Max Verstappen held off a late charge from Charles Leclerc to take glory at the inaugural Miami Grand Prix for Red Bull.
At the green light, Verstappen pounced on a mediocre start from Carlos Sainz in second, and swept past him to sit in behind Leclerc in pole.
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton dropped down into seventh from fifth from the off, and he complained to his team that Alpine’s experienced Fernando Alonso had clipped his car and done damage, with replays revealing the two had rubbed tyres briefly. "It definitely feels like there's some damage,” the seven-time champion complained.
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After just five laps, Verstappen had whittled the lead down to 1.4 seconds and the spectre of DRS was looming, and on lap 8 his team informed him that the Monegasque’s right front tyre was starting to show damage.
That was all the encouragement the Dutchman needed and on lap 9 he flicked the DRS switch, moved in for the slipstream, and leapt into the lead on turn 1 after the finish line straight.
There was a brief scare for Red Bull - beset by early season reliability problems - as on lap 20 Sergio Perez exclaimed, ‘I’m losing a lot of power!’ It seemed he was losing around four seconds a lap, but his team quickly put things right to avoid disaster.
With 16 laps remaining there was drama as Pierre Gasly was caught unaware and clattered into the quicker Lando Norris, who spun out with a burst tyre, meaning the virtual safety came out, allowing Russell to take new tyres without sacrificing a place.
After the restart with the safety car ducking into the pits, Leclerc started to eat away at Verstappen’s lead and look for a DRS overtaking opportunity, while Hamilton lost his fifth spot to Russell.
Vertappen came under concerted pressure, but he made his Red Bull extremely wide and the extra pace down the straights helped him fend off Leclerc for the win.
DRIVER OF THE DAY: MAX VERSTAPPEN
It’s hard to see past the Dutchman, as perhaps the only driver on the day who did not make a serious mistake.
While the Ferraris started on the front row, Leclerc did not have the discipline in the later stages to keep the pressure on the world champion and could not sustain the necessary pace to use DRS to get back the lead.
Sainz, meanwhile, was again ragged on the turns, and his poor start meant his teammate had only the merest of protection for his lead. If the season ultimately goes in Verstappen’s favour, the Italian team will have to look at whether their second driver is really good enough to help win championships.
WHERE THE RACE WAS WON
1/57 GO GO GO - Leclerc gets away safely, while Verstappen goes wheel-to-wheel with Sainz and the Dutchman passes. Hamilton down to eighth.
9/57 - VERSTAPPEN LEADS - On turn 1, Verstappen has DRS enabled, and he sweeps down the inside and uses slipstream to pull him through for the lead.
41/57 - NORRIS IS OUT - It looks like he's taken out by Gasly. He might have lost a wheel - certainly a tyre - and while Norris is able to walk away, the debris strewn from the crash brings out the safety car.
46/57 - VERSTAPPEN LAUNCHES FORWARD - He retains the lead at the restart as the safety car withdraws, while Perez is competing for Sainz's third.
PIT EXCHANGE OF THE DAY
Sergio Perez: "I'm losing a lot of power"
Engineer: "It's all looking good, power unit is all looking good. You've lost the tow."
Perez: "I'm losing power man, how can you say it's good?"
OVERTAKE OF THE DAY
Russell’s late move past teammate Hamilton might have been straightforward, with DRS allowing him to ease around him on a long left-hander, the significance should not be lost. With the Mercedes now competitive if still far from dominant, it seems that Russell can argue he should be supported for the rest of the season as he is the Mercedes driver with the best understanding of a difficult car.
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