Max Verstappen ruthlessly addressed any suggestion that his Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez might take the championship lead in the Miami Grand Prix with a Floridian fightback from a P9 start.
Again in 2023, the two looked untouchable as Perez opened a gap to challengers behind, and Verstappen scythed through the field without challenge to claim the team's fourth 1-2 finish in the opening five rounds.
Fans filled the grounds at the Miami International Autodrome for the second time as the Hard Rock Stadium hosted another showbiz-filled Grand Prix that might be weighted a little too heavily on the celebrity aspect rather than the racing. The ever-imposing walls ran imposingly close to the circuit but claimed no victim as the 57-lap Grand Prix saw no retirements, safety cars, or even yellow flags.
The lack of interruption made Verstappen's surge to the top step a more impressive achievement, but the Dutch driver wasn't the only racer out of position as the 20 cars formed the starting grid. Azerbaijan polesitter Charles Leclerc started from P7 after a qualifying crash that ruined Verstappen's hopes of setting a lap, and Lewis Hamilton didn't escape Q2 to start from P13.
The mixed-up grid had all three Pirelli tyre compounds on show, with a medium-to-hard strategy as the preferred pit-stop route. Verstappen, however, opted for hard rubber on his first stint to make his frontrunner overtakes more challenging, but with the benefit of fresh tyres late on. At the back, a double Q1 exit for McLaren had their drivers starting on soft tyres, but without a safety car to assist, that strategy didn't pay off.
A well-behaved first lap had high-starting Kevin Magnussen drop from P4 to P7 as Verstappen's fightback began on Esteban Ocon, who had the audacity to pass the double champion in the opening corners. After dismissing the Frenchman, Valtteri Bottas fell next, and Verstappen's lap-by-lap march soon reached Ferrari rival Leclerc's rear wing just as the Monegasque racer began challenging Magnussen for P6.
A pass in the final braking zone for Leclerc looked to put the Haas between his Ferrari and the chasing Verstappen, but a plucky Magnussen battled back down the start-finish straight. The duel left Verstappen with an open door on the inside, and the championship leader took two places in one move while Leclerc dropped back, somehow going from P6 to P8 in only a few hundred metres.
George Russell and Pierre Gasly soon became the latest additions crossed off Verstappen's hit list. By the time the charging Bull passed Carlos Sainz and Fernando Alonso to reach P2 on Lap 14, he was just three seconds adrift of his teammate, despite starting eight places lower and with a harder tyre compound.
In the fight for the bottom step of the podium, the Spanish pair of Alonso and Sainz looked to get the upper hand on each other. Sainz opted for an undercut to move onto hard tyres, but a heavy lock up when heading into the pit lane had the Ferrari driver pick up a 5-second penalty for speeding to hamper his silverware hopes. It won't be much comfort to Sainz that Alonso made his way ahead on track after the Aston Martin driver's stop as Ferrari returned to their trophy-less ways.
Perez, too, had pitted, and his crew's 2.2-second stop meant he had a fighting chance to stay ahead of Verstappen by the chequered flag. Verstappen, however, had other ideas and relentlessly and metronomically put in lap times that meant he'd emerge within a couple of seconds of his Mexican counterpart with softer fresh medium Pirellis to attack Perez's worn mediums.
With a dozen laps to go, Verstappen pitted and immediately began hunting down the leader. For the first time in the race, though, the reigning champion couldn't strike instantly down the straights with DRS. A run down the final straight let the number 1 car close the gap, though, and a move around the outside of the first corner after pulling alongside Perez on the pit straight netted Verstappen his third win of the season.
The victory sees a 14-point gap atop the championship between the Red Bull pair, with Alonso's third-place finish meaning he sits 30 points off of Perez in P3. Hamilton, who jumped from P13 to P6 in the race, is in fourth, while Leclerc will have Haas nightmares after not improving from his P7 start. Russell overtook Sainz after his stop for P4 to compound Ferraris's woes before their first home race at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in a fortnight.
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