Verstappen tyre gamble pays off with calculated Miami GP win while rivals crumble
World champion Max Verstappen made all the right calls on his way to his third win of the 2023 season in Miami.
Max Verstappen produced a tyre management masterclass to outwit Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez and win the Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix on Sunday, reaffirming his status as the man to beat for the drivers’ championship.
As the reigning double world champion on F1’s dominant team, Verstappen had already been installed as the favourite but coming into Miami all the indicators were trending in his teammate’s direction.
Perez was riding the momentum from a win in Baku and is regarded as an expert on street circuits and tyre management, both factors that would come into play on the 5.41km temporary track around Hard Rock Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.
But in the end, it was Verstappen who made all the right calls — from tyre selection to race strategy.
Starting ninth on the grid, the 25-year-old Dutchman ripped through the pack and was on pole-sitter Perez’s exhaust before the race had reached the midway point.
Perez, who started on medium tyres, pitted first, giving Verstappen an extended run at the front where he squeezed everything he could from his hard tyres before finally stopping for a change with just 11 laps to go.
The stop handed the lead back to his Mexican teammate, but not for long. On fresher tyres, Verstappen was immediately on the prowl and two laps later he was in front of Perez again.
From there it was business as usual, the two Red Bulls easing through the final laps unchallenged for another one-two.
“This is something I wanted already yesterday together with my engineer,” Verstappen said of his tyre selection. “We were quite strongly opinionated on that already.
“Then you have to discuss with the team, with the team’s interest. They were like, ‘Okay.’
“But when you start on the hard, the risk is a bit higher because we only had one (set). So if you have a … puncture or whatever, then your race is a bit tougher. But I was happy to take that gamble.”
Where are the rivals?
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said that race simulations were against the hard compound but Verstappen and his engineers and strategist wanted to roll the dice.
“Max starting on the hard tyre, there was more risk with that,” said Horner.
“Our simulations were telling us it’s actually a worse race but where it potentially gained was if there was a safety car later in the race.
“So his engineering team wanted to take that chance and he made it work without the safety car.”
Red Bull have never started a Formula 1 season so well and are wondering what happened to rivals such as Ferrari and Mercedes, Horner said on Sunday after five wins in five races.
Four so far have been one-two finishes, with double world champion Max Verstappen now on three wins for the season after a stellar drive in Miami, while Mexican teammate Sergio Perez has two.
“Five races, five wins plus the sprint (in Baku), four one-two finishes. We’ve never ever had a start like this. And we’re kind of wondering where are the others?” Horner told Sky Sports television.
“We’ve made a normal step…over the winter and it’s more where did Ferrari and Mercedes go?
“They are working hard on I’m sure big upgrades for (coming races in) Europe and with the penalty we have to develop the car later in the year it’s important for us to get as much fresh air as we can between ourselves and the opposition at this stage.”
Champions Red Bull were last October handed a 10% reduction in wind tunnel time as a result of a “minor breach” of the cost cap in 2021.
Ferrari and Mercedes have yet to come close to winning a race this year, with Aston Martin now second overall albeit at a hefty distance.
The extent of Red Bull’s domination in Sunday’s race at the Hard Rock Stadium was laid bare by the margins between them and previous strong rivals.
Verstappen started ninth, two places behind Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc. The double world champion and last year’s Miami winner ended the race first and a whopping 52.988 seconds clear of the Monegasque.
Aston Martin’s third-placed Fernando Alonso was 26.305 seconds behind Verstappen.
“Definitely the race pace advantage, I think, is quite big at the moment,” said the Dutch driver.
Horner said Red Bull’s rivals had big upgrades coming and he expected convergence later in the year, saying the team needed to put as much “fresh air” as possible between themselves and the opposition in a 23-round season.
Drivers unimpressed by plans for more splashy intros
Formula 1 has decided that a big show needs a big introduction and the Miami Grand Prix opened with a bang on Sunday as drivers appeared through a line of pompom-waving cheerleaders and a 30-piece orchestra provided a musical backdrop.
That over-the-top scene seemed to go down quite well with fans but left drivers unimpressed, with some looking unsure of what to do beyond wave and smile.
“I understand the point of view of everybody but I’m not a big fan of those kinds of things just before the race,” said double-world champion Alonso.
The Aston Martin driver’s sentiment was shared by Verstappen and his Perez, who both hoped the routine does not become a regular part of race weekends.
It is no coincidence that F1 chose Miami, one of America’s major party hubs, to introduce two new fan-focused features by rolling out a Formula 1 theme song and the glitzy pre-race showbiz-style introduction.
F1 says it plans similar splashy intros at eight races this season.
“I just hope we don’t have that every single time, because we have a very long season, so we don’t need an entry like that every time,” said Verstappen.
“But it also depends a bit on the crowd, I think, in terms of what you want in terms of entertainment.
“Some people like to be more in the spotlight, some people don’t. I personally don’t. So for me, I think that naturally, of course, what they did today is not necessary.”
Formula 1 tried something similar at the US Grand Prix in Austin when famed boxing announcer Michael Buffer, known for his “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble” catchphrase, introduced each driver before the start of the 2017 race.
It was widely panned and scrapped.
The emcee in Miami was rapper LL Cool J, who called the drivers out one by one as will.i.am provided the soundtrack with his new release ‘The Formula’, written specifically for F1.
The idea behind the catwalk is to provide more interaction between drivers and fans. But drivers say that engagement comes at a cost by taking away time they need to prepare to race.
“If we have to do it, I think we need to remove some of the other stuff we are doing like the parade lap or something like that,” said Spaniard Alonso. “It’s really in the middle of the preparation with the engineers and the strategy meeting.
“And I disagree a little bit if we do it, we have to do it everywhere because I don’t think that the Miami fans are better than the Italian fans in Imola or in Spain or in Mexico or in Japan.
“I think we need to make everyone with the same rules and the same show before the race.” Reuters/DM