The Miami track surface and 'Mickey Mouse' section that ruin 'amazing' F1 circuit

F1

Miami's new grand prix circuit may not deliver the entertaining race that its packed crowd is hoping for, and that's down to two issues that blot the otherwise impressive new track, writes Adam Cooper

Miami Grand Prix circuit chicane

Chicane section has come in for criticism from drivers

DPPI

There are a lot of good things about the Miami GP, and the event has met with a lot of praise from all quarters of the F1 paddock.

However there is no escaping the fact that there are issues with the actual track that have left drivers frustrated – and concerned that we won’t get the great race that everyone has been anticipating.

While much of the circuit is high-speed in nature in the manner of other modern temporary tracks like Baku and Jeddah, one section has not met with the approval of the drivers.

The consensus is that the sequence of corners that leads to the highway underpass and onto the back straight, and especially the left/right chicane complex at Turns 14 and 15, is too tight for bulky modern cars.

Miami International Autodrome - Circuit

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The rest of the layout has generally been met with praise by the drivers, although there have been complaints about the actual track surface.

“I think this place could be an amazing circuit if that sector had a rethink,” said GPDA director George Russell when asked by Motor Sport.

“I don’t think any driver finds that four-corner sequence enjoyable, or it doesn’t bring anything.

“It won’t improve overtaking, it’s not enjoyable to drive. This has a potential to be a really great track if they just found a slightly different layout there.”

Lewis Hamilton was loathe to criticise the track, but even he singled out that section as not being ideal.

“I think it’s great, the track is awesome,” said the former world champion. “It’s a different characteristic. It’s not the same as every other one. There’s a couple of bumps that we could probably fix, and we should probably get rid of the chicane. Otherwise, it’s great.”

Ferrari of Carlos Sainz crashes out in practice for the 2022 Miami GP

Sainz was one of the drivers caught out by the track surface

Chandan Khanna / AFP via Getty Images

Lando Norris conceded that the circuit designers were limited with what they could do at that point, due to FIA requirements.

“As a layout, I think it’s got good potential,” he said. “The one thing I would change is the chicane, I think it’s just too hit and miss. And it’s just not made for these cars. It’s just not something which should be included.

“And if it kind of just comes out of 13, and you go over the crest and go straight into what is 16, so you take out the whole chicane, I think it’d be better.

“I got told it’s not possible because of the bridge that goes over the top, the cars are only allowed at a certain speed. So maybe we’re kind of stuck with it. I hope not. I hope there’s some other way around it.”

“The Mickey Mouse stuff is a little too Mickey Mouse: the tracks aren’t getting any wider. But the cars are!

Norris’s team mate Daniel Ricciardo expressed his disappointment that drivers are usually not consulted when new tracks are being designed.

“The Mickey Mouse stuff is a little too Mickey Mouse,” said the Aussie. “I think these cars are just so big these days. And I think I’ve been quoted before saying the tracks aren’t getting any wider. But the cars are!

“This is a case where it’s quite tight in some places. Obviously it’s built around the stadium. So it’s not like there’s an open plan to do everything. I’m sure there are some restrictions on what we can do.

“I know a lot of drivers sometimes feel a bit frustrated that we’re not included in track design, or even just ideas or thoughts.

“Because I think we could help with some guidance. And there’s nothing really in it for us other than trying to just make it more fun for everyone as well. So I think if we win, then everyone wins kind of thing.”

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The other big issue is the actual track surface, something that track designers Apex are particularly proud of, as they used American-sourced materials in the “recipe” for the asphalt.

It didn’t go entirely to plan as in two points it began to show signs of damage on Thursday before any racing cars had hit the track, and after running only by the safety car and hot laps for VIPs in various supercars.

The damage was at Turns 7, the tightening left-hander adjacent to the infamous fake marina, and the Turn 17, the hairpin that leads onto the pit straight.

It was known that there  was a specific issue with the surface process at those two points, so there were no worries that it would extend elsewhere. Those points were patched up on Thursday night, and there was more work at Turn 7 on Friday night.

Miami F1 circuit fake marina

The fake marina surface was criticised in the build-up. Now it’s the track side that is under scrutiny

DPPI

However the gripe of the drivers concerns the whole track, and specifically the lack of grip available as soon as they stray off the rubbered-in racing line. That means that it’s much harder to duck out from behind someone and attempt a pass.

The situation was discussed in the drivers’ briefing on Friday, and some drivers were so frustrated after two days of running had failed to improve the situation that they went public with their concerns following qualifying.

“I think most importantly the surface is a joke,” said Sergio Perez when I asked if he thought there will be any passing in Sunday’s race. “Tomorrow the racing is going be difficult. And you’re going to have the drivers making mistakes because we’ve been put into this situation.”

“It’s still very difficult to go offline,” said Fernando Alonso. “So it’s going to be difficult. We said yesterday that the track, the tarmac, is not F1 standards. Nothing we can do. I think this weekend we need to put the show, but this has to change for next year. It’s very difficult to race like this.”

Ricciardo was clearly frustrated that there are few options in terms of the lines that can be used.

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“You literally have to just stay on that one line,” he said. “Otherwise, you’re not not really on the track anymore.

“So actually instead of kind of making it a kind of a good challenge, it just makes it a little bit, in a way, like one-dimensional, because you only have kind of that one option of that one line where a little bit of rubber building up. So I don’t want to lie and say I like the surface.”

The concern for drivers is that we won’t get the sort of show that they, and the fans, have been expected.

“On the racing line it’s not bad grip, is reasonable-ish,” said Norris. “I think it’s just very hot, which makes it feel even worse. The fact is just offline it’s really, really terrible.

“And we come to the races, and there’s so many fans here. And everyone expects such an amazing race. So when you come to it, and then they’re trying something new with the surface, and something they’ve not really done before, then I think we end up in a position like we are.

“You don’t want everyone to be exactly the same, every track, you like the differences, you like them to be unique.

“But when there’s so much expectation, and you want good racing, and you want us to provide good racing and entertainment and everything, and then there’s a surface, which they’re trying and they just kind of winging it in a way to see what it’s going to be like…

“It’s not good enough, because then we can’t do what they require, we can’t put on a good show. We can’t race. It’s not our fault, but it’s a shame.”

New circuits often have issues, but Norris is adamant that the actual surface is at fault.

“I think if it was a surface like we have in Saudi, for instance,” he said. “It’s just very high grip in general, it survives in hot temperatures, then I think everyone will be looking forward to an extremely exciting Sunday,” he said.

“Because you can go wide, you can do different lines, you can do alternate lines, you can do everything. Whereas tomorrow, everyone’s pretty much stuck to just following line is there and then it’s always a lot more difficult to race that way.”

The chances are we will still get an entertaining race today, as there is scope for plenty of action, and perhaps some of the gripes will be forgotten. Let’s see how it unfolds…