Inaugural Miami GP can see Ferrari put contenders back in a vice grip

By Sports Desk May 04, 2022

Formula One's ever-expanding presence in the United States will come to the fore as it returns to Florida for the first time in over 60 years with the Miami Grand Prix this weekend.

Bruce McLaren claimed the first of four Grand Prix wins at Sebring in 1959, before the United States GP moved to Riverside for 1960 and then Watkins Glen until 1980.

Last time out at Imola, Ferrari suffered their first bad weekend of the season, with Red Bull's one-two compounding Carlos Sainz crashing out on the opening lap and Charles Leclerc spinning after going over a sausage kerb, before finishing in sixth.

With DNFs in Imola and Melbourne, Sainz had not retired in his previous 24 races and will be looking to recover at a track that could suit this year's Ferrari package.

Even after Imola though, Ferrari still lead in both the driver's and constructor's championships, with respective 27 and 11-point leads.

Following his wins in Bahrain and Australia, Charles Leclerc could equal Ferrari's win tally in the previous seasons combined, with all three coming in 2019.

Though the Monegasque driver converted his pole position into a win at Albert Park, only four of his 11 career wins have come from pole position.

Reigning world champion Max Verstappen has been much more clinical in that regard, converting his 14 pole positions into 10 race victories.

Verstappen was the last winner in the United States, taking the top step at COTA last year in Austin.

Mercedes bring upgrades

Although George Russell sits fourth in the driver's championship, Ferrari and Red Bull have had the two best packages on the grid so far this season.

Mercedes have struggled to match them for pace and performance as they come to terms with the car's particularly aggressive porpoising coming into braking zones.

They are hoping upgrades could revive Lewis Hamilton's season and the USA has traditionally been a happy hunting ground, with six of his 18 wins in North America coming there.

Can Red Bull consolidate?

Defending champion Max Verstappen won at Imola in what was an assured drive, reminding the paddock that Red Bull are capable of coming up with a strong package this season.

Sergio Perez has also been in solid form to open the season, securing back-to-back second-place finishes for the first time in his career in Melbourne and Imola.

Anything less than another strong performance will undo the progress they made, however.

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 86
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 59
3. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 54
4. George Russell (Mercedes) 49 
5. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 38

Constructors

1. Ferrari 124
2. Red Bull 113
3. Mercedes 77
4. McLaren 46
5. Alfa Romeo 25

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    Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto insists there is nothing to fix internally with Charles Leclerc, after he dropped from first to fourth while team-mate Carlos Sainz won Sunday's British Grand Prix.

    At the race's conclusion, Binotto briefly addressed a visibly disappointed Leclerc in parc ferme, whose pace dropped off on degrading hard tyres following a safety car with 14 laps remaining.

    Leading the race at that point, Leclerc noted over the radio that it would be "hard" to keep the chasing pack on soft tyres behind him, but Ferrari opted to keep him out while bringing Sainz in for a set of soft tyres.

    Asked about the exchange, Binotto sought to clarify the exchange was more to congratulate Leclerc on his drive and overall pace given the circumstances.

    "There is nothing to sort out internally," he told Sky Sports. "I think it was simply to tell him 'I understand your disappointment but you did a fantastic race today.' Fighting at the start, fighting later on when he was on the hards and the others were on softs.

    "I think the way he was driving there to take positions was amazing, so being happy is difficult, but staying calm and being positive is important.

    "For us it was clear not stopping Charles, keeping track position and stopping Carlos because he was the only one who could have stopped. We were hoping for more tyre degradation on the softs, and that didn't happen."

    Despite Leclerc besting him for pace in the earlier stages of the race as Red Bull's Max Verstappen surrendered the lead, Sainz capitalised with his soft tyres after the restart for his maiden race win in Formula One.

    After taking pole position in similarly volatile circumstances on Saturday at Silverstone, Binotto complimented the 27-year-old for his consistency and ability to be in position to take advantage.

    "I think that's the strength of Carlos, no?" he said. "Always trying to be there and get the opportunity. Yesterday, in qualifying maybe the other two made small mistakes but he did a consistent lap and made the pole.

    "That's his strength, to be consistent to the end, to the chequered flag and get the opportunity when the opportunity is coming. For him, I'm really very happy because it's his first victory.

    "I think, one, that was important for him and with Ferrari it's even more important. So, I'm very pleased and I think he deserved it."

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    Novak Djokovic beat Tim van Rijthoven on Sunday to take his place in the Wimbledon quarter-finals, and was very relieved to get the job done ahead of the 23:00BST curfew.

    World number one Djokovic saw off the Wimbledon debutant 6-2 4-6 6-1 6-2 on Centre Court to set up an intriguing last-eight clash with Jannik Sinner.

    The contest did not go all the defending champion's way, however, as Van Rijthoven's display in the second set suggested Djokovic would have to dig deep.

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    For a while there seemed to be a real threat of Van Rijthoven taking the match into a second day, with the curfew looming.

    Djokovic suggested he was not entirely aware of the deadline, and that only increased his relief after clinching victory with 22 minutes to spare.

    Speaking on court afterwards, Djokovic said: "I don't know if there was a curfew, 11pm? Is that still on? Okay, phew!

    "I am lucky, I am lucky. It's only 20 minutes, too, so I'm lucky. I have had some previous experience of playing a match over two days under the roof against [Rafael] Nadal some years ago, and it's never really pleasant if you can't finish the match the same day.

    "I am glad I did and now I am just looking forward to the next challenge."

    Specifically on Van Rijthoven, Djokovic added: "He was very tough, he's kind of a new face on the tour and actually won his first ATP match in the tournament he won a few weeks ago in his country, beating players in top five, top 10 in the world.

    "He was on a streak on this surface, so I knew it wasn't going to be easy with that serve and a lot of talent, great touch and a powerful forehand. He can do a lot of damage.

    "It took me a little bit of time to get used to his pace, and the conditions under the roof are a little bit different, a bit slippery, so it takes a bit of adjusting, but overall I closed out the match well."

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    Verstappen took the lead from pole sitter Carlos Sainz after the Ferrari driver made an unforced error and went wide, but his advantage lasted just a few laps after then suffering structural damage.

    The defending champion ran over a piece of debris and believed he had suffered a puncture, but a pit stop did not solve the problem and it was later revealed he had sustained significant structural damage to the floor of his Red Bull.

    That left Verstappen unable to fight his way up the order and instead had to see off pressure from Haas driver Mick Schumacher, who secured a first points finish in F1, and the Dutch ace says the incident "destroyed" the side of his car.

    "I'd just gone into the lead because of Carlos' 'moment' and then a few corners later, there was a piece of debris on the racing line," he told Sky Sports.

     

    "As soon as I arrived there [on the line], I could not drastically turn left or right, so I tried to hit it head on. Normally, it would just get pushed away, but this time it went in my floor and destroyed the whole left-hand side of my floor.

    "Within two corners, I felt like the car was falling apart. I thought initially I had a puncture, which was not the case, but even after that the car was a handful to drive."

    The issues saw Verstappen's lead over team-mate Sergio Perez in the championship drop to 34 points, with the Mexican driver coming second, but Verstappen believes the result was still a positive one after the issues he sustained.

    "I think overall to finish seventh with that car, it was still a good result. It's better than zero points that's for sure," he added.

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