F1 Miami GP preview: Verstappen on point as Ricciardo seeks a rebound

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. Max Verstappen continued his perfect streak of pole positions to start the Formula One season in Miami on Saturday, edging clear of the Ferrari duo of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz.

The Ferraris weren’t far behind, with just 0.141 seconds separating Verstappen and Leclerc. But even with the one-lap competitiveness shown by the Prancing Horse, Sergio Pérez being right on Ferrari’s tail in the second Red Bull, and McLaren’s Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri waiting in P5 and P6, Verstappen remains the heavy favorite going into Sunday’s race to complete a weekend sweep at the Miami International Autodrome.

Qualifying was not without its unpredictability, particularly as drivers struggled to get their tires in the right temperature window on a typically sunny and humid Miami day. Both Aston Martin drivers dropped out in Q2, with Fernando Alonso winding up 15th, while Nico Hülkenberg and Yuki Tsunoda capitalized to breach the top 10 for Haas and RB.

F1’s third visit to Miami comes with a significant spotlight, given the sport’s growth in the United States and with the stars expected to attend on Sunday. But how will the on-track storylines play out in a race most expect to be straightforward on strategy?

Here is what to watch for in Sunday’s Miami Grand Prix.



Miami GP track breakdown: Bringing South Beach vibes to Hard Rock Stadium

Even ‘guessing’ at points, Verstappen will be hard to beat

Pole in sprint qualifying, victory in the sprint and pole position for the grand prix would point to Verstappen being totally at ease in Miami. Far from it, in fact.

Verstappen was bemused by his “terrible” lap being good enough for sprint pole on Friday and noted a few concerns en route to sprint victory on Saturday morning. The ability to make some setup changes ahead of qualifying helped, yet it couldn’t put him at ease.

Verstappen said it was “extremely difficult to make the tires work” — something several drivers noted, with a narrow peak operating window due to the high temperatures — and that his car lacked consistency. “That makes it very difficult to hit a perfect lap,” Verstappen said. “Every lap that you put on the board was a bit of guessing what was going to happen, which doesn’t make it very nice to drive.” He added that it was “super unpredictable” and “quite frustrating.”



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Verstappen admitted to being “a bit more connected” to the car compared to where he was on Friday. Even if the balance is imperfect, a small step over the longer distances gave his confidence that “we’ll be quick” on Sunday.

It’s a bleak outlook for the opposition. The emergence of DRS trains can make overtaking in Miami difficult, but Verstappen’s average margin of victory this season is 15 seconds. Overcoming that will be a substantial task for the opposition without any outside curveballs, even if Verstappen isn’t totally at ease with his Red Bull car. – Luke Smith

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Leclerc couldn’t catch Verstappen in the sprint race. What about the grand prix? (Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Can Ferrari catch Verstappen?

This question has come up numerous times this season after qualifying as Leclerc and Sainz show promise over one lap, but the pace doesn’t always translate into the full-race length.

Leclerc nailed his start during the sprint race, pulling alongside Verstappen, but he couldn’t secure the leading position coming out of Turn 1. Securing the lead from the start is one avenue to best the Dutchman. Maintaining DRS is another. “DRS is super powerful here,” Leclerc said. “And if we lose it after the first lap, then it’s always difficult to come back within DRS. So we must not lose it.”

After qualifying, Sainz was asked if he thought he and Leclerc could “be Max’s equal in terms of performance,” and he touched on a similar theme as Leclerc — the importance of the start. “I think when Max starts in front, it’s always difficult to find ways to beat him. Having two cars is our best possible bet in trying to do that,” Sainz said. “Obviously, if you look at the last statistics, it’s going to be extremely difficult, but we’ll give it our best shot.”

Come qualifying, Leclerc said the car “felt so much on the limit,” noting the difficulty of losing the tires as they began overheating. But Ferrari appears to be more competitive here in Miami compared to China two weeks ago, where Leclerc finished fourth and Sainz fifth. Part of this comes down to the track characteristics, Leclerc said.

But Pérez, who qualified P4, reckons the Ferrari duo could be a challenger on Sunday. “I think they’re strong, and they will be a strong opponent tomorrow. We’ll see what we are able to do.”

McLaren’s Norris and Piastri and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and George Russell are farther back. McLaren has recently been challenging the Ferraris, and it brought significant upgrades this weekend with Norris’s car but struggled to get in the mix at the front.

Mercedes has been a step behind through the entire weekend. “Our car has been unpredictable for the last few years,” Hamilton said. “(You’re) trying to find that balance, you’re on a knife-edge all the way through corners.”

Russell added, “We are a step behind McLaren and Ferrari and a big step behind Red Bull. I think the result we showed (on Saturday) was the maximum.” – Madeline Coleman

Ricciardo seeks another response after his sprint success

Saturday was a day of contrasts for Daniel Ricciardo. From the high of his fourth-place finish in the sprint race, secured by fending off Sainz’s Ferrari to score his first points of the year, qualifying quickly unraveled a few hours later. He dropped out in Q1, finishing a lowly 18th.

Ricciardo reported he lacked rear grip on his final lap, struggling from the first corner and that he felt “a little bit handicapped” going into the last run. He was confused by the drop in pace. “It’s not like we changed the car and changed something different and were like ‘damn we shouldn’t have done that,’” Ricciardo said. “The lap time’s there in the car, I simply just don’t really know what happened with that second set of tires.”

It didn’t strip the Australian of the confidence he’d built earlier in the day. The result carried significance in the context of his rough start to the season.

“It’s so nice to fight at the front of course, but then to be just holding for what we know are faster cars, it feels like a statement,” Ricciardo said. “It’s nice to still have that dog in me, it’s cool. (A) lot of people like to talk s— so it’s nice to (put a) couple of middle fingers up, subtly.”

It’ll be somewhat less subtle if he can convert 18th on the grid into a decent result on Sunday, but keeping the confidence that had been lacking until China, even in the lower midfield mire, is going to be crucial for Ricciardo in Miami.

– Luke Smith

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Under pressure at home, Sargeant has put together a solid weekend. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Logan Sargeant’s homecoming

As F1’s only American driver, Logan Sargeant benefits from three home races. But only one is truly a homecoming — the Miami Grand Prix.

He grew up nearly 20 miles north in Fort Lauderdale and moved to Europe to pursue his motorsports career. However, his future in F1 is under scrutiny as news broke this week that a request was submitted to the FIA for Mercedes’ rising star, Andrea Kimi Antonelli, to get a dispensation to race before he turns 18 in August.

It’s no secret that Sargeant struggled last year, and he hasn’t been able to match teammate Alex Albon’s performance this season aside from sprint qualifying on Friday when Sargeant outqualified Albon by 0.307 seconds.



Fatigue and finding himself: Checking in on Logan Sargeant before F1’s Miami GP

When asked Saturday if this was the best weekend of the season thus far, Sargeant said, “Had I delivered a clean lap in the sprint quali yesterday like I could have, then, yes. Because I should have got through to Q2 yesterday and didn’t. Other than that, yeah, I feel like I’ve been driving well, and I feel like that was a good qualifying session.”

The Williams driver qualified 17th for Sunday’s race, missing the Q2 cutoff by 0.034 seconds. Considering how Sainz felt the Miami Grand Prix may be a repeat of last year’s edition, it’s natural to wonder what a reasonable result would be for Sargeant.

“If we have the same balance as today and in the sprint race, it’s going to be tough to really, you know, make headway. Like I said, I feel confident in the changes we made, which is in the right direction. Nonetheless, we have to wait and see,” he said. “I was really happy with the straight line speed advantage that we have. If we can sort out some of our exits, then we’ll be able to put a lot of people under threat.” – Madeline Coleman

Will Saturday’s tire challenge return on Sunday?

Most drivers noted the challenge they felt getting their tires into the optimum window for qualifying laps on Saturday. Alex Albon said the heat meant it felt like the tires were “not actually degrading that much,” but “they’re just sliding.” Without that degradation, Sunday may lack a repeat of that unpredictability.

Pirelli has opted for the same tire selections that it brought to Miami last year, which turned into an easy one-stop race for the entire grid, as most went medium to hard. The only real variety in strategy came from race winner Verstappen, who started on hards and switched to mediums late on to recover from ninth place on the grid.



How Pirelli seeks the balance of F1’s most vital variable: the tires

Most anticipate a similar race on Sunday. Only two drivers opted for softs in the 19-lap sprint, pointing to the greater comfort afforded by the mediums. Realistically, it’ll be a one-stop race again, barring any safety cars or unexpected bad weather influencing proceedings.

“Unfortunately, I think the tire compounds are a bit on the conservative side for this grand prix,” said Sainz. “I think we could have done maybe with softer compounds and maybe a bit more strategy variability. I don’t expect much differences to last year.”

Considering the DRS trains that are susceptible to form in Miami and the lack of cars out of position as we had in the sprint, there may be little room for variation on Sunday without some incidents or outside drama. – Luke Smith

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Patrick Mahomes should be one of many celebs to show up to the grand prix on Sunday. (Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Miami’s third race promises to bring out the stars

Although the Miami Grand Prix has been on the F1 schedule since 2022, the race has quickly established itself as one where A-listers turn out. The first year saw former First Lady Michelle Obama, David Beckham and Bad Bunny among those in attendance, while Tom Cruise, Shakira and Vin Diesel were spotted last year.

So then, who will be in the paddock for Year 3? Or has the novelty worn off? Does the addition of the Las Vegas Grand Prix mean Miami no longer holds the cache it once did or the star power we’d expect on Sunday?

The early indication is that the Miami Grand Prix remains a sporting event worth being seen at, with the usual cavalcade of celebrities likely roaming the paddock. Ed Sheeran, who performed prior to qualifying on Saturday, is already here, basking in the glory of his beloved Ipswich Town’s Premier League promotion.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has already been spotted on the grounds, and teammate Travis Kelce is expected to join him on Sunday. Mahomes and Kelce are investors in Alpine, so their presence isn’t surprising. Mahomes chatted briefly with Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon ahead of qualifying, with Gasly saying Mahomes was “a big boy, bigger than he looks on TV!”

With Kelce expected to be here, the obvious question is whether Taylor Swift will accompany her boyfriend. Take it as you will, but according to reports, Swift wasn’t at the Kentucky Derby with Kelce on Saturday. Surely, Swifites are eagerly awaiting an update on whether the Miami Grand Prix is on her itinerary. – Jordan Bianchi



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Top photo: Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Image, Clive Mason/Getty Images

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