Verstappen holds off Leclerc to win inaugural Miami GP

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB18. 08.05.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 5, Miami Grand Prix, Miami, Florida, USA, Race
© XPB 

Red Bull's Max Verstappen has claimed victory in the first Miami Grand Prix from Charles Leclerc, after the Ferrari driver lost the lead nine laps into the race. Verstappen was able to keep control even after a late safety car closed up the field in the final laps.

Carlos Sainz hadn't been able to prevent Verstappen from passing on the opening lap but made up for this by successfully resisting intense pressure for third place from Sergio Perez who had taken advantage of the late caution to take new tyres.

George Russell used a different tyres strategy to snatch fifth place with a penultimate lap pass on Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton, after the pair were able to pressure Alfa Romeo's Valtteri Bottas into an error.

Alex Albon succeeded in picking up another valuable championship point for Williams, while Lando Norris failed to finish after the McLaren collided with AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly to trigger the safety car on lap 41.

The brand new Miami International Autodrome had been completed just in time to host the latest chapter in the 2022 world championship battle between Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen, played out in front of a high spirited crowd of typically exuberant Americans who were now firmly into the spirit of Formula 1 after years of relative indifference to the top tier of global motorsport. Everyone who was anyone was in attendance in the build-up to the start of the race, and it was only when the grid was finally cleared to send the cars on the formation lap that it finally started to feel like a familiar recognisable Grand Prix event.

Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari F1-75 leads at the start of the race. 08.05.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 5, Miami Grand Prix, Miami, Florida, USA, Race

The cars sparkling in the scorching Florida sunshine, Leclerc took up position on pole with his Ferrari team mate Carlos Sainz joining him on the front row. Behind them it was an all-Red Bull affair with Verstappen alongside Sergio Perez, while Valtteri Bottas had secured an impressive fifth for Alfa Romeo ahead of his old Mercedes colleague Lewis Hamilton, Friday's brief surge in performance having proved short-lived for the Silver Arrows.

The remaining top ten grid positions saw the two AlphaTauris of Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda sandwiching the McLaren of Lando Norris, but P10 remained empty after Aston Martin was forced to start Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel from pit lane after detecting a fuel temperature problem on both cars. With most drivers starting on medium tyres, the two Astons were trying to regain some advantage by opting for the hard compound as did George Russell, Williams' Nicholas Latifi and Alpine's Esteban Ocon, the latter starting from the back after missing qualifying due to damaging his chassis in a hard crash in final practice.

When the lights went out to get the race underway, Leclerc got a perfect start and swept into the first corner in the lead. However, on the dirtier side of the grid Sainz struggled and failed to defend second from Verstappen. Further back, Hamilton also got a poor start and lost two places after being scalped by both Gasly and Fernando Alonso, who had started from P11 and tapped the back of the Mercedes on his way through. Russell was another driver to lose places, dropping to P15 on the slower compound and struggling to keep even that from a feisty Alex Albon in the Williams.

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Alpine F1 Team A522 at the start of the race. 08.05.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 5, Miami Grand Prix, Miami, Florida, USA, Race

Once DRS was enabled on lap 3, Hamilton quickly retook one of his lost spots with an easy pass on Alonso, but he was concerned about damage to the left rear of the car from the earlier contact between the pair. The team assured him that there was no red flags on the telemetry, and he promptly put Gasly to the sword on lap 6 to return to sixth place and already setting his sights on Bottas who was two and half seconds further down the road.

Zhou Guanyu had been making impressive progress in the opening laps despite starting from P17, but on lap 7 that came to an end when the Alfa Romeo pit wall ordered him to pit with a terminal technical issue making him the first retirement of the race.

Leclerc appeared to be in full control of the race having danced out of DRS range, but the Red Bull pit wall told Verstappen there were already signs of tyre damage to the Ferrari's front tyres. Sure enough, Leclerc starting to haemorrhage pace, and once Verstappen was in range the Red Bull executed a textbook pass to claim the lead on lap 9. Leclerc tried to use the Ferrari's better cornering speed to fight back, but Verstappen was able to counter anything the Monegasque could throw at him and gradually pulled away.

Tsunoda had also been struggling for grip and on lap 12 he became the first driver to make a scheduled visit to pit lane, switching to the hard tyres. Kevin Magnussen and then Mick Schumacher quickly followed the AlphaTauri's lead, but Leclerc was still trying to tough it out without pitting so early. A small lock-up on lap 13 then cost him a second and dropped him out of DRS range of the Red Bull. Looking rather happier at this point was Russell who was up to P10 after his hard tyres finally began to come into their own.

Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari F1-75 makes a pit stop. 08.05.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 5, Miami Grand Prix, Miami, Florida, USA, Race

Alonso's attempt to undercut Gasly was derailed by a slow pit stop on lap 16. He came back out to find himself in the thick of a multi-car battle between the two Astons and Nicholas Latifi, after Albon was the latest to make his visit to pit lane. On lap 20 it was Norris' turn to come in, and he emerged just in front of Stroll and Vettel both of whom swiftly took advantage of their hotter tyres. Then it was Magnussen's turn to pull off a daring lunge down the inside that somehow paid off, leaving a rattled Norris running wide. He nearly went into the wall but was able to get back control, although it dropped him down to P16.

Verstappen continued to lead Leclerc by almost five seconds with Sainz holding third as Perez got on the Red Bull team radio to report a drop in engine power. The engineers initially suggested it was due to Perez losing the slipstream to the Ferrari, but that didn't explain the loss of almost three seconds on the straights. Perez was finally provided with a software solution for a sensor issue, but the delay meant he had dropped well out of undercut range of Sainz and any plans of snatching a podium looked to be over.

Hamilton pitted on lap 23, returning to the track in P7 ahead of Daniel Ricciardo; and on lap 25 it was Leclerc's turn to take on a set of hard tyres that temporarily dropped him to fourth after a less than swift service. Verstappen covered off any potential threat two laps later, and a quick stop by the Red Bull crew meant he came back out in second ahead of Perez and Leclerc. Sainz held the lead for a couple of laps before pitting, and it was another problematic pit stop for Ferrari as the crew struggled to fit the front left tyre.

With Perez pitting at the same time, Verstappen was soon on top again with a seven and a half second lead over Leclerc, Sainz and Perez now a long way back. Russell was up to fifth having yet to make his stop, putting him ahead of Bottas and Hamilton for the time being. Ricciardo was sill plowing on with an extended first stint on the medium tyres in eighth ahead of Ocon and Gasly, with Alonso having dropped out of the points in 11th ahead of Stroll and a DRS train consisting of Magnussen, Schumacher, Vettel and Norris all jostling for advantage. In what was proving a deeply disappointing afternoon for McLaren as a whole, Ricciardo finally pitted on lap 31 dropping him down to P17 behind Albon.

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Alpine F1 Team A522. 08.05.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 5, Miami Grand Prix, Miami, Florida, USA, Race

While the front runners now appeared firmly locked in the status quo, further back Magnussen ran wide on lap 35 allowing Schumacher to dive down the inside of turn 17 to pick up P12, and the following lap similarly saw Vettel lock up and likewise stray from the track. Vettel was still on his original hard tyres and clearly struggling, unlike Russell on the same tyre strategy situation in P5 but in his case happy to keep going: "Why don't we keep going and see if there's a VSC or something?" he discussed with the Mercedes pit wall.

Lap 40 saw Alonso make a move on Gasly down the inside of turn 1, only to lock up and make contact with the side of the AlphaTauri. Both cars were able to continue but it cost Gasly two places while he gathered himself together and earned Alonso a five second penalty. There was no question of the incident triggering a caution, and nor was there any sign of a sharp Miami shower popping along to spice the race up. But just when it looked like the race was effectively settled, it all changed again.

Gasly had continued to struggle after his clash with Alonso. He allowed cars to pass him as he ran wide, but when he came back on track he didn't see Norris in time and there was contact between the pair. The McLaren was left with rear puncture that sent him into the barrier, scattering a load of debris across the track between turns 8 and 9 that forced an immediate Virtual Safety Car, which was soon upgraded to a full Safety Car to allow the marshals to get to work.

While the order of the top four was unchanged by the caution - Verstappen leading Leclerc, Sainz and Perez - it did allow Perez to make a 'free' extra stop to change to new soft tyres. Russell also took the opportunity to make his long awaited stop, dropping him to P7 behind Bottas and Hamilton. Alonso was still in eighth ahead of Schumacher, while Ocon had made his own long-awaited stop to resume in P10 on the fastest soft compound with 11 laps remaining.

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB18 leads behind the Mercedes Benz FIA Safety Car. 08.05.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 5, Miami Grand Prix, Miami, Florida, USA, Race

Verstappen retained the lead despite heavy pressure from Leclerc, while Perez was unable to put his new tyres to immediate use on Sainz. He remained pinned behind the Ferrari even when DRS was re-enabled on lap 49 and despite a close-call near-miss between the pair on lap 52. Behind them, Hamilton exerted huge pressure on Bottas and managed to force the Finn into an error that allowed both Mercedes cars to get by. Russell's fresh tyres then saw him get past Hamilton for P5, but he had gone off track in the process meaning he was obliged to hand the spot back again on lap 53 to avoid a sanction from the stewards. Russell was subsequently able to pull off the pass again - properly this time - on the penultimate lap.

Despite some thrilling racing between them, the top four remained unchanged to the finish. But there were still running battles further back, with Vettel sent for a spin in turn 1 with four laps remaining after contact with Schumacher which had the side effect of promoting Albon into the points for Williams in P10 by the time the chequered flag came out. That was subsequently doubled when a post-race penalty saw Alonso classified 11th, promoting Albon to ninth and also bumping Stroll into the top ten.

With Verstappen also collecting the bonus point for setting the fastest lap of the race, the gap to Leclerc in the drivers championship has not been reduced to 19 points after the first five rounds of the 2022 Formula 1 world championship.

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