Formula 1's Miami Grand Prix brings 'pretty sick' vibes in second year

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Reigning Formula 1 champion Max Verstappen, 25, looked to popular McLaren driver Lando Norris, 23, and asked a simple question.

“How is the vibe?” Verstappen, who won the race last year, said to Norris.

Norris chuckled bashfully as he gathered his thoughts, ahead of the second Miami Grand Prix at the Hard Rock Stadium campus, home to the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.

“The vibe is pretty, pretty sick so far,” Norris said with a laugh.

Mexico’s Sergio Perez, Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz (both from Spain) make an all-Hispanic Top 3 for Sunday’s race at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN.

But the qualifying vibes Saturday weren’t too great for others. Charles LeClerc, who crashed for the second time in as many days, will start in seventh. Verstappen will start ninth, Lewis Hamilton 13th, Norris in 16th and American Logan Sargent last in 20th.

“You have a lot of guys out of position. Lewis is not right place. … You got Max, Charles,” said Pierre Gasly, who will start fifth. 

The scrambled field could make this year’s Miami race “actually better than last year,” Gasly added. 

“We’ll see.” 

The Miami race is another opportunity for F1 to put on a show for the rising audiences in the United States and around the world.

And the hope is every time a camera pans over the Miami International Autodrome circuit, the fear of missing out on Miami vibes and F1’s rapid rise makes fans want to be involved even more.

“It’s about us, putting our Miami brand into the F1 culture,” Miami Grand Prix president Tyler Epp told USA TODAY Sports.

F1 can thank its popular Netflix series “Drive to Survive” for enhancing viewership, while the U.S. will host three American races this year for the first time since 1982.

Even in its second year, Miami has become a welcomed stop on the F1 calendar with Austin, Texas (Oct. 22) and newcomer Las Vegas (Nov. 18) later this year.

Hamilton, F1’s most popular driver in America, is making fashion statements at promotional events around town. His Mercedes teammate George Russell enjoyed a run on South Beach earlier this week.

Verstappen had some small talk with Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa at the stadium, while Alpine’s Esteban Ocon had dinner with Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler.

And Sargent, who grew up in nearby Fort Lauderdale, can’t wait to sleep in his old bed after the race.

“I mean, just look around. For us from Europe, it’s so different – how it looks, how it feels,” said Nico Hülkenberg, a German driver for American team Haas.

“The palms, the people. I think also the Latin factor involved here. It’s just very unique, different. It feels like a grand prix weekend, but also it feels like a grand prix with maximum entertainment, and feels special and unique for that reason.”

The Jonas Brothers and Grammy-winning reggaeton duo Wisin y Yandel will perform at the stadium’s Hard Rock Beach Club on Saturday, while electronic dance DJs Cedric Gervais and Tiesto will perform on race day. Many other popular music acts and celebrities have also descended to Miami during the big race weekend.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who made a bid for F1 before Liberty Media acquired it in 2017, and team president Tom Garfinkel, a former racing team owner and executive, have made this F1 race their passion project.

The first race brought about $350 million in economic impact to South Florida, and that impact is anticipated annually through a 10-year race deal with F1.

Garfinkel and Epp traveled to other F1 destinations across the globe, inquiring with many in the industry to infuse lessons learned from Year 1 into Year 2.

“This is going to be a world class racing facility,” Epp said. “We feel like the racing surface we’re putting down this year is going to create a great racing environment for drivers, teams and fans.”

Among the changes:

– A constructed paddock club built adjacent to the stadium to host some of the races’ most high-profile, and highest-paying guests. The three-tier building above the pit garages will also provide valuable shade during the race.  

– Moving team hospitality areas onto the field at Hard Rock Stadium for more space to meet, lounge and entertain sponsors and guests.

– Pedestrian bridges doubled in size so more than 240,000 fans can move smoothly around the stadium’s campus. Miami’s race has 11 of them, the most of any F1 circuit.

– More seating with shade in areas typically used for parking during Dolphins games, and more water refilling stations to keep guests hydrated.

– The MIA Marina, which F1 fans poked fun at for having fake water last year, has fewer yachts and two small swimming pools.

“We’re really, really confident in letting Miami be the brand of this event,” Epp said, “and letting people experience Formula One through that platform for sure.”

– Most importantly, a resurfaced track after last year’s track was openly criticized.

“I think on the driving line, it is quite okay. But as soon as you go a little off-line, it is a lot less grip,” Verstappen, the points leader through five races, told reporters after practice Friday of the racing line, the most ideal path to maneuver corners on a race circuit.

Hamilton, whose car slowed from second to seventh during two practices, was worried more about his car’s performance. The seven-time champion did not win a race for the first time during a F1 season last year. He placed second two races ago in Australia.

“It’s a great weekend. It’s a great place to be, lots of positives. It’s just we are not particularly quick. It’s a struggle out there,” Hamilton told reporters.

If F1 fans in America miss out on Miami, they can visit the Circuit of the Americas or the Las Vegas Strip later this year to get in on the action.

For the fans in Miami, race organizers implore fans to venture around with a campus pass to experience the food, drinks, music, art, F1 activations and merchandise along with the action.

“It’s a good place. I always enjoy coming here,” Verstappen said. “It’s really relaxed in term of the atmosphere, but for us, it’s always a busy week.”

Added Norris: “I think everyone enjoys it here. It’s just good fun.”


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