MIAMI—Palm trees, yachts in a fake marina and thousands of Formula One fans lined the brand new Miami International Autodrome surrounding Hard Rock Stadium on Friday, straining to catch a glimpse of their favorite drivers.
Afternoon storm clouds rested in the distance as the Formula One cars hit the track in Miami Gardens for the first time on Friday, getting a feel for the locally-sourced materials—a mixture of U.S.-mined granite from Georgia and limestone from Southern Florida.
And in a turn of events, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc barely edged past Mercedes’s George Russell during the first practice rather than his normal foe this season, Max Verstappen, who ran a pace 0.179 seconds away from Leclerc’s. The two rivals have been exchanging wins throughout the first four races as Ferrari leads Red Bull by just 11 points in the constructors standings.
Verstappen briefly rose to the top of the charts, but because he skimmed the wall, the Dutchman found himself spending a majority of the first practice session in the garage. It is just the first practice on a brand new track, so drivers are discerning whether to go with soft, medium or hard tires and determining where to be aggressive and overtake or where to play it safe.
But the unusual error by Verstappen mirrors the two early retirements he’s had this season, begging the question: What does this next chapter look like after Verstappen’s world title in 2021, not just for the 24-year-old, but for Red Bull Racing?
The short answer: innovation.
Ahead of the 2022 season, the team announced its new title sponsor, Oracle, and they credited Oracle Cloud for enabling Red Bull Racing “to make race-day decisions” that assisted in Verstappen’s championship.
“We have to be agile. We have to be always looking for small opportunities to improve competitive advantage and improve performance in lots and lots of different fields of the business,” says Zoe Chilton, head of partnerships at Oracle Red Bull Racing. “So Oracle had been exactly fit in that building, you know, they, we knew that we needed to start looking into cloud infrastructure, we knew we needed to start looking into tools like AI and ML to kind of advance our our capabilities as a business.”
The OCI platform has assisted Red Bull Racing in how they think about race strategy, such as when preparing for the brand new track in Miami. One of the systems they use is called the Monte Carlo simulation, which Chilton describes as “an algorithm that takes in all of the known variables—things like how fast we can do a lap on this particular type of tire or how long this particular type of tire will last under these conditions.”
“We input all of those kind of known variables, which is from data that we capture on Friday and the Saturday morning practice sessions. These data points are incredibly important when it’s a new circuit because we don’t have historical data to reference,” Chilton says. “So we’re really looking at what is new for this circuit and what the research we do on the Friday is telling us. Then, we use this simulation to kind of run millions of different possible outcomes. It gives us all the different possible ways that the race can play out and shows us, hopefully, the fastest one. So, which lap we should do a pit stop on, which tires we should start, when we should change tires, and so on and so forth.
“So being able to run that simulation on the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure has been really useful for us … it basically means you can, on demand, have access to a really powerful infrastructure and use it for the race weekend.”
The Monte Carlo simulation is “the exact same way that financial service industries determine their liability on a daily basis,” says Taylor Newill, the senior director of motorsports engineering at Oracle.
Toby McAuliffe, senior director of sports marketing and business development, says that working with Oracle Red Bull Racing “gives us an incredible opportunity to highlight our technology and bring it to life. When you can show a team like Oracle Red Bull Racing using Oracle Cloud to win races, it makes it more accessible to people from any industry.”
Red Bull Racing now can manage 25% more simulation outcomes per race weekend compared to what they were previously able to. It allows them to devise multiple plans per driver so if something unexpected occurs mid-race, teams can work through the problem and fix it in real time.
The Miami International Autodrome is built around Hard Rock Stadium, home to the Dolphins and much more. The venue has hosted the Miami Open, the 2020 Super Bowl, the ’21 College Football Playoff national championship and El Clasico Miami: Real Madrid vs. Barcelona (July 2017). It has seen the likes of Jay Z, Beyoncé, Coldplay and U2 perform.
Over the years, Hard Rock Stadium and Miami have become a global entertainment hub.
Formula One has blossomed in popularity within the United States, in part thanks to the behind-the-scenes Netflix show Formula 1: Drive to Survive. The series gives fans a peak behind the curtain at the sport that uses the world as its playground, highlighting the action and providing context to storylines that emerge both on and off the course. There are harrowing moments (like Romain Grosjean’s fiery wreck that almost cost the Switzerland-born driver his life) and complicated decisions displayed (like Pierre Gasly getting sacked by Red Bull and bouncing back to win at Monza with AlphaTauri).
The series has had a mixed bag of reviews from drivers and fans; however, the sport’s presence within the U.S. has expanded, and the Miami Grand Prix as the second race in the States in addition to Austin this season and Las Vegas as a third in 2023.
“I definitely feel that Austin is a completely different feeling in terms of where you are in America,” Verstappen says. “I think that’s good because I think it would be a bit boring if you keep … Let’s say, two races in the same state doesn’t really make sense, right? So it’s good that they are mixing it up a bit going from, say east [to] south to the west with Vegas coming.”
The clouds held off on Friday in South Florida, the sun shining down as the Formula One drivers emerged for the second practice session, more knowledge of how the new cars are performing on the new track under their belt.
Verstappen found his groove at first, relaxing into the Florida heat that he’s competed in before. During his childhood, he raced at Homestead, Sebring and Palm Beach, giving the now-24-year-old a “a bit of a taste of Florida.”
When asked about his goals for the next five and 10 years, Verstappen says wants to remain at the same level of competitiveness that led him to a world championship in 2021.
“And then, of course, I want to try and achieve even more,” he says. “I want to try to win more races and hopefully win even more championships. But I say if it doesn’t happen, it is what it is. It’s not going to go to change my world. So I also just really want to enjoy what I’m doing.”
With the tools in hand to expand off of last season’s title, the next chapter shows potential despite what the DNFs and wonky practices in Miami that featured his rear brake catching on fire Friday showed. As he says, “If you look at the races I finished, I have a 100% win record so that is very positive.”
Verstappen signed a major extension prior to the season beginning, tying him down with Red Bull for the next five years. One of the questions that arose after the announcement was why sign so long?
The answer is simple and one that may be what he needs to conquer the mixed bag known as the 2022 season—he can just be Max Verstappen.
“I don’t need to be a different person or they hold me back. That’s why I think it’s a really good fit,” Verstappen says. “And of course, we had that desire and dream to win a championship together, which we did. I hope that we can do this for a much longer period because I really enjoy working with the people in the team.”
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