Verstappen wins inaugural Miami GP after late-race pressure

Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

Verstappen wins inaugural Miami GP after late-race pressure

Formula 1

Verstappen wins inaugural Miami GP after late-race pressure

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Max Verstappen won the inaugural Miami Grand Prix after surviving a late-race battle with Charles Leclerc to slash his championship deficit again.

Leclerc started from pole and held first off the line but Verstappen launched to second around the outside of Carlos Sainz, boxing in the Spaniard behind the lead Ferrari, forcing him to concede and instead focus on holding back Sergio Perez from fourth.

The Red Bull Racing car’s straight-line speed then became decisive. Verstappen latched onto the back of Leclerc on lap eight and dragged him through the final sector. The benefit of DRS made for an easy move into Turn 1 at the start of the following lap.

An aggressive start put Verstappen in position to challenge Leclerc early. Mark Sutton/Motorsport Images

Leclerc stuck with the reigning champion for another lap or two, but his right-front medium tire was struggling. A mistake on lap 12, sending him wide at the Turn 16 hairpin, dropped him well behind.

Ferrari wanted him to extend as far as possible but by lap 24 he was done with the Pirelli rubber and was brought in for a set of hards.

Verstappen didn’t need to respond for another two laps, such was the size of his advantage and, once pitted, he rejoined with the lead undiminished.

Sainz and Perez followed on the next lap but their battle for third had been blunted by a sensor problem in Perez’s Red Bull, robbing him of what team principal Christian Horner reckoned was as much as 25 horsepower.

The race entered a stalemate until lap 38 when Fernando Alonso tagged Pierre Gasly’s left-rear wheel in an attempt to overtake the Frenchman into the first turn. Both stayed on track but Gasly lost positions, suffering an issue with his AlphaTauri.

Gasly ran wide and off the track at Turns 6 and 7, dropping from ninth to 13th, and rejoined at Turn 8 as Lando Norris steamed past. The pair came together in the middle of the track, neither apparently aware of the other’s position, which sent the McLaren spinning into the wall and out of the race.

The safety car was called, energizing Leclerc at the restart after getting his tires back up to temperature rapidly and harrying Verstappen for the lead. The Dutchman was steadfast in defense long enough to hold off the Ferrari and cross the line with 3.7s in hand.

“It was an incredible grand prix,” he said. “Very physical as well. I think we kept it exciting until the end.”

With a point for fastest lap, he reduced his championship deficit to 19 points.

Leclerc put his defeat down to the medium tire, noting that he was at least on Verstappen’s pace once they switched onto the hards.

“We struggled quite a bit with the medium tires — especially in the first stint — and got overtaken there,” he said. “That made our race a bit more difficult. Today [Red Bull Racing] had the advantage in terms of pace.”

Sainz clung onto third despite a close call with Perez with five laps to go. The Mexican had stopped during the safety car period for fresh mediums and, after some stern defending from the Spaniard, tried to dive-bomb into the first turn. Perez was too late on the brakes and sailed wide with locked-up tires, his best challenge burned.

“Checo in the end on the medium tire was very difficult to keep behind,” Sainz said. “It’s been a touch race with tires; with the heat — the car was moving and sliding a lot — but in the end we got what we deserved which is a decent P3.”

Valtteri Bottas had been running comfortably fifth and holding Lewis Hamilton at bay before the safety car but both were powerless at the restart against George Russell. The young Briton dropped from 12th to 15th off the line due to a lack of grip with his hard tires but, after a handful of laps, he fired up the rubber and made great progress through the field.

Running high in the points, Russell made the ultimately fruitful decision to stay out to capitalize on a possible safety car, which he used to switch to a fresh set of mediums.

He dropped to seventh behind Hamilton and together they pressured Bottas into an error at Turn 16 on lap 49 to get past. One lap later, Russell’s tire advantage allowed him to get by his teammate.

Bottas finished seventh ahead of Alonso who was later demoted to ninth after a five-second penalty was applied for the earlier contact with Gasly.

Esteban Ocon was promoted to eighth in a superb recovery from the back of the grid. The Frenchman started on the hard tire and ran deep into the race, changing rubber only behind the safety car to consolidate his gains.

Alex Albon scored the final point of the grand prix with 10th, up from 16th on the grid. He gained places by staying out behind the safety car and then picked up places from a melee between Mick Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel, promoting the AlphaTauri driver into the points.

Daniel Ricciardo was caught in the battling pack just outside the points after the safety car and managed to avoid a crash between Kevin Magnussen and Lance Stroll to finish 11th ahead of Stroll, Yuki Tsunoda and Nicholas Latifi.

Schumacher finished 15th after his crash with Vettel (in their battle for ninth place), again letting slip his potential to score his first ever point.

Magnussen and Vettel retired late, as did Gasly, whose right-rear corner gave up after the safety car.

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