Formula 1 gears up for the inaugural Miami Grand Prix this weekend under the backdrop of the impressive Hard Rock Stadium and Miami skyline. Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer outlines the team's plan of action for this weekend and the high anticipation for racing in new territory.
How exciting is it for Formula 1 to race in Miami for the first time?
Otmar Szafnauer: "It's absolutely fantastic that Formula 1 is going to Miami. It's an excellent place to showcase Formula 1 for the first time, so we're all looking forward to putting the cars on track there and driving the circuit. Having a race in Miami underlines the sheer popularity of Formula 1 at the moment, especially knowing the fact that the Miami race sold out of tickets within days of being announced! It's great and we're all looking forward to the race weekend."
As an American, how proud are you that Formula 1 is growing in North America?
OS: "Formula 1 has always been popular in America. I remember watching my first race in Detroit in the 1980s, which inspired me to pursue a career in motorsport. It's fantastic that now Formula 1 is expanding in America and inspiring new fans, discovering new cities and introducing a fresh audience to an established global sport. This year we have two races in America, next year it's three and beyond that, who knows. There are many opportunities and that's exciting for our sport."
What do we know about the Miami track?
OS: "Like all teams, we're heading to a completely new circuit, which we do not have too much information about. We've run simulations to help us with a base set-up, so hopefully we can be as close to that as possible to allow us some stability early in the weekend. New circuits, especially temporary or street tracks, are usually quite low grip, so we will have to ease ourselves into our programme. I'm sure we'll do the usual running and experiments to optimise our set-up for qualifying and race. It's an exciting challenge for drivers and engineers alike, so we'll be doing our best with what we have in our hands."
The team brought an upgrade to Imola. How did that part fare and will it return for Miami?
OS: "The upgrades we brought to the A522 worked as expected in Imola, which is a great sign that the hard work behind the scenes at the factory is paying off, especially in developing and validating these aerodynamic updates. As a result of those efforts, the new spec floor we had on Fernando's car will be on both cars this weekend. Although Fernando's floor suffered significant damage in the race because of the first lap incident with Mick [Schumacher], we were able to recover the part and make the necessary repairs. It's great that both cars have the upgrade, which performed to expectations. There's more to come in the coming races in this very important and intense development race."
Where are the team's current strengths and also its areas to improve?
OS: "As we've seen at the first four races, our low fuel, qualifying pace looks very competitive. That said, points are scored on Sundays, so while we qualify well, we need to capitalise on these promising starting positions. The team has been working hard to identify these areas and work through different set-up changes to help improve our race pace while also managing our tyres a bit differently. It's a fine balance between improving race pace without impacting our qualifying speed."
Esteban Ocon heads to Miami for his and the team's first experience of a Grand Prix in Florida. The Frenchman is keen to start a new points streak, after his run of seven points finishes in a row came to an end in Imola two weeks ago.
The points scoring streak came to a bit of a disappointing end in Imola. How motivated are you to come back and add to what in general has been a positive start to the year for you?
Esteban Ocon: "Imola was a frustrating weekend for the team. It is clear that there are areas we must improve on. The first three races were good for me and not being in the points in Italy will serve as further motivation for everyone to bounce back in Miami. The whole team is looking forward to it and we know if we do things right, we will be able to extract the potential we know this car has, and deliver the results we are capable of."
The anticipation for the Miami Grand Prix has been significant. How to you approach an unknown track and what are you looking forward to the most?
EO: "It seems we have been talking about Miami for years! And it is finally here, which is very exciting for everyone involved in the sport. Formula 1 has grown so much in the United States in the last few years and Miami is such an iconic city, so it should be a fun weekend and I can't wait to get going. I have only seen Miami in the movies and I have seen a bit of how the track and facilities will look like and it all looks very impressive. But from my side, I have prepared well in the simulator and have discussed with the team how to best approach this new track. Driving a new circuit is always exhilarating because you don't really know what to expect until you're driving there. But the approach and preparation remain the same as for all other race weekends."
What can we expect from the team from this upcoming race?
EO: "As mentioned, we'll look to bounce back in Miami after a disappointing race in Imola. We'll be bringing a few upgrades to the car which hopefully work in our favour and can address the lack of pace I had in Italy. I'm sure Fernando will be fast again so we hope to be in a position to be competitive in the midfield and leave Florida with a haul of points. We will aim for a smooth weekend and enjoy what promises to be a thrilling weekend for Formula 1."
Fernando Alonso is excited to drive in the first-ever Miami Grand Prix this weekend after an unfortunate retirement last time out in Imola. By racing in Miami, the Spaniard will have raced at 36 different Formula 1 circuits in his career.
Tell us about your weekend in Imola?
Fernando Alonso: "We came away from Imola without any points and a retirement. It was unfortunate and it summarises our bad luck at the moment. I was happy with my qualifying on Friday but then we suffered with high tyre degradation during Sprint Qualifying, and then my race was ended early due to the contact with Mick at the start. It's not how we wanted it to go after four rounds, but it's still early and last year when we left Imola we only had one point. It's a long season!"
What are your thoughts on this weekend's first ever Miami Grand Prix?
FA: "I enjoy racing in America and we've seen in recent years how big Formula 1 is becoming over there. Miami is another new one and I'm curious to see how the circuit is in real life. The whole atmosphere will be great and it's a fun time to be in Miami, with the Miami Heat playing and doing well in the NBA Playoffs. There is also Kimoa's first store here in Miami and I've visited the city a few times in the past, so it's good to be here now for the Formula 1. I was on the simulator last week in Enstone, so we tried the new layout and I think it will be a fun one for us."
You've had four rounds of racing the new 2022 cars. How are they shaping up?
FA: "I think we've seen that after four races the racing has seen mixed results. There were quite a few overtakes in Bahrain and Saudi. Whilst in Australia and Imola, it was difficult to overtake as expected. I think it's still too early to judge. Bahrain and Saudi created unique overtaking opportunities, so perhaps it was more track specific as to why we saw more overtakes there. It's clear already though that it's easier to follow the cars ahead and because the cars are all suffering with varying levels of tyre degradation, it's creating different strategies and opportunities in the race. The cars are fun to drive, but let's judge whether the racing as a spectacle is better when we've had more races to compare against."
Check out our Thursday gallery from Miami, here.