Max Verstappen hopes to ignore the hype and win the inaugural Miami Grand Prix

World champion Max Verstappen will look to shrug off all the hype and razzmatazz this weekend when he tries to cut Charles Leclerc’s lead with a third win of the season at the opening Miami Grand Prix.

Fresh off of winning the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix where he led Sergio Perez home in a resounding Red Bull one-two, the 24-year-old Dutchman arrives in Florida behind championship leader Leclerc of Ferrari by 27 points.

After four races, both drivers know there is a long way to go in the title chase and will be aware that their long-awaited Formula 1 duel has captured the imagination ahead of Sunday’s highly anticipated contest.

Round five of the new-era battle between a young generation of racers takes place at the so-called Miami International Autodrome, a fast-paced street track built around the parking lots of Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.

The stadium is, in rich irony, the home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins whose name serves to remind bruised F1 drivers of the pain generated by their new ground effect cars this season as they bump into each other from above down, “porpoising” at high speed on the straights.

“It’s an exciting new challenge and a step into the unknown,” said Toto Wolff, team principal at the Mercedes champions whose cars have suffered extreme porpoises this year.

“The track looks demanding, with a real mix of low and high speed corners, and it’s destined to be a spectacular showcase for the sport to a growing number of American fans. We’re set for a fantastic event.”

The race will be the first of two in America this year, adding to the success of the United States Grand Prix held in Austin, Texas, and pre-event hype has hinted it will be the answer from F1 to the Super Bowl, with A-list celebrities and vast crowded hospitality areas.

A third American race in Las Vegas is expected to join the calendar next year.

“I think this weekend is going to be pretty crazy,” Verstappen said. “I’m looking forward to the race – I drove the track on the simulator and we trained and prepared as much as we could without going to real life.

“I love racing in Austin so it’s fun to go to another exciting state to see F1 get so much bigger in the US.”

“It looks positive,” said Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas when asked about the track layout and the prospects for good races. “Let’s see how it goes in real life. For me, on paper, it looked good. As an event, I’m sure it will be amazing.”

Horner backs struggling Hamilton

While Leclerc and Verstappen are the main attractions, there will also be plenty of interest in Mercedes’ seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton’s ongoing struggles after a poor start to the season.

Winless in four races, he is already 58 points behind Leclerc and quashed his own hopes of a title challenge, but was unexpectedly contradicted by Red Bull team boss Christian Horner.

Horner told the respected F1Nation podcast: “Lewis had a horrible weekend, but he hasn’t forgotten how to drive. Only five races ago they were fighting for a world championship.

“They will fix this car and he can still be a factor in this championship. We don’t underestimate any of our opponents.”

Hamilton finished 13th at Imola where team-mate George Russell endured severe spinal pain before finishing fourth and both have since been in the Mercedes simulator to help repair and develop their troublesome car.

“Since then, we’ve learned as much as we could,” Wolff said. “In the wind tunnel and in the simulations, I found several directions to improve the car.

“We will be running experiments in Miami to correlate these simulations and hopefully confirm a development path for future races. Both riders have been in the simulator and the factories have produced updates.”

In front of a weekend crowd of around 420,000, Mercedes will be desperate to end its early season agonies and rediscover competitive pace and performance in a key market for car sales for all major brands. .

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But Ferrari and Red Bull, like McLaren, Renault and local favorites Haas, are unlikely to make it easy.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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