F1 hopes Miami brings needed lift to drab season

Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen walks in the paddock ahead of the 2024 Miami Formula One Grand Prix. (Giorgio Viera)
Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen walks in the paddock ahead of the 2024 Miami Formula One Grand Prix. (Giorgio Viera)

With world champion Max Verstappen and Red Bull utterly dominating Formula One yet again, there is a distinct lack of tension ahead of Sunday's Miami Grand Prix.

So it is perhaps fortunate that the South Florida venue will provide some glitz and glamour to distract from a season that, with Verstappen having bagged four out of five races, already looks like another procession for the winner of the last three championships.

The first two years of the Miami race, held around Hard Rock Stadium, the home of the NFL's Miami Dolphins, attracted scores of celebrities from the world of music, film and sport.

Hailed as proof that F1 had finally cracked the American market, that buzz around the race as a place to be seen hasn't dissipated, with tabloid newspaper reports suggesting that pop star Taylor Swift and her American footballer boyfriend Travis Kelce are planning to attend this year.

Swift got as near as anyone could get to overshadowing the NFL's Super Bowl last year and she would certainly change the subject in the paddock from the increasing chatter about driver's contracts.

The "transfer market" for F1 drivers has opened early this year, with seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton announcing in February that he would be switching to Ferrari next year.

Inevitably that has prompted speculation over Verstappen's future and a possible switch to Mercedes in the wake of the internal troubles at Red Bull.

After the lengthy controversy over team principal Christian Horner, who was cleared of wrongdoing by an internal investigation into accusations from a female employee of inappropriate behavior,  Red Bull was hit by more off-the-road drama this week.

The team announced that Chief technical officer Adrian Newey, considered the greatest designer in the sport's history, will leave the team early next year.

But it would be a major surprise if Red Bull are anything but winners again on Sunday.

Certainly Verstappen's team-mate, Mexican Sergio Perez, doesn't believe that the team will be distracted.

- Fully committed -

"I think everyone is fully committed to the team. We're having a tremendous season once again. The future looks bright in the team, so I think it's normal that you have this sort of movement with some people," he said. "But I think the organization remains really strong and I don't see any more changes in that regard."

Verstappen, who won the first two editions of the Florida race, will be aiming for the treble on Sunday at the end of a weekend which will be marked by the second of the season's six sprints.

"I have some good memories of this circuit. With the humidity and the heat, it's always one of the most physical races of the season. With the sprint, it will be important to understand as much as possible of the data collected on the car in order to fine-tune the set-up," Verstappen said.

The only time Verstappen failed to win this season was when he was forced out of the race in Australia at the end of March after a brake problem.

With four podiums in five races, Perez will hope that he can take advantage of any slip-up by his team-mate.

Ferrari's Carlos Sainz won in Australia and the Italian team will be sporting a special livery with touches of blue to mark the 70th anniversary of the brand's presence in the American market.

Ferrari will be looking to bounce back two weeks after missing out on the podium for the first time this season in China.

"The circuit is very different here so we're hoping to do better and I think we have the potential," Ferrari's French boss Frederic Vasseur said.

"Once again, we'll have to maximize the one free practice session to prepare for qualifying, where we struggled more than we should have recently."

McLaren, which secured a fine second place in China thanks to Britain's Lando Norris, is also expected to join the fray, while veteran Spaniard Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin will try to at least repeat his performance of last year, when he finished third behind the two Red Bulls.

Mercedes have not done better than fifth place in any Grand Prix this year.