AS IT HAPPENED: Follow all the action from final practice for the Miami Grand Prix?
A new circuit provides a fresh challenge for all of the teams and plenty of unknowns when it comes to strategy, so let’s take a look at the different options available when it comes to stints and pit stops at the Miami International Autodrome…
What’s the quickest strategy?
Quite simply, nobody knows… Well, they all know a preferred strategy for their specific car, but there’s not one clear option that is on the table for the whole grid. That’s largely down to the track evolution that has been seen throughout the weekend so far, leading to uncertainty over the hard tyre.
For some teams, the hard tyre looks like a strong option for the race, but for others it could prove to be too slow. Part of that comes down to when teams ran the hard in practice, as the track has been improving with more running through the weekend, impacting on its performance.
Given the abrasive nature of the track surface, a two-stop strategy looks like the frontrunner at this stage, starting on the medium tyre to get good performance in the first stint. With a first pit window between laps 13 and 18, the second stint would be on the hard compound, and if a driver has enough sets then a final stop for more hards is possible between laps 30 and 40.
That’s not an option for Red Bull, McLaren, AlphaTauri or Haas, however, so those teams could look to extend the middle stint beyond lap 35 before returning to the mediums, or even get closer to lap 45 to try the soft tyre as the fuel burns off.
Ferrari and Mercedes could do two stints on the hard or one on each compound, but McLaren and AlphaTauri are tied into using all three, or a one-stopper, but with a pit lane loss time of under 22 seconds the two-stop tentatively remains the lead option.
The track was patched at turns seven and 17 before F1’s practice sessions began at the track on Friday. Further repair work was performed at the turn 17 hairpin ahead of final practice yesterday.
“Unfortunately, ironically, the cleaning machine that was used to clean the track spilled a load of hydraulic fluid onto the surface and that damaged the bitumen,” Formula 1 motorsport director Ross Brawn told the official F1 channel.
“It only happened in two areas so it’s a very specific problem that I think we’re on top of.”
Pirelli motorsport director Mario Isola said the race promoters had used a water jet to clean the circuit as had been done at Istanbul and Singapore in previous years.
“On this circuit they made the usual treatment with a high-pressure water jet,” he said. “Basically it’s going to remove the bitumen on top and expose this stones. With this treatment, you increase the level of grip.”
However the difference in grip levels on and off-line around the entire circuit remains a cause for concern among many drivers.
Throughout practice and qualifying drivers found that there is no grip if they stray off the rubbered-in racing line.
The consensus is that the prospect of an entertaining race will be compromised because drivers cannot move off line to attempt a pass.
“I think most importantly the surface is a joke,” said Perez when asked by Motorsport.com if there will be any passing in the race.
“On Sunday the racing is going be difficult. And you're going to have the drivers making mistakes because we've been put into this situation.”
In addition to Perez's comments, Fernando Alonso said that the track surface was “not F1 standards”, while Lando Norris suggested that it was “not good enough.”
Alonso revealed that the subject had been discussed in Friday night’s drivers’ briefing, and that the lack of grip had not improved on Saturday.
“It's still very difficult to go offline,” he said. “There's like rubble out of line, so it's going to be difficult. We said yesterday that the track, the tarmac, is not F1 standards.
“Nothing we can do. I think this weekend we need to put the show, but this has to change for next year. It's very difficult to race like this.”
The rain stayed away for qualifying and this allowed Ferrari to secure a 1-2 on the grid, with Charles Leclerc on pole and Carlos Sainz just behind him. Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez are in behind in third and fourth respectively.
It has been an intensely hot and humid weekend for the drivers so far and temperatures are expected to exceed 30 degrees once again, with the race set to start at 15:30 local time.
Based on the dry weekend so far, it will likely be tense once again between Ferrari and Red Bull on Sunday, as Verstappen will look to close the gap on championship leader Charles Leclerc.
But this could depend on the weather, and reports suggest a thunderstorm made its way across the track during the night, which may have already impacted conditions ahead of the race.
There is an estimated 33% chance of rain during the race itself, and it remains to be seen what impact the overnight rain will have had on the grip at the circuit.