F1 HEATS UP FOR MIAMI GRAND PRIX

A brand-new circuit will challenge teams and drivers for this weekend’s first-ever Miami Grand Prix, and it’s anyone’s guess whose car will shine brightest in the sunshine state.

MIAMI INTERNATIONAL AUTODROME

Laps: 57
Distance: 5.412 kilometres
Corners: 19

The Miami Grand Prix was originally planned as a downtown street race along the seaside and through the port area, but opposition from residents scuppered plans, after which the grand prix moved around 25 kilometres north to Hard Rock Stadium, where a fresh circuit was carved out of the arena’s enormous car park.

What it might lack for scenery it makes up for with a clean-slate design. Track architects and Formula 1 considered 36 different layouts before simulation led to the selection of what has become the brand-new Miami International Autodrome.

The MIA has a permanent-circuit-style layout, featuring long straights and high-speed bends, but combines it with claustrophobic walls along the track boundary to retain the originally envisaged street feel. Cars will be at full throttle for 58 per cent of the lap for a top speed of 320 kilometres per hour.

FORM GUIDE

Max Verstappen will arrive in Miami after a dominant win in Imola to close his championship deficit to 27 points after title leader Charles Leclerc endured a scrappy final 10 laps.

There’s been little to pick between Ferrari and Red Bull Racing. Each has dominated one weekend apiece after two close races to open the season, making building momentum difficult for the two lead drivers.

But Milton Keynes is the form team after a series of small upgrades and weight-saving measures appeared to put the RB18 on the front foot last round. Ferrari hasn’t made any meaningful changes to the SF-75 since preseason testing, choosing instead to keep its powder dry until later this month for a major update.

WHAT TO EXPECT

The Miami Grand Prix sold out its 80,000 seats in just 40 minutes despite the cheapest tickets coming in at an eye-watering US$640. It’s fair to say the hype and expectation for this event is sky-high.

But it’s hard to know what kind of race we’re likely to get. Most corners are high speed and will test aerodynamic performance, which tends not to promote overtaking or side-by-side racing, while the few slow corners are clumsy and likely to generate passing only through driver error.

But the centrepieces are three straights, two of which are long. All three lead to big-braking points that will be the key overtaking zones, at turns 1, 11 and 17. Organisers are planning for all three to be enhanced by DRS.

Combined, that makes this a high-speed track that’ll likely warrant low-downforce set-up, and Ferrari has already said it will be bringing some new low-drag parts to Miami.

That will set up a potentially revealing battle with Red Bull Racing, which has generally run with less downforce and had an advantage down long straights this season, whereas Ferrari has been happier with better corner speed and acceleration.

Until now It’s been unclear whether these are inherent traits in these machines or just the approaches of their teams. We may end the Miami weekend with a little more information on how the two title-contending constructors will fare over the middle part of the season.