Max Verstappen overcomes hostile reception to storm to Miami Grand Prix win

By Sports Desk May 07, 2023

Max Verstappen overcame the boo brigade and Sergio Perez to win the Miami Grand Prix and extend his world championship lead.

Verstappen was subjected to a chorus of jeers by the 90,000-strong crowd at the Hard Rock Stadium as the sport’s drivers were introduced by rapper LL Cool J for Sunday’s 57-lap race.

But the double world champion put his poor reception to one side by racing from ninth on the grid to pass Perez with nine laps remaining and take his third win from five rounds.

Verstappen increased his championship lead from six points to 14.

Fernando Alonso completed the podium places with George Russell fourth. Lewis Hamilton finished sixth after starting 13th.

Sunday’s race marked the first of three to be staged in the United States this season, with Austin’s grand prix at the Circuit of the Americas and a debut event on the Las Vegas strip to follow later in the year.

And the event here in the Sunshine State was sprinkled with stardust for a show-stopping pre-race grid.

Actor Vin Diesel, singer Shakira, influencer-boxer Jake Paul, Serena Williams, Venus Williams and Roger Federer – with 50 tennis Grand Slam titles between them – watched on as will.i.am conducted an orchestra and LL Cool J assumed his role as Master of Ceremonies. Only in America.

On came the 20 drivers and the biggest cheers were reserved for Hamilton, Alonso and Perez, backed by a large contingent of Mexican fans. But Verstappen, last on to the stage, was booed.

Verstappen, by now in the sanctuary of his flying Red Bull machine, had moved up to eighth at the end of lap one, as pole-sitter Perez held off Alonso on the charge to the opening corner.

Verstappen then blasted his way past Charles Leclerc and Kevin Magnussen in his DRS-assisted Red Bull to take sixth at the start of lap four.

Further behind, Hamilton appeared in trouble after making light contact with Nico Hulkenberg at the first corner.

“I don’t know if we are going to last in this race,” he said, fearing his front wing was broken.

Up front, Verstappen was still on the move.

On lap eight he passed Russell under braking at Turn 17 for fifth place, which became fourth the next time round following a carbon-copy move on Pierre Gasly.

Verstappen sped past Carlos Sainz on lap 14 at Turn 11 and then Alonso on lap 15 to take second place with team-mate Perez 3.7 sec up the road.

In came Perez on lap 20 for fresh rubber with a 1.2 sec lead over Verstappen. The Dutchman, who started on the harder, more durable rubber stayed out.

Despite his earlier worries, Hamilton was able to continue but he was failing to make headway and on lap 32 he was ushered aside for team-mate Russell.

Hamilton, on a different strategy after starting seven places behind his team-mate, resisted at first before allowing his team-mate through.

“Thank you very much,” said Russell over the radio. “Very much appreciated.” Hamilton made his sole tyre stop on lap 37, dropping back to 13th.

Russell did not appear fazed in a machine team principal Toto Wolff described as “a nasty piece of work”, and on lap 39 he was up to fourth after fighting his way past Sainz.

“That is how we roll,” said the celebrating Briton.

Verstappen finally stopped for new tyres on lap 45 and he emerged from the pits just 1.2 sec behind Perez.

Verstappen was soon all over Perez’s Red Bull gearbox and he made his first move at Turn 17 only for his team-mate to defend the left hander.

But Perez’s defence made him vulnerable on the main straight with Verstappen jinking to his team-mate’s left and making the move stick at the first corner on lap 48.

Verstappen crossed the line 5.3 sec clear of Perez.

Hamilton, like Verstappen, started on the more durable hard rubber and the strategy also worked for the seven-time world champion as he made up a number of positions in the closing stages – including the scalp of Leclerc with two laps to run – to salvage sixth.

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    Lando Norris raised hopes that he could challenge Max Verstappen for pole at the Japanese Grand Prix by finishing final practice within three tenths of the Red Bull driver.

    Verstappen’s record 10-race winning run and Red Bull’s unbeaten season came to an end in Singapore last weekend.

    He had set a blistering pace on Friday to suggest the team have put their struggles in the city-state behind them.

    The Dutchman’s margin in opening practice was a huge 0.626 seconds over Ferrari’s Singapore-winner Carlos Sainz before beating Charles Leclerc by 0.320sec in P2.

    That raised fears that Verstappen, who is closing in on a hat-trick of world titles, could dominate the weekend in a Red Bull car which Lewis Hamilton predicted would be “phenomenal” around the high-speed corner track at Suzuka.

    But Norris finished just 0.240 seconds adrift of the 25-year-old and just 0.048 ahead of his McLaren team-mate Oscar Piastri as the British team continued to show strong pace.

    Mercedes pair Hamilton and George Russell enjoyed a more promising session but remained off the pace of Red Bull and McLaren.

    Hamilton in particular struggled badly in Friday’s two practice sessions, finishing 16th and 14th, with the seven-time world champion admitting Mercedes had work to do before qualifying.

    The 38-year-old finished seventh in P3, albeit 0.892sec behind pace-setter Verstappen, with Russell eighth.

    Mercedes are battling with Ferrari to finish second in the Constructors’ Championship.

    Ferrari, who are running a new floor at Suzuka, claimed the edge by finishing fifth and sixth but were over half-a-second adrift of the two McLarens.

    Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull claimed fourth, 0.737sec behind his team-mate.

    A large number of the teams are struggling with tyre degradation due to the higher-than-usual heat at Suzuka, with a track temperature of over 48 degrees Celsius recorded during P3, raising the possibility of a three-stop race on Sunday.

    Qualifying gets under way at 1500 local time (0700 BST).

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    Verstappen’s record 10-race winning run and Red Bull’s unbeaten season came to a shuddering halt last weekend in Singapore, where the team admitted they did not understand their struggles with the car’s set-up around the street circuit.

    The 25-year-old was confident of a return to form around the high-speed corner track at Suzuka, where Lewis Hamilton predicted the Red Bull would be “phenomenal”, but all eyes were on the Dutchman who is closing in on a hat-trick of world titles.

    His response to the struggles of Singapore was immediate and emphatic, finishing 0.626 seconds clear of Ferrari’s Singapore-winner Carlos Sainz in P1 before beating Charles Leclerc by 0.320sec in P2.

    Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said: “He dealt with (Singapore) very maturely.

    “It was a difficult weekend but he raced very hard. It was what it was. He knew at some point we were going to get beaten and he dealt with the situation well.

    “He has certainly come here pretty fired up as you could see from his outlap in P1 today.

    “Max knew it was always going to come to an end at some point. That 10th victory meant a lot to him and certainly to the team so I’m glad Singapore wasn’t the 10th in that succession of races. I think he has just shown great leadership and great maturity.”

    The second session was red-flagged with a little over two minutes remaining when Pierre Gasly crashed heavily into the barriers at Degner Two, bringing a premature end to the session.

    McLaren had been tipped to be the closest challengers to Red Bull and Verstappen this weekend, with Mercedes’ George Russell even suggesting the British team could be favourites.

    Lando Norris showed strong pace to finish the day third, albeit 0.464sec off the pace, while Oscar Piastri, who signed a contract extension earlier this week, claimed eighth in the second McLaren.

    Red Bull will almost certainly clinch the Constructors’ Championship this weekend at the home race for their engine supplier Honda.

    But Sergio Perez was over a second off the pace of his team-mate, finishing 11th in P1 and ninth in P2.

    Fernando Alonso claimed sixth for Aston Martin ahead of the Williams of Alex Albon.

    Mercedes pair Russell and Hamilton struggled in the opening session, finishing a lowly 13th and 16th respectively, with chief race engineer Andrew Shovlin admitting the team had work to do on the car setup.

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    Verstappen’s record 10-race winning run and Red Bull’s unbeaten season came to a shuddering halt last weekend in Singapore, where the team admitted they did not understand their struggles with the car’s set-up around the street circuit.

    Lewis Hamilton warned on Thursday the Red Bull car would be “phenomenal” around the high-speed corner circuit at Suzuka and, while practice times must always be treated with caution, it appears the runaway championship leader could dominate again this weekend.

    Verstappen, who is closing in on a hat-trick of world titles, was the first car out on track and it took the Dutchman just a handful of laps to set the fastest time in every sector.

    He finished the opening running 0.626 seconds clear of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, who clinched victory in Singapore.

    McLaren had been tipped to be the closest challengers to Red Bull this weekend with George Russell even suggesting they could be favourites.

    Lando Norris delivered an impressive final lap to clinch third for the British team, ahead of the second Ferrari of Charles Leclerc and home favourite Yuki Tsunoda in the AlphaTauri.

    Oscar Piastri, who extended his McLaren contract this week, claimed seventh just behind the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso.

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    The second practice session gets under way at 1500 local time (0700 BST).

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