The dreaded word ‘boring’ has been reappearing in the vocabulary of Formula One, after a season dominated so far by defending champions Red Bull, so it is perhaps timely that the championship arrives in Miami this week.
Last year’s inaugural Miami Grand Prix encapsulated the buzz around the sport in the United States with celebrities and socialites keen to be seen with mojitos in hand watching the stars of Netflix’s ‘Drive to Survive’.
The impact of the reality show on F1’s growth in the US has been well documented and this season sees three Grand Prix races in the country with Las Vegas added to the calendar alongside the US Grand Prix in Austin, Texas.
But Americans are used to sports where rules and structures are put in place to stop the same teams dominating, with parity one of the great appeals of the NFL in particular, and the current domination of Red Bull represents an obvious risk to the country’s embrace of F1.
The four races in 2023 have all been won by Red Bull with two victories apiece for world champion and current championship leader Max Verstappen and his team-mate Sergio Perez.
After last week’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, which saw Perez on top of the podium ahead of his Dutch team-mate, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff provided a warning about the races becoming “boring.”
“It was not a thriller. No overtaking, even with a big pace difference, made it not great entertainment….we need to look at how we can avoid a boring race,” he said.
Mercedes and Ferrari are struggling to match the Red Bull cars, forming a chasing pack along with Aston Martin.
“We see a pattern. There are two Red Bulls, and then there are six cars, and a long way off is the third division. That has been the pattern the first four races and we have to shake that up somehow,” said Wolff.
Free to compete
The Red Bull supremacy does however contain its own competition with Perez so far free to compete with Verstappen with ‘team orders’ yet to rear their head and just six points separating the pair.
“They both want to win, which is why they’re employed by the team,” said Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.
“And I think that it’s down to what they do on the track. They were free to race today and, all year so far, they’ve been free.”
Horner said that will remain the case, certainly until much later in the campaign.
“Yes, until the team’s interests, if you’re competing against a competitor, becomes bigger than the drivers’ interests. But, as it is at the moment, they’re free to race,” he said.
Verstappen won last year’s race in Miami, after a thrilling battle with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc but there were complaints about the surface on the new track built around the Hard Rock Stadium, home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.
Organisers have resurfaced the entire track and hope that the new material will encourage overtaking but the layout of the track remains the same, including the tight chicane area.
There are other alterations, in response to some of the teething problems from the maiden Grand Prix at the venue.
Most noticeably, some real ‘water features’ have been added to the ‘Marina’ area that received plenty of social media mocking for it’s fake scene of yachts parked on blue plastic.
Another change is to the paddock area which was packed last year with VIP guests often getting in the way of team staff and mechanics.
The new set-up sees the paddock moved into the stadium on to the football field itself where fans will be able to view the going-ons from the stand.
On the track, the Miami fans will have a local favourite to cheer for this time with rookie American Logan Sargeant of Williams, born and raised in South Florida, searching for his first points.
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