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Winners and losers from an odd Miami F1 sprint qualifying

7 min read

A Red Bull - Ferrari - Red Bull top three on a Formula 1 grid may feel routine at a glance but Miami Grand Prix sprint qualifying contained plenty of oddities - such as that Ferrari on the front row having missed almost all of practice due to a clumsy error and the polesitter describing his Red Bull as “pretty terrible”.

And that’s before considering the fact a McLaren driver looked a strong favourite for pole before blowing it and a driver who three races ago looked at risk of losing his seat put an RB on row two.

Here’s our pick of the winners and losers from an odd Friday in Miami.

Loser: Lando Norris

The worrying pattern of Norris chucking away big qualifying results continues. 

He looked so hooked up in SQ1 and SQ2 in that upgraded McLaren - featuring so many new parts Zak Brown called it “almost a B-spec” - and yet when it really mattered Norris let the lap get away from him, again.

Yes it was tough for everyone in SQ3 - the track was hot, the C4 Pirellis were not working really for anyone.

But eight other drivers did a better job than Norris in that session, including his own team-mate Oscar Piastri - who was driving a less-upgraded car with a baked-in two-tenths of a second per lap disadvantage (according to Brown).

These “silly mistakes” are just coming a bit too frequently from a driver who otherwise seems to be operating at an incredibly high level. 

Like Andrea Stella said late last year, Norris just needs to dial it back a few percent and clean his driving up on the limit. 

Pole was there for the taking and Norris didn’t take it. - Ben Anderson

Winner: Charles Leclerc

Charles Leclerc

A fairly sensational turnaround from an FP1 blunder curtailing most of his preparation to blowing Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz out of the water in SQ3 and usurping McLaren as Max Verstappen's closest challenger. 

It's exactly the kind of evidence used to prove Leclerc is one of F1's best drivers over a single lap and far more in keeping with Leclerc's single lap CV so far than most of 2024's qualifying sessions so far.

There are just so few other drivers you'd bank on to deliver a solid lap in really tricky conditions in the pole position shootout.

Sainz was 0.354s slower, the largest Leclerc-Sainz qualifying gap of the season so far.

It was a margin exaggerated by the tyre warm-up issues and a Sainz mistake at Turn 17 in SQ3, but Leclerc was a clear step ahead throughout all of qualifying and that's seldom been the case this year. - Josh Suttill

Loser: Mercedes

The team with the second-biggest update to its car for this race behind McLaren, and yet the way Mercedes performed on track on Friday you wouldn’t have thought there were any new parts on the car at all.

George Russell and Lewis Hamilton were both eliminated in SQ2, scalped by Daniel Ricciardo’s RB and Nico Hulkenberg’s Haas, but more than the clearly evident lack of pace the W15 just looked absolutely evil to drive.

Hamilton was all over the road in the low-speed section leading onto the back straight - missing apexes and clouting the wall. His car had no front end grip and no traction either.

The car seems generally a bit better at high speed compared to 2023, but a lurid slide for Russell through Turn 5 suggests that knife edge remains and these updates don't appear to have given the team an immediate step forward in that regard.

Once again, Mercedes was relatively stronger on a lower-grip track in FP1. As the circuit got faster, Mercedes went backwards. - BA

Winner: Lance Stroll

A rare intra-team victory is exactly what Lance Stroll needed to start kicking his mini-slump that let F1's Class B pick up a point at Suzuka and Shanghai. 

Aston Martin team-mate Fernando Alonso was left lamenting how the sprint "means nothing" to him anyway and that "we receive penalties for whatever we do, so tomorrow is just a day for fun". 

That's in clear reference to Alonso's hefty penalty in the last sprint race but perhaps also fuelled by Stroll unusually getting the better of him. 

His seventh place and intra-Aston Martin win didn't prevent the usual word-sparse post-session interview but it might just get Stroll back in the points for the first time in over a month. - JS

Loser: Valtteri Bottas

Seeing Valtteri Bottas have a huge run-in with Piastri in the first segment of sprint qualifying the very same weekend he was seemingly blindsided by a change of race engineer - well, you could only really laugh. But the Finn clearly isn't finding much to laugh about this weekend.

Bottas looked unsettled on Thursday when discussing the changes to his crew and the Sauber/Audi signing of Nico Hulkenberg that directly threatens his F1 future, and he seemingly drove unsettled on Friday.

Sauber doesn't look great at all here, but Zhou Guanyu did outpace Bottas in both practice and qualifying, with both drivers making significant changes to their cars between the sessions in the desperate search for laptime.

Bottas may find it yet by Sunday, but the first of what may be a long 19 GP weekends to round out the season is off to an inauspicious start. - Valentin Khorounzhiy

Winner: Daniel Ricciardo

So was it all just a rogue chassis after all? No one’s explicitly making that claim, instead arguing that recent improvements by Daniel Ricciardo are just a trend of him getting on top of the 2024 RB rather than triggered by getting rid of his original chassis ahead of the last event in China.

Whatever the cause, fourth on the grid is a world away from how Ricciardo’s season began, and puts him back on the form he showed in Mexico last year when he suddenly looked like a convincing candidate for a Red Bull Racing return once again.

RB feels what we’re seeing now is the trend Ricciardo is on, not another one-off. We probably won’t get a proper answer on that front until Imola in a fortnight given how track specific Ricciardo’s Mexico glory last year turned out to be. - Matt Beer

Loser: Yuki Tsunoda

But while Ricciardo’s back on the pace, getting two cars competitive at the same time seems to be beyond RB this year.

Or at least that’s how it looks at a glance, with Yuki Tsunoda down in 15th on the grid - having also struggled in China relative to his strong start to the season.

RB thinks Tsunoda’s qualifying result was an anomaly though - the consequence of trying for a single flying lap in SQ2 when most went twice. The team expects him to show similar pace to Ricciardo with a cleaner run through the rest of the weekend. - MB

Winner: Max Verstappen

The driver who made the biggest step in laptime between the second and third segment, Verstappen added another small line to the bottom of the strong-as-ever case for why he - not the departing Adrian Newey or anybody else - is Red Bull's biggest individual asset.

In modern F1, this is just what he does and who he is. Even as Norris topped SQ2 by a healthy margin, there was a certain aura of inevitability to Verstappen jumping ahead when it counted most. - VK

Loser: Alex Albon

It was the first time Logan Sargeant has thwarted Williams team-mate Alex Albon in a straight fight in an F1 qualifying session, though Sargeant clearly took little pleasure in that - struggling for words in his post-session appearance in front of the TV cameras, a thousand-yard stare on his face.

It didn't help that Albon had clocked a faster laptime before getting it chalked off for track limits - Sargeant had lamented a "huge snap" that ruined his own qualifying - but it was Sargeant who was a lot more bullish about the potential of the car on the day (and it was Sargeant who was ahead after the opening SQ1 laps, by three tenths).

Albon felt Williams had "over-compromised" with some changes between practice and sprint qualifying, and indicated the car would definitely change again once parc ferme reopens

He would've been 16th on the grid had his deleted laptime held up - so it was going to be an almost-certainly fruitless sprint either way. - VK

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