Miami GP FP1: Mercedes score one-two, Nico Hulkenberg hits the wall

Jamie Woodhouse
Mercedes' George Russell at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Jeddah, March 2023.

Mercedes' George Russell at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Jeddah, March 2023.

Mercedes made the perfect start to their race weekend in Miami, though Nico Hulkenberg ensured that Haas could not say the same.

It was looking like Max Verstappen had FP1 in the bag for much of the session, one delayed by a crash for Nico Hulkenberg who found the wall at Turn 3, though a late twist in the tale was to come.

And that was provided by Mercedes, who in the final stages showed the Championship leader that they could well be in the fight here in Miami this weekend.

It was a scorcher as the drivers headed out for the opening hour of practice in Miami, track temperatures coming in at a toasty 48 Celsius as the lights went green.

There was no shortage of interest though with a busy track from the start, Kevin Magnussen kicking-off proceedings by laying down a 1:36.8 on the medium rubber.

George Russell meanwhile was willing to give up half of the session to fix his vibrating Mercedes steering wheel, something which the team made clear they were not prepared to fix in-session, though they soon backed down and went to work on Russell’s W14.

It was a smoother experience for Lewis Hamilton in the other Mercedes though early on as he briefly went top with the medium tyre, albeit soon displaced by Verstappen who this time managed to keep his Red Bull, sporting its special Miami livery, on the track using that hard compound tyre, team-mate Sergio Perez also having a few early handling issues.

Perez came into this weekend on quite the high, that certainly not true though for AlphaTauri’s Nyck de Vries. It seemed like a spin at Turn 12/13 was already a tricky start for the Dutchman, but then it was confirmed that he had been noted by the stewards for potential dangerous driving, seemingly related to his re-joining of the track. Oh Nyck.

He would have breathed a huge sigh of relief then when the stewards decided to take no further action.

As for the other Dutchman, Verstappen said it was a case of “one millimetre offline and you have no grip” on a dusty track, but he was doing a good job of finding it as he moved into the 1:32s, Hamilton half a second behind despite the compound gap, which became over a second when Verstappen clocked a 1:31.8.

Leclerc, Baku’s polesitter two times over, took a shot at that new benchmark, though even with the benefit of medium rubber he still had seven-tenths to find. The switch to hards would actually bring about a time boost, though much more than that one-tenth would be needed.

Alex Albon meanwhile was showing off some impressive drifting skills in his Williams. Well saved!

With 20 minutes gone in the session Russell’s car remained in the garage, Mercedes busy swapping out what was a heavier, test specification for the standard steering rack.

While that was going on, it was over to Haas to up the pace by breaking out the soft rubber, this time their other star Hulkenberg enjoying a stint in P1 after setting a 1:31.392. It was not set to last long though as the Red Bulls set off on soft-tyre runs, Verstappen going three-tenths clear of Hulkenberg, though Perez could not yet clear that hurdle.

Sadly for Hulkenberg though, he soon was no more a moving target as he lost control of the VF-23, going off-line through Turn 3 and hitting the wall, thus triggering the red flags. “I lost it,” was his short and very accurate summary of events.

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18 minutes remained then as the track went back to green, Hulkenberg’s Haas car safely removed from the scene, and it was no surprise to see a queue disperse out of the pit lane as the session resumed.

We were even treated to a nice dose of nostalgia too on that opening lap out of the pits, as Hamilton decided to throw a few overtaking-style lines on Verstappen, thankfully no contact!

And once Hamilton decided to give his former title rival some space, Verstappen made great use of it, finding another half a second. Fernando Alonso could not quite get his Aston Martin within a second of that on attempt one.

Leclerc would have more luck, but still, Verstappen had a half-second margin over the Ferrari racer. Then came Carlos Sainz in the sister Ferrari, who would go a tenth clear of his team-mate, knowing he needs a mighty Miami GP showing after a lacklustre display in Baku.

Meanwhile, as Albon was having further troubles in the Williams, this time failing to save the impending spin, Leclerc was piecing together a much stronger run, going purple in the first sector.

Ultimately it was not enough to topple Verstappen, but by narrowing the deficit to 0.25s, it at least put Ferrari back in the game, or so it seemed.

In fact, Mercedes had decided to save their best for last on the soft tyres, Hamilton taking over P1 before Russell quickly displaced his team-mate with a 1:30.125, putting him two-tenths clear.

Leclerc had more to give too, jumping Verstappen by a tenth to create plenty of intrigue heading into FP2.

FP1 times:

1 George RUSSELL Mercedes 1:30.125
2 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +0.212
3 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +0.324
4 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing +0.424
5 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +0.599
6 Pierre GASLY Alpine +0.979
7 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +1.106
8 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +1.212
9 Nico HULKENBERG Haas F1 Team +1.267
10 Esteban OCON Alpine +1.417
11 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull Racing +1.441
12 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +1.685
13 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas F1 Team +1.728
14 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +1.777
15 Alexander ALBON Williams +1.778
16 Lando NORRIS McLaren +1.872
17 ZHOU Guanyu Alfa Romeo +2.009
18 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +2.044
19 Logan SARGEANT Williams +2.494
20 Nyck DE VRIES AlphaTauri +4.512