwardness of the pre/post-race shenanigans (those Pirelli NFL helmets… eish) took nothing away from the authenticity of the racing which was quite honestly the polar opposite. The fake marina, the propped-up palm trees and celebrity drama… pop slices of Americana serving up anecdotal bits and pieces, creating talking points – intentionally placed there, I’d wager.
With all the eyes on F1, it’s no wonder the average viewership in the US is at an all-time high even with the drama that Netflix’s Drive to Survive has created. Americans seem to like it and as a nation of consumers, expect more of what you saw at Miami.
Whichever way you look at it, F1, at this point, is in the right hands and is vying for the title of most popular sport in the world. Something incredibly positive for motorsport across all disciplines. The commercialisation of the sport can only lead to good things down the line and hopefully, the local racing scene can take a page or two out of those books.
Words: Brent Van Der Schyff