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Dominant Max Verstappen primed for Miami three-peat amid F1 team shakeups

Formula 1 driver Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing is interviewed in the paddock before the 2024 Miami Grand Prix on Thursday at the Miami International Autodrome in Miami Gardens, Fla. Photo by Greg Nash/UPI
1 of 6 | Formula 1 driver Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing is interviewed in the paddock before the 2024 Miami Grand Prix on Thursday at the Miami International Autodrome in Miami Gardens, Fla. Photo by Greg Nash/UPI | License Photo

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla., May 3 (UPI) -- Formula 1 drivers say the Miami Grand Prix hasn't lost its luster ahead of its third rendition Sunday in Miami Gardens, Fla. Max Verstappen, who won the previous two editions, is a heavy favorite to repeat as champion.

The Miami Grand Prix will start at 4 p.m. EDT Sunday at the Miami International Autodrome, a track constructed around the Miami Dolphins' Hard Rock Stadium. The event will air on ABC.

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"I think the sport's gotten bigger here," American Logan Sargeant, a driver for Williams said Thursday at a news conference. "It's got a lot more awareness.

"Every city that I go to, people are excited. It's now a sport here in the States. Before, it was just an event that arrived once a year. Now, we're kind of a part of the culture here, which is really, really cool."

Celebrities are again expected to flock to the event, watching the high-performance vehicles eclipse speeds of 200 mph. Sports stars Patrick Mahomes, David Beckham, LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Serena Williams, actor Tom Cruise and billionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos were among the stars who attended the last two years. More than 270,000 fans attended last year's event.

Three-day general admission tickets for this year's event are available for $450. Those fans could be treated to another victory by Verstappen, now one of the most dominant athletes in the world.

Verstappen, the winner of the last three Formula 1 championships, has won four of five races this season and 21 of 23 dating back to last season.

He holds a 25-point lead on Oracle Red Bull Racing teammate Sergio Perez, who sits in second place in the Formula 1 driver standings. Ferrari teammates Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz sit in third and fourth, respectively. McLaren teammates Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri are fifth and sixth.

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Mercedes teammates George Russell and Lewis Hamilton rank seventh and ninth, respectively. Aston Martin duo Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll are eighth and 10th.

Many of the drivers faced questions about their futures Thursday, as the sport's landscape continues to change because of driver-team rotations and personnel moves.

Hamilton, one of the most decorated Formula 1 drivers in history, will move to Ferrari in 2025, replacing Sainz. He said it has been "difficult" to race this season as the move looms, but he continues to give his best effort to Mercedes.

"Right now my heart is still with Mercedes and I really want to continue to deliver and lift them up," Hamilton said. "That's not only my job, but my desire this year. And as difficult as it's been, we still rally together and I'm really proud of everyone that I'm working with. I'm really hoping that the year gets better."

Oracle Red Bull Racing also announced earlier this week that chief technical officer Adrian Newey will leave the team in 2025. News of the departure sparked rumors that Newey could follow Hamilton to Ferrari. Hamilton said Thursday that he would "very much" like to see Newey join his team next year, but declined to confirm knowledge of an official transaction.

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Perez said it was "not ideal" for Newey to leave his team.

"Someone like Adrian has been tremendous to our team, to our organization," Perez said. "And he's obviously a very good friend of mine as well in this time that we spent together. But at the end of the day, there are times in life. ... I think he spent like 20 years at Red Bull. I think he probably wants to do something else."

Perez remains without a signed contract for 2025, but said it's "just a matter of time" until his future is decided. He also said "everything remains an option."

Verstappen, who is signed until 2028, told reporters that he is not interested in leaving the Oracle Red Bull Racing team.

"It's really important about having the quickest car, and of course a good environment," Verstappen said. "That's what we have currently, and that's also what I asked for. As long as the environment is right and we have the quickest car, then it's quite straightforward."

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff told Fox Sports Australia earlier this year that that the team would be interested in a future union with Verstappen.

Perez, Leclerc, Sainz and Norris join Vestappen as the top expected contenders at the 2024 Miami Grand Prix. Sargeant, who ranks No. 21 of 22 in the driver standings, is among those with the longest odds to win.

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Sprint qualifying for the event will be held Friday, with a sprint race set for Saturday afternoon. Race qualifying will start at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Miami International Autodrome.

Formula 1 drivers prepare for Miami Grand Prix

Wings are seen outside the Mercedes-AMG Petronas garage before the Formula One Miami Grand Prix at the Miami International Autodrome in Miami Gardens, Fla., on May 2, 2024. Photo by Greg Nash/UPI | License Photo

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