The last time Formula 1 visited the state of Florida, a 22 year old Bruce McLaren took the checkered flag, and the 4th place finisher, Jack Brabham, ran out of fuel on the last lap, and resorted to pushing his car across the finish line to secure the first of his 3 eventual diver’s championships. The year was 1959, and the track was Sebring raceway. Flash forward 63 years, and the sport has returned to the sunshine state to race a temporary 3.6 mile track around Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium. The 2022 Miami GP may not have been as dramatic as the 1959 race at Sebring (not one driver ran out of fuel), but it takes another step in bringing this hugely popular global sport to the US, alongside the existing Austin GP at COTA, and the recently announced Las Vegas GP coming next season.
This year, IWC Watches invited us to experience the race with them, and took the opportunity to introduce the Official Mercedes-AMG Petronas Team Chronograph in the process. We brought you a first look at the watch, which was introduced by Mercedes-AMG F1 team principal, Toto Wolff alongside Chris Grainger and Christian Knoop right here. I asked Toto, in jest, if he’s ready to give up his XPL Shock Absorber watch in the garage, and it seems the answer to that is no.
While the first day offered us an inside look at the paddock (including a close encounter with current points leader, Charles Leclerc), we enjoyed the practice, qualifying, and eventual race from the stands at turn 18, which provided an expansive view that began with the cars blasting down the long back straight just before the breaking zone for turn 17, the subsequent turns 18 and 19, along with the pit entry between them. This area provided a view of the cars at their top speeds north of 200mph (Sergio Perez was clocked the fastest at 207.9mph in qualifying), under hard braking for T17, and their brutal acceleration through turns 18 and 19.
There was plenty of positioning happening in between these turns, as DRS enabled cars would catch and/or pass the car ahead of them coming into the tight T17 hairpin. This area saw its share of lockups, including a costly one late in the race by Alfa Romeo driver (and avid cyclist) Valtteri Bottas, handing the Mercedes drivers, George Russell and Lewis Hamilton P5 and P6 in the process. George, on much fresher tires, would go on to pass Hamilton and finish in P5 to cap an incredible drive, which saw him gain 7 positions from his starting spot of P12.
This particular incident highlights the unpredictable nature of the sport, and how even seemingly small decisions made (or not made) early in the race can have big consequences in the late stages. A late safety car deployment following an incident between Gasly and Norris provided Russell a low cost pit stop after having gone long on the hard tires he started the race on, ultimately giving him the upper hand on Hamilton, who was running on tires some 15 laps older.
A P5 and P6 finish for the pair was ultimately a success for the Mercedes-AMG Petronas team, as the W13 has been reluctant to settle into any manageable aerodynamic setup thus far this season. The new regulations have been particularly unkind to the typically dominant Mercedes team, which has won the constructors championship for the past 8 consecutive years. They brought a trio of aerodynamic updates to the car this weekend including a new rear wing and associated beam wing with the priority of reducing drag over generating more downforce. In addition to this, a new front wing endplate was brought to the car, well, a small portion at the bottom of the endplate, really. This area is meant to channel the airflow around the tire, and the new design looks to flush more of this air out, allowing a cleaner airflow to the side aerodynamic features, as well as the air tunneling underneath the car.
These are small cars, moving very fast, and even tiny changes to these surfaces can produce dramatic results. Dialing in these features is no easy feat, and sometimes all the simulations in the world can’t predict or remedy issues observed out on the track. These changes look to have achieved the desired effect, at least in part, and will likely represent just the first steps toward a more competitive car. Whether that will happen with enough time to challenge for a 9th consecutive constructor’s championship remains to be seen, but if it eventually leads to a car with race pace we should be in for some very entertaining three-way battles by the end of the season between the Mercs, Red Bull, and Ferrari.
For the time being, the Red Bull cars of Sergio Perez and defending driver’s champion Max Verstappen look very strong alongside the Ferrari’s of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc. These 4 cars quickly put distance between themselves and the rest of the field, and it’s a pace you can see and hear over the other cars as they blast by at speed. The stability of the Red Bull cars in particular was immediately apparent, at least from our vantage point at T18. Where other cars bob around a bit around the track, the RB18 appears to glide over the surface during acceleration with ease. Perhaps it was just the dark matte blue exterior of the cars the soaked up all the light that gave the illusion, but #1 car of Verstappen was as dominant as it looked, taking the lead and eventual win from pole sitter Leclerc early in the race.
In truth, much of the positioning and passing is rather difficult to follow from the stands. There’s a lot of the TV broadcast you end up missing, all for the sake of getting a glimpse of the cars at full roar around a few corners. A worthy compromise, if you ask me. It’s easy to get bogged down in all the details and real-time rankings and pit stop times and whatnot, but all that is easy to catch up on after the fact. Seeing them maneuver around a tight track, even just a slice of it, at high speed in person provides a visceral sensation not captured by the cameras.
Yes, it was (very) hot, the hats were expensive, and no, we didn’t get to see a driver push his car over the line, but what may have been a somewhat straightforward race to watch on TV, was an exceptional experience in person. The energy of the fans played no small part, and it appeared fans of specific drivers traveled to be there (particularly Sergio Perez fans). They were knowledgeable, respectful, and loads of fun to be around. They also made for some pretty epic watch spotting through the weekend, which is discussed on this week’s podcast with photographer Zach Piña, who was at the race as well.
Overall, the spectacle that was the MiamiGP lived up to the hype in many ways, and introduced a new venue to the US, where fandom of the sport is surging. The race may not have held many big surprises, but working a second, and soon third US track into the calendar will go a long way in establishing the sport’s presence here, and with the likes of Audi and Porsche looking to get involved, things should only get more interesting from here on out.
Big thanks again to IWC Watches for inviting Worn & Wound to experience the race firsthand, and to go hands-on with the new team watch.
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