Red Bull Motorsports
The Miami Grand Prix weekend was a contrast of extremes for Max Verstappen; miserable on Friday after gearbox gremlins restricted him to one lap in the second practise. He was matter-of-fact on Saturday after qualifying third. On Sunday, when it counted, though? He was majestic. The reigning world champion took his second win in succession and third for the season. As Formula One shone brightly in Florida, Verstappen sliced into Charles Leclerc's championship lead.
F1's first visit to the Miami International Autodrome produced a hype-heavy build-up that only a giant American sporting event can provide, and while the 57-lap race was mostly more tame, Verstappen and Oracle Red Bull Racing won't have minded one bit. Third on the grid, Verstappen was second at the first corner and in first on Lap 9, and from there, it was mostly smooth sailing for the Dutchman on the track nestled alongside the North Atlantic.
Verstappen's 23rd career win sliced his gap to Ferrari frontrunner Leclerc to 19 points atop the championship standings, Leclerc finishing 3.786s adrift in second place.
With Ferrari pair Leclerc and Carlos Sainz locking out the front row for the first time for the Italian team since Mexico 2019, Oracle Red Bull Racing duo Verstappen and Sergio Pérez lurked behind them on the second row, the race shaping up as a straight fight between the top two teams with very different strengths.
Ferrari were faster in the corners all weekend, while Red Bull's prodigious straight-line speed mitigating that advantage; an intriguing race loomed, but not for long. Verstappen jumped Sainz off the start, sat behind Leclerc for eight laps and then pounced at the first corner of Lap 9. The fight for the podium's top step settled in one decisive swoop.
A late-race safety car caused by a crash for McLaren's Lando Norris saw the field neutralised behind the safety car, and racing resumed with the pack in close proximity with 10 laps of the 57-lap race left to run. Verstappen repelled Leclerc's early advances, edged to a decisive one-second advantage on Lap 53, and then nailed the fastest lap of the race on the next tour (1m 31.361s) to show he had plenty in reserve when it mattered most.
With Verstappen and Leclerc (again) in a class of their own at the front, their team-mates Pérez and Sainz fought it out for the final podium place in the dying laps, Sainz with track position pursued by Pérez on fresher medium tyres after a late pit stop. The Mexican made his attack at the first corner on Lap 52 but was forced to yield, with Sainz eventually finishing 8.229s behind Verstappen, but two seconds ahead of Pérez.
Here's how what turned out to be a relatively easy win around the Hard Rock Stadium shook out for Verstappen in Miami.
I think we kept it exciting until the end
Max keeps it simple
For a sport that can be so complicated, Verstappen's world championship defence has been simple to understand; if he finishes a race in 2022, he wins it. The Dutchman's season had a strange cadence to it after the first four races; retirements in Bahrain and Australia immediately recovered by wins in Saudi Arabia and Emilia Romagna. Sunday's win made it a winners' trophy every time he's seen the chequered flag this year.
"It was an incredible Grand Prix, very physical as well," Verstappen said, soaked in sweat after 57 laps in stifling trademark Miami humidity.
"I think we kept it exciting until the end. I'm incredibly happy with winning here in Miami, it was an incredible Sunday for us.
"I hadn't done a start all weekend because of the troubles, but I had a decent launch, and I saw the opportunity to go around the outside, and it worked really well. I saw Charles was struggling a bit with his right front tyre, and I went for it, and that really made my race. I was not very happy when the safety car came out, but these things have helped me in the past, so I can't really complain.
"I just need to finish all the time!"
Verstappen ended Sunday where he looked likely to end Saturday, standing atop the timesheets after the first Q3 qualifying runs before a mistake on his final flying lap saw Leclerc, then Sainz, edge ahead. But 26 world championship points when it counted on Sunday saw him within a race win of Leclerc at the top of the standings, a strong recovery given two of the year's first four races counted for nothing, at least statistically.
Oracle Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner said Verstappen's win required "everything we had."
"After the safety car, we were quite lucky that Ferrari didn’t pit and take on a new tyre because they would have probably put on the soft tyre. At least that neutralised things, but once Charles was in the DRS, we couldn't shake him off," Horner said.
"Max, it's so much pressure in that situation that it's easy to lock a wheel and so on. But he kept it clean and was gradually able to break the DRS and was able to manage it from there. It was a really tactical race."
Checo fights on
The record books will show Pérez started and finished fourth in Miami, but the Mexican's race was nowhere near as straightforward as that. Pérez held station in the early laps behind Sainz, but his race looked to be unravelling as early as Lap 20, when he reported he was "losing power" as he dropped more than five seconds behind Sainz, an engine-related retirement seeming likely.
With some coaching from the Oracle Red Bull Racing pit wall and some changes to some sensor settings from the steering wheel, Pérez quickly regained the ground lost to Sainz and was in position to pounce in the final 10 laps. His one chance at Turn 1 came unstuck as he ran – just – out of road with five laps left.
Pérez's super-consistent season, finishing inside the top four in four of the first five races, has him maintaining third place in the drivers' championship with 66 points, while Oracle Red Bull Racing's deficit to Ferrari atop the constructors' standings has narrowed to just six points.
"Reliability is going to be an issue, we had a sensor issue on Checo's engine, and the guys did well to move them around, but he lost probably 30 horsepower with that," Horner said.
"He was losing half a second a lap, so without that, he might have even been second. We pitted him, and he had that grip advantage over the Ferraris.
"It's frustrating, so it's something we need to get on top of. Generally, though, I think we're on a good trajectory."
Promise turns to anguish for AlphaTauri
Miami looked to be a turning point for Scuderia AlphaTauri after both Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda qualified inside the top 10, Gasly lining up in a season-best seventh place on Sunday. The Frenchman made a storming start to the race to blast past Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), but his race went south after contact with Fernando Alonso's Alpine at the first corner on Lap 40.
Gasly continued but knew the game was up in a damaged car, and was on his way back to the pits when he came together with Norris on the back straight, triggering the safety car that concertinaed the field. Frustratingly, he left Miami on six world championship points for the season and stuck in 13th place overall.
"Fernando crashed into us at Turn 1 a lap before and broke the rear-right of the car, so we tried to go for one more lap to see if we could continue and make it to the end of the race, but the car was too damaged to stay on track," Gasly explained.
"On the way back to the pits, we had contact with Norris, and I was trying to turn right and let the guys past. Unfortunately, we had contact. I'm extremely disappointed. It was a great afternoon, we passed Lewis at the start, and we were looking for P8 at the chequered flag."
Tsunoda's race went awry earlier; from ninth on the grid, the Japanese dropped to 10th on Lap 1, fell outside the points five laps later, and could never work his way back inside the top 10. He eventually finished 12th after Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) was assessed a five-second post-race penalty for gaining an advantage by leaving the track.
Tsunoda stays in 12th place overall with 10 world championship points, while AlphaTauri retained seventh place in the constructors' race with 16 points, one more than Haas.
Miami makes its mark
Miami debuting on the F1 calendar had been a long time in the making – the event was first discussed as far back as 2018 – and it's safe to say America embraced the event held in one of its prime party cities with gusto. "It feels like our Super Bowl in Formula One. I've never had anything like this," Gasly gushed before the race weekend, and the list of American celebrities and corporate heavy-hitters instantly had this race on par with Monaco as one of the sport's most important, at least financially.
The whole weekend felt like a celebration of Formula One's global growth, and many of the drivers clearly wanted to mark the occasion with Miami-themed helmets, Alfa Romeo's Valtteri Bottas taking things to extremes with a different helmet design for all three days of the event.
The event didn't go off without a hitch or some bemusement – sections of the track's tarmac needed to be repaired before the action got underway for first practise on Friday. The 'fake marina' at Turn 7 – where boats had been dragged in to park beside the circuit on a painted surface made to look like the ocean – was prime social media and meme fodder for the sport's fans.
Miami's mixture of sun, fun and money make this event one that's sure to stay as F1 enhances its presence in the US, which will expand to three races next year when Las Vegas is added to the ever-expanding calendar.
Feels just like home …
With Miami in the rearview, Formula One settles back in Europe for a few races after the manic travel schedule of late (Australia to Italy, Italy to the US). F1 returns to the 'heartland' with a trip to Barcelona for the Spanish Grand Prix on May 22, a circuit the drivers know like the backs of their hands.
Site of pre-season testing for the majority of its tenure on the F1 calendar since the early 1990s, the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is a track that offers few surprises for drivers and engineers alike, perhaps explaining why 23 of the 31 races held at the circuit have been won from pole position. Other than Monaco, it's hard to make a case for a circuit where Saturday's qualifying is more important.
One of the few drivers to buck the pole-to-win trend is, memorably, Verstappen; the Dutchman took his maiden F1 victory on his first race weekend for Red Bull in 2016 from fourth on the grid. The reigning world champion has been on the podium in all but one visit since but is yet to return to Spain's top step.
Pérez, on the other hand, has some unfinished business in Barcelona; in 11 previous races, fourth (for Force India in 2017) is the closest he's got to the podium so far.
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