Miami (AP) – Completely sweaty, world champion Max Verstappen ran his fingers through his hair after immortalizing himself in the history books as the first winner of the new Formula 1 spectacle in Miami.
Under the Florida sun, the Red Bull driver defeated his title rival Charles Leclerc in a Ferrari in a tough duel on the final laps and further reduced the gap in the world championship standings with his third win in the fifth race of the season. “I need a drink first,” the winner radioed into the pits. The Spaniard Carlos Sainz in the second Ferrari finished third in the first race, which was only exciting at the end, ahead of Red Bull driver Sergio Perez.
Before the guest appearance in Barcelona in two weeks, Verstappen is now 19 points behind Monegasque Leclerc, who was unable to use first place on the grid to success. “It was a very difficult race, Red Bull had speed advantages today,” said Leclerc. Verstappen took a breath and said: “It was very exhausting. An incredible Sunday for us.”
Before the guest appearance in Barcelona in two weeks, Verstappen is now 19 points behind Monegasque Leclerc, who was unable to use first place on the grid to success. Mick Schumacher also missed his first points in the 26th Formula 1 race of his career.
At the home game of his US team Haas, the German raced to ninth place for a long time before he had to pit again in the final phase after contact with Sebastian Vettel and fell back to 15th place. Vettel, who had to leave the pit lane because of a fuel problem with the Aston Martin, retired.
Huge buzz at Miami premiere
Formula 1 celebrated a three-day party at its debut in South Florida’s metropolis in front of a sold-out house. Miami is the eleventh host country in the history of the premier class and welcomed the racing series with great enthusiasm. “We’ve finally arrived in North America,” said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff. In addition to Austin and Miami, Las Vegas is already the third US location in the starting blocks for 2023.
The celebrity crowd in Miami also delighted race organizers and fans. Former first lady Michelle Obama visited Lewis Hamilton’s garage, football superstar Tom Brady and basketball legend Michael Jordan strolled through the paddock with football icon David Beckham. In the shadow of Hard Rock Stadium, the makers of the Grand Prix fueled the fun factor with a man-made beach, a makeshift marina without water and plenty of show.
The new 5.4-kilometer track drew some criticism from the drivers. Because of an unusual asphalt mixture, many people started to slide. In turn 14, the drivers were annoyed by a chicane, which was also where serious accidents occurred in practice. The unusual character of the course made some fear a chaos race.
But everything went well for a long time. Right at the start, Verstappen grabbed second-placed Ferrari man Sainz and went in search of Leclerc. Things went as planned for Mick Schumacher at the beginning, too, and soon he was in the points in tenth place.
Leclerc gives up the lead early
The 23-year-old also benefited from bad luck at Aston Martin. Lance Stroll, who qualified eighth, and teammate Vettel, who was supposed to start 13th, followed the field at the beginning after their technical problem.
At the front, Leclerc was unable to maintain the lead for long after his third pole position of the year. His tires degraded quickly, Verstappen passed almost effortlessly on lap nine. The Dutchman quickly pulled out a small cushion.
Record champion Hamilton had no chance again in the fight for the top spots. The Mercedes driver caused a stir, especially with the dispute about the ban on jewelry in the cockpit, which the new German race director Niels Wittich wants to enforce harder in the future. While Hamilton reluctantly got rid of his earrings and most of his piercings, he wants to obtain a special permit for the future.
However, defending champion Verstappen spread the greatest brilliance on the route. Cool, he controlled the race in front of the Ferrari duo. Chaser Leclerc complained: “The car is so difficult to drive.” Even after the first tire changes, Verstappen remained clearly in the lead.
A violent collision between McLaren driver Lando Norris and Pierre Gasly’s Alpha Tauri on lap 41 provided fresh tension. The safety car slowed the field down and Verstappen’s lead over the competition was gone.
Eleven laps before the end, the race was free again. Leclerc stayed close to Verstappen this time, also thanks to the DRS overtaking aid.