Charles Leclerc led the first ever F1 practice session on the purpose-built track in Miami.
George Russell led FP2 in a session that saw issues for Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz.
Drivers had mixed reactions about the 19-turn layout around the Hard Rock Stadium and by Florida’s Turnpike.
After the pre-event hype Formula 1 cars took to the Miami International Autodrome for the first time on Friday – and it was Mercedes’ George Russell who surprisingly set the pace.
For the first time in dry conditions in 2022 Mercedes wound up with the fastest package, having brought a smattering of updates to try and address the performance issues it has faced with its W13.
Mercedes has third best for much of the season and has taken a best qualifying result of fifth and race result of third, but in Miami on Friday it led the way.
Russell set a time of 1:29.938 to finish 0.106 of a second up on championship leader Charles Leclerc while Sergio Perez was the quickest Red Bull driver in third overall.
Lewis Hamilton backed up Mercedes’ pace by classifying fourth.
“We don’t really understand it to be honest, why we sort of hit the ground running,” said Russell, who suggested the hotter conditions may be helping the package. “The car is working well, but it’s only Friday, I’m not getting too carried away.”
World Champion Max Verstappen was effectively benched after the second practice session due to a hydraulics issue on his out-lap which caused a small fire, while Carlos Sainz’s difficult run continued as he crashed his Ferrari into Turn 13.
It leaves Verstappen and Sainz playing catch-up in terms of running and the reigning champion described the lack of running as “extremely painful” for his weekend preparations.
Valtteri Bottas was another driver to find the wall on Friday, spinning backwards into Turn 7 – the tightening left-hander that caused several others to spin – during the first session. The damage was such that Bottas was unable to partake in second practice.
As expected, it was a hot and humid day in Miami, with temperatures prodding 94F, reminding drivers of the controlling conditions they previously faced in Malaysia, or nearby Singapore.
The majority of the drivers were impressed by the 19-turn layout, and enjoyed the challenge, though there were a couple of talking points.
The first was just how slippery it was off-line – leading drivers to suggest it could have a negative effect on Sunday’s action if steps aren’t taken to apply a remedy.
“It’s really disappointing that there’s no grip off-line, racing will be bad because of that,” said Red Bull’s Sergio Perez. “As soon as you go off-line, there is no grip, it’s done.”
“If it’s not going to get clean it’s going to be hard to overtake, it’s like driving on gravel off-line,” said Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, who couldn’t recall a similar situation at another venue. “I guess they’ll clean it and hopefully it’ll be better.”
Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel agreed that “if we want to race, we need to be able to go side-by-side and at the moment there is only one line” while McLaren’s Lando Norris added that “it’s a bit weird. If you go off-line, it’s just terrible.”
That slippery nature, accentuated by the hot weather conditions, mean tire degradation is likely to be a key factor in Sunday’s race. Drivers will also face a test of their fitness, with Lewis Hamilton commenting that he lost two kilos through Friday’s running.
The fiddly off-camber narrow complex beneath Florida’s Turnpike was one of the main challenges for drivers; it was where Sainz spun and wiped the front-left off his Ferrari F1-75.
“The track is quite nice to drive, except for the chicane… I don’t want to put that quote out there, so I’ll hold onto that,” said seven-time champion Hamilton before expanding a little. “It’s so tight, it reminds me of being at the B&Q car park when I was six or seven years old, in the go-kart, going in between cars, it’s a corner that maybe in the future they can remove that one and it’ ll improve the track.”
Mercedes teammate George Russell concurred that “it’s still a bit of a head-banger through there! That’s the only thing that’s a little bit tricky, but for the rest they’ve done an amazing job.”
McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo quipped that “the real tight bit… it’s ‘whatever’.”
“I think it’s a bit too slow to be honest,” said Haas’ Mick Schumacher of the section. “The curbs are quite aggressive, the cars are quite stiff, so it does throw us around a lot.”
Overall though Miami got the thumbs-up after two hours of Formula 1 running on Friday. Qualifying takes place on Saturday to determine the grid for Sunday’s inaugural Miami race.