Max Verstappen struck back in the 2023 title race by beating Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez to victory during Sunday’s Miami Grand Prix, recovering from ninth on the grid and passing the pole-sitter in the closing stages of an intriguing, strategic race.
Perez had slashed Verstappen’s championship advantage to just six points with a Sprint and Grand Prix double last time out in Azerbaijan, and a topsy-turvy qualifying session at the Miami International Autodrome gave him a golden opportunity to move to the top of the standings.
However, while Perez led the first half of the race on a medium-hard tyre strategy, Verstappen expertly stretched out his initial stint on hards to rise from P9 to P1 – via a series of fine moves – and he emerged just behind his team mate with a fresh set of mediums late on.
With 10 laps remaining, Verstappen comfortably cleared Perez to move into a lead that he would not relinquish, meaning the Mexican had to settle for the runner-up spot and lose some of the ground he had made up in the title race.
In addition to a statement victory, Verstappen picked up the fastest lap bonus point to top up his tally and the ‘Driver of the Day’ award, with fans suitably impressed by his charge through the field.
With the Red Bulls again in a league of their own, it was left to Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin to claim the ‘best of the rest’ spot in third, making it four podium finishes in five races for the new partnership.
George Russell was the lead Mercedes in fourth, thanks in part to team mate Lewis Hamilton moving out of his way on a different strategy earlier in the race, getting the better of Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz in the process.
Sainz was hit with a five-second time penalty for speeding in the pits during his swap of tyres, but there was enough of a gap back to Hamilton and team mate Charles Leclerc to keep fifth position at the chequered flag.
Alpine bounced back from their Baku nightmare with a double points finish, Pierre Gasly leading home team mate Esteban Ocon, while Haas driver Kevin Magnussen rounded out the points-paying positions after his P4 start.
Yuki Tsunoda just missed out on another point in his AlphaTauri, having scored in Australia and Azerbaijan, taking P11 ahead of Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll with some defensive driving to the finish line.
Alfa Romeo driver Valtteri Bottas ran inside the points early in the race but dropped back to 13th as the various tyre strategies played out, followed by the Williams of Alex Albon, Haas of Nico Hulkenberg and team mate Zhou Guanyu.
McLaren pair Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri had quiet races en route to 17th and 19th respectively, having been the only drivers to start on soft tyres. They were split by the other AlphaTauri of Nyck de Vries, with Williams rookie and home favourite Logan Sargeant bringing up the rear after an early pit stop for a new front wing.
AS IT HAPPENED
A dramatic qualifying session led to a mixed-up grid for Sunday’s race, with Perez landing pole position – when Leclerc’s crash red-flagged the top 10 shootout – and team mate Verstappen down in ninth due to a mistake on his first Q3 lap, and Hamilton back in 13th after a Q2 exit.
Alonso joined Perez on the front row, with Sainz third and Magnussen securing the Haas team’s best-ever starting position for a Grand Prix in fourth, as Gasly, Russell, Leclerc (despite his crash) and Ocon also slotted in ahead of Verstappen, who ended the final phase without a time.
Another twist came post-qualifying thanks to the heavens opening and washing away plenty of rubber and grip from the 5.412km venue’s re-laid track surface, only adding to the challenge ahead of the 20 drivers during the second running of the Miami event.
As the race approached, a special ceremony overseen by music icons will.i.am and LL Cool J fired up the capacity crowd, with every driver getting a moment in the Miami sun before strapping themselves into their cars and preparing for lights out.
When that moment came amid dry but windy conditions, there were a mixture of starting tyres on show as the front-runners all opted for medium tyres, while Ocon, Verstappen, Hulkenberg, Hamilton, Zhou, Tsunoda and Stroll went for on hards, and Norris and Piastri chose softs.
Perez reacted well at the start to give himself enough room to cut across the track and defend from Alonso and Sainz into Turn 1, while Magnussen got swamped and fell from fourth to sixth behind Gasly and Russell, before losing another position to Leclerc under braking for Turn 11.
Ocon was another to endure a poor opening lap, falling to 10th place behind Bottas and Verstappen, while Hamilton remained where he started in P13, getting squeezed between Hulkenberg and Albon, and expressing concerns over potential front wing damage.
Sargeant was forced into an early pit stop from the back of the field, taking on a new front wing and swapping his medium tyres for hards, leaving him three quarters of a minute adrift of the car ahead and facing a lonely stint.
Meanwhile, Verstappen was on the hunt from his midfield starting position, clearing Bottas for eighth, then latching onto the back of the squabbling Magnussen and Leclerc – spectacularly jumping both in one go down the main straight when all three drivers ran wheel-to-wheel.
At this point, start replays showed De Vries locking up and tagging Norris under braking for Turn 1, an incident that was checked by the stewards before the panel opted against any further action.
Sargeant soon had company on the list of pitters as McLaren boxed both Norris and Piastri in quick succession for a move to hard rubber, their alternative soft-shod approach lasting only a few laps in the hot and humid South Florida weather.
At the front, Perez controlled the pace to edge away from Alonso and bring his advantage up to two seconds as the lap count neared double figures, while Sainz kept his Ferrari within the Aston Martin’s DRS window but could not get close enough to make a pass.
Verstappen’s rise continued on Lap 9 of 57 as he got a run on Russell down the back straight and made a clean move under braking for Turn 17, repeating the trick on Gasly the next time around – with Russell also jumping the Alpine a few moments later.
Verstappen lit up the timing screens in clear air to rapidly approach the leading trio of Perez, Alonso and Sainz, breezing past the Ferrari on the run between Turn 10 and Turn 11 on Lap 14 and the Aston Martin at the same spot on the next tour.
Magnussen was the first of the top 10 runners to pit on Lap 15, kicking off a busy phase of stops, with those who started on medium tyres swapping to hards for a second stint to the chequered flag – providing all went to plan.
“My front-right is starting to give up a bit,” Perez said of his medium tyres as he embarked on Lap 17, with Verstappen – running hards – bringing his team mate’s advantage down to three seconds and setting up the prospect of another tantalising intra-team scrap.
Sainz pitted from the front-running group on Lap 19, leaving Perez, Alonso and Albon (running in the tail-end of the points) as the only drivers yet to shed their starting mediums, while Verstappen continued to close in on the race leader.
Perez dived into the pits two laps after Sainz – who promptly picked up a five-second time penalty for speeding in the pit lane – to release Verstappen into the lead, with the task ahead of the #1 being to stretch out his opening stint as long as possible.
It was not all plain-sailing for Verstappen, though, as he reported over the radio that the “upshifts are not that smooth”, with the gap to Alonso sitting at just under five seconds, and Perez some 13 seconds further back.
Alonso was the next to stop on Lap 25, rejoining with Sainz in his sights. It took only a handful of corners for the two-time world champion to get within DRS range and put pressure on – making a move into Turn 11 two laps after pitting.
As the differing strategies developed, Verstappen sat around 15 seconds clear of Perez, with Ocon another 10 seconds behind in third, followed by Alonso, Sainz, Hamilton and Russell, who followed up his pass on Gasly by muscling ahead of Hulkenberg and Tsunoda, who in turn enjoyed a scrap of their own.
Of the top 10 runners, Perez, Alonso, Sainz, Russell and Gasly had made their stops, with the rest stretching out their initial set of hards – Ocon soon becoming a sitting duck and losing places to Alonso and Sainz as the race reached its halfway mark.
Verstappen was told that he could lean on his tyres a little more as the laps ticked by, soon resulting in a new fastest lap being posted, with his engineer adding that the deficit to Perez after his mandatory stop should be around five seconds.
At Mercedes, teamwork was the name of the game as the yet-to-stop Hamilton let Russell by without a fight, promoting the younger Briton to P6, shortly before Hulkenberg became the next of the hard-tyre starters to switch to mediums.
With 20 laps to run, and Tsunoda having pitted, only Verstappen, Ocon, Hamilton and Stroll (recovering from his Q1 exit) were yet to stop – Russell being given the green light to pass his team mate paying off as he easily cleared Ocon and then Sainz to break into the top four.
Having crashed twice during the weekend, Leclerc took to the radio to explain that his Ferrari was “jumping all over the place”, limiting him to the fringes of the points-paying positions and a titanic scrap with Magnussen for P9, which he eventually put both hands on after several wheel-to-wheel exchanges.
Hamilton and Ocon made their stops for mediums a few laps later, with the seven-time world champion quickly putting his fresh tyres to good use to pass the hard-shod Bottas exiting Turn 17, and Ocon coming out of the pits between them.
With Verstappen still pounding around and eking out his tyres up front, Red Bull informed him that he was now on the brink of turning a negative delta into a positive one, and would likely rejoin the action from his stop on the tail of Perez.
Verstappen duly pitted on Lap 46, taking on mediums as expected, and came back out only a few car lengths behind, with the knowledge that he had much fresher tyres at his disposal than Perez, who had stopped for hards 25 laps earlier.
On Lap 47, Verstappen used DRS to tuck into Perez’s slipstream down the lengthy back straight and take an exploratory look around the outside of Turn 17, before completing the job along the start/finish straight.
Running on the outside heading into Turn 1, Verstappen placed his car to perfection to ensure that there could be no fight back from Perez, who soon drifted away from his team mate’s rear wing.
From there, Verstappen pumped in more fastest laps to seal the victory and the bonus point, with Perez ultimately crossing the line more than five seconds down, and losing eight points in the championship fight.