What went right: After Almirola made his way to the front in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona in July, steady rains forced NASCAR to call the race after 112 of 160 scheduled laps. The victory was not only Almirola’s first in Sprint Cup competition, but the first for the legendary No. 43 machine since 1999. It also came 30 years after the No. 43’s iconic driver, seven-time Cup champ Richard Petty, earned his 200th and final career win at the “World Center of Racing.” All in all, not a bad way to make your first Chase.
What went wrong: Before and after Daytona, noticeably strong results were few for Almirola and Richard Petty Motorsports. More often than not in the regular season, they were running mid-pack – and to be honest, that’s where you’d expect them to be. But the 43 camp would look to step up in the Chase, and in the opener at Chicagoland Speedway, Almirola charged into the Top 5 only to lose the motor late in the race. Instead of a great finish that would boost his hopes of advancing out of the Challenger Round, he got a 41st-place result that snuffed those hopes out.
2015 Prospectus: Much like fellow 2014 Chase “wild card” A.J. Allmendinger and his JTG Daugherty team, Almirola and RPM must become regulars in at least the Top 10-15 each week. To do that, they’re gonna have to make up a good amount of ground in performance. They’ll look to reach said goal during what will be a busy year for the team – RPM is setting up shop at a new/old location in Mooresville, N.C., and former Indy 500 winner Sam Hornish Jr. is making his full-time Cup return as Almirola’s teammate.
Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.
“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”
In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.
With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.
In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.
“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.
“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”
Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.
“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said. “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”
Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.
“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.
“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”
Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.