UPGRADES IN FOCUS AS FERRARI, MERCEDES FEEL THE MIAMI HEAT

We’re about to go five rounds deep into the 2022 Formula 1 season, and the championship is starting to take shape — just.

We’re about to go five rounds deep into the 2022 Formula 1 season, and the championship is starting to take shape — just.

We know our frontrunners, Ferrari and Red Bull Racing, and we have a vague idea about their strengths too: the SF-75 has great traction and acceleration, while the RB18 is generally quickest in a straight line.

But now the waters are about to get muddied as teams apply their first major upgrade tranches to their cars.

Red Bull Racing struck first in Imola and dominated the race. Ferrari is holding fire for another two weeks, but to Miami the Italian team is bringing some specific low-downforce bodywork to cope with the track’s demands.

Crucially the upgrades target Red Bull Racing’s strengths in the hope of turning a notionally weak track into a strong one.

“We are quite confident it’s quite an efficient [upgrade], but we know as well Red Bull have got a good medium–low downforce package as well. They will be competitive,” team boss Mattia Binotto said.

But it’s a challenging circuit to apply updates at given no team has any working data for car set-up or race expectations. Being able to hit the ground running will be dependent on the quality of the simulation tools at each team’s disposal.

Imagine, then, how much pressure is on Mercedes. The reigning constructors champion has pegged this round and the next as crucial to identifying whether its troubled 2022 car can be turned into a winner, but it’ll do so without even being sure what a quick car looks like around the Miami International Autodrome, with the goal posts moving session by session.

“Since we returned from Italy, we’ve learned as much from the weekend as we can, and in parallel our learning has continued in the wind tunnel and simulations,” team boss Toto Wolff said. “We have found several directions for improving the car, and we will be conducting experiments in Miami to correlate those simulations and hopefully confirm the development path for the coming races.

“Both drivers have been working in the simulator ahead of Miami and the factories have been busy producing updates for the next races.”

Time stands still for no team, and while Ferrari and Red Bull Racing carve out places at the front of the field for themselves, Mercedes can’t afford to wait any longer if it wants to join the fight.

TIP

There’s no form guide for this race on a brand-new track, and upgrades to the Ferrari car could mean what we’ve learnt from the year might end up being completely wrong, but the circuit should suit the Red Bull Racing car, which is happier running with lower downforce, and this may well make the difference.

Pole position: Max Verstappen

Podium: Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz

Winning margin: Five seconds