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Formula 1

Mark Hughes: Is Mercedes really back on the pace in Miami?

by Mark Hughes
6 min read

What does it mean that Mercedes’ George Russell headed the single lap times on Miami Grand Prix Friday and was third, close behind Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari, in the high-fuel race simulations?

Even though it’s in the context of Max Verstappen not getting a single FP2 lap in because of a hydraulics issue on the Red Bull (this after an overheating gearbox restricted his FP1 running), it still means something. But what?

Does it mean that Mercedes’ raft of aero upgrades – in particular its highly distinctive front wing endplates, in association with a more efficient lower downforce rear wing and beam wing – have worked and suddenly transformed the thus-far troublesome W13 into a contender?

Or does it mean that the low-downforce demands of the track just happen not to punish its limitations as hard as previous tracks? Or does it mean the extremely high track temperatures of Miami have simply eradicated the car’s reluctance to generate good tyre warm-up?

Or is it some combination of all the above? Certainly neither Russell nor Lewis Hamilton (fourth quickest in FP2, a couple of tenths off Russell) seem convinced that the updates have eradicated the car’s problems.

“It feels the similar to me, to be honest,” said a somewhat puzzled Hamilton immediately after the session.

“We definitely still have a balance issue. We haven’t cured it.

“But looking at the times it seems we have improved, so I’m not quite sure where that is.

“I’m still struggling with the car. George looked great out there, but we’re trying different things, so I guess we’ll converge.”

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Miami Grand Prix Practice Day Miami, Usa

But actually, Russell seemed just as uncertain as Hamilton about everything.

“I don’t really understand why we have hit ground running here,” he said.

“We knew coming into weekend, with the higher temperatures, it would help us a bit with tyre warm-up. This is the first really hot race. The car seems to be working well but it’s only Friday and we’re not getting too carried away.”

Asked if he felt the updates were at least giving them a good direction, he was still unconvinced. “I’m not sure. I’ll leave it to the boffins to see if that’s the case.

“It was definitely the most productive Friday of the season so far but the porpoising is still there and perhaps it will always be there but we can get it working at a lower frequency range.

“In the high-fuel run it didn’t feel any better but if we can do that running the car low to the ground we can maybe take the rewards.

“So far what we see is a car that seems to work well around Miami.”

The team was experimenting more than usual with ride heights and other settings, given the updates, but at a track where porpoising wasn’t really much of an issue in general, perhaps Mercedes was less penalised than usual. At the very least, the lower downforce package would be expected to move the porpoising threshold to a higher speed range.

Hamilton felt that he had over-conserved his tyres in the first two laps of the long-runs. By the third lap his times were pretty much the same as Russell’s and were actually quicker at the end.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Miami Grand Prix Practice Day Miami, Usa

On his single lap he did a bad sector one which he comfortably eclipsed on a later in-lap on a lower power mode.

Regardless, the car’s lower downforce set-up did seem to have allowed the car to be much more efficient relative to the opposition. It was comparably quick to Ferrari through the traps, albeit still a little behind Red Bull.

The fuelled-up long runs were not really long, five laps at best because of two red flags, one for Carlos Sainz’s accident into the Turn 13/14 barriers and one for Nicholas Latifi’s broken-down Williams. But the picture looked as follows:

Long-run averages (medium tyres)

1 Leclerc Ferrari 1m33.963s 4 laps
2 Perez Red Bull 1m34.262s 3 laps
3 Russell Mercedes 1m34.319s 5 laps
4 Magnussen Haas 1m34.380s 3 laps
5 Zhou Alfa Romeo 1m34.682s 5 laps
6 Alonso Alpine 1m34.742s 4 laps
7 Gasly AlphaTauri 1m34.743s 5 laps
8 Hamilton Mercedes 1m34.879s 4 laps
9 Ocon Alpine 1m34.894s 5 laps
10 Norris McLaren 1m35.176s 4 laps

Sergio Perez felt his long run times were not particularly representative and is very confident the Red Bull is right in the ballpark, despite Charles Leclerc’s quicker average.

“We’re going blind into the race really,” he said. “I think most people are in the same boat. Qualifying, we seem to have more of an idea but things can change with the weather around here.”

Perez issued a warning about the general race prospects around the new track, though.

“It’s really disappointing that there’s no grip off-line, racing will be bad because of that,” he said.

“As soon as you go off-line, there is no grip, it’s done. It’s like it’s wet on that side off line. Racing will be hard.”

Sainz was the victim of that. He was vying with Leclerc as the fastest on track at the time he spun, damaging the left-front.

Haas’s Kevin Magnussen also spun – but had set an impressive three-lap average prior to that, but quite possibly flattered by a lighter fuel load than the top three teams.

McLaren was almost certainly more competitive than the long run times suggest, though Lando Norris feels there is more to come.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Miami Grand Prix Practice Day Miami, Usa

“We went in the right direction between the sessions,” he said, “but we needed to go more in that direction.”

He wasn’t however unduly surprised by the Mercedes pace here.

“No, not really. Just because they have some bouncing, everyone expects them to be terrible.

“They’re extremely strong in slow-speed corners. Mercedes have probably been one of the best cars in slow speed corners all season, just no one ever looks at the GPS very well and picks it up.

“So not a surprise in any way. It just makes us want to work even harder and try to get past them again.”

Practice 2 Results

Pos Name Car Best Time Gap Leader
1 George Russell Mercedes 1m29.938s
2 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1m30.044s +0.106s
3 Sergio Pérez Red Bull 1m30.15s +0.212s
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m30.179s +0.241s
5 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault 1m30.372s +0.434s
6 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 1m30.535s +0.597s
7 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Red Bull 1m30.547s +0.609s
8 Guanyu Zhou Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1m30.86s +0.922s
9 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1m30.861s +0.923s
10 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1m30.921s +0.983s
11 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1m30.964s +1.026s
12 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 1m31.208s +1.27s
13 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Red Bull 1m31.26s +1.322s
14 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 1m31.393s +1.455s
15 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari 1m31.587s +1.649s
16 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 1m31.631s +1.693s
17 Alex Albon Williams-Mercedes 1m31.71s +1.772s
18 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 1m32.913s +2.975s
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