Russell spearheads shock Mercedes one-two in Miami

George Russell suffered a steering issue in first practice in Miami but managed to finish quickest

George Russell suffered a steering issue in first practice in Miami but managed to finish quickest in his Mercedes

George Russell spearheaded a surprise Mercedes one-two in first practice for the Miami Grand Prix despite suffering a steering issue that consigned him to the garage for half an hour.

Reigning two-time F1 champion Max Verstappen was seemingly poised to comfortably take the honours after the opening 60 minutes at the Miami International Autodrome until late push laps from both Russell and team-mate Lewis Hamilton.

After just a couple of exploratory laps early on, Russell complained of a steering issue, declaring over the radio he was “not going to learn anything like this”.

Mercedes confirmed it was running a test item, which Russell felt made the steering heavy, resulting in the team deciding to change the rack which cost the British driver 30 minutes.

Up until the closing stages, Russell was languishing in the lower reaches of the timesheet, but ended up setting the fastest lap at the death with a time of one minute 30.125s to finish 0.212s quicker than Hamilton whose best lap had come just a moment beforehand.

Up until then, Verstappen was leading the way as he rediscovered his form following an indifferent weekend in Azerbaijan a week ago when he had to settle for second best inside Red Bull behind team-mate Sergio Perez who won both the sprint and grand prix.

That has resulted in a gap of just six points between the duo in the drivers’ standings but Verstappen was back on song in the opening 60 minutes in Miami where a temporary track has been laid around the outside of the Miami Dolphins’ Hard Rock Stadium.

In a Red Bull sporting a new livery, Verstappen was set to finish comfortably quickest until the laps from Russell and Hamilton, eventually settling for fourth fastest as Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc also pipped the Dutch driver by a tenth of a second late on.

Back to normal in Miami

Following the intensity of last weekend’s revamped Azerbaijan GP weekend and just the sole practice session in place, it was a return to normality for the teams and drivers for the second event in Miami.

Around a circuit that has been completely resurfaced and is now effectively billiard-table smooth, this was the first of the practice sessions ahead of qualifying and the race.

The early exchanges saw the drivers experiment with the hard and medium Pirelli compounds, and with Verstappen and Hamilton exchanging fastest laps.

On the hard compound, Hamilton set the early benchmark with a time of 1:34.527s, only for Verstappen to very quickly shave half a second off that time.

Carlos Sainz, hoping to get to the bottom of the issues he suffered in his Ferrari across the weekend at the Baku Street Circuit, managed to get into the mix with a time of 1:33.823s on the hard compound.

Following a switch to the medium tyre, Hamilton soon usurped Sainz by two-tenths of a second, only for Verstappen to again swiftly depose the seven-time champion by three-tenths before becoming the first to dip under 92 seconds with a 1:31.826s.

Around the half-hour mark, Nico Hulkenberg, in a Haas sporting a new floor, as was the case with Ferrari, was the first to switch to the soft tyre, underlining the difference between the compounds as he posted a time of 1:31.392s.

Verstappen, however, was not to be denied as for the third time in the session he returned to the top of the timesheet with a 1:31.054s.

Hulkenberg brings out red flags

Moments later, Hulkenberg undid all his good work, losing the rear of his VF-23 out of Turn 2, leading to him spinning through 180 degrees and hitting a wall hard while travelling backwards at speed, severely damaging the right-hand side of the car.

Following a nine-minute red-flag period to clear away the debris, Verstappen soon lowered his best to 1:30.549s, and that after only setting a personal best in the first sector, and also after a minor suspension change to his RB19 during the short interval.

Sainz, Leclerc and Alonso all managed to get ahead of Hulkenberg but were unable to get close to Verstappen, with the former 0.444s off the pace.

Leclerc soon dipped to a quarter of a second behind, and that appeared as if it would be the way of things until Mercedes’ later intervention from Russell and Hamilton.

Sainz finished fifth quickest, 0.599s adrift, followed by Alpine’s Pierre Gasly and Aston Martin duo Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll seventh and eighth ahead of Hulkenberg, with the second Alpine of Esteban Ocon completing the top 10, whilst Perez could only manage 11th, 1.441s adrift.

Oscar Piastri was the lead McLaren in 12th with a lap of 1:31.810s.

AlphaTauri driver Nyck de Vries finished last, that after escaping an investigation for dangerous driving early in the session after enduring a slight spin out of Turn 12.

Facing the wrong way and unsighted looking at the sweeping right-hand curve of the corner, De Vries slowly headed the wrong way in order to gain a sightline that would allow him to spin his AT04 back into position.

The stewards ultimately reviewed the matter and decided to take no further action.

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