Max Verstappen wins the inaugural Miami Grand Prix after just getting the better of championship leader Charles Leclerc in the race’s closing stages.
In what was a slow burner of the race, Verstappen held the lead of the race from Lap 9, only for a safety car to close the gap between the pair in the race’s closing salvo, but the Dutchman stayed cool to win his 23rd Grand Prix.
After overnight rain had washed away any grip from the track’s surface, the start of the race had the potential to be a tricky one with the limited amount of traction on the start/finish line. But despite a small shower three hours before the race, track temperatures hit 41 degrees before the race start whilst the ambient temperature was a humid 31 degrees.
Leclerc would start from pole for the third time this year after an excellent final run with Carlos Sainz alongside his teammate on the front row despite suffering a neck sprain and hip contusion from a crash in FP2.
Verstappen started third after making a mistake on his final run in Q3, with Sergio Perez making row two an all Red Bull affair. Valtteri Bottas continued to showcase Alfa Romeo’s excellent pace with fifth on the grid even with limited running after a Practice crash on Friday, whilst his old teammate Lewis Hamilton would sixth ahead of Pierre Gasly and Lando Norris.
Yuki Tsunoda’s good run of form continued with ninth on the grid whilst Lance Stroll snuck into the top 10 for the first time since last year’s Russian Grand Prix.
But Stroll wouldn’t be able to profit from his good qualifying, as he and Sebastian Vettel would start from the pitlane after both Aston Martins’s suffered a fuel temperature problem consigning both cars to the garage until the remaining 18 cars had lined up in their grid slots.
15 of the 20 starters would use the medium tyres for the race's opening stint, with George Russell, Nicholas Latifi, Esteban Ocon and the pitlane starting Vettel and Stroll the only drivers to go for the hard compound of tyre.
When the lights went out, Leclerc got a textbook launch from pole and held his lead into Turn 1, with Verstappen muscling his way past Sainz into second as the field entered the fountains complex for the first time. Further back, Hamilton lost two places to Gasly and Alonso after locking up, making slight contact with his former McLaren teammate.
With DRS enabled on Lap 3, Hamilton was able to breeze past Alonso on the run down to Turn 11, moving him back into seventh, which then became sixth as he waltzed past Gasly on the front straight; further back, Mick Schumacher went around the outside of Tsunoda into Turn 1 promoting him into 10th.
Zhou Guanyu’s race ended abruptly on Lap 7 after his team called him back into the pits to retire the car, ending the Chinese rookie’s 100% finish record.
Leclerc’s graining tyres gave Verstappen the chance to close up on the championship leader, and the Dutchman took advantage of the Monegasque’s woes to fly into the lead on the run down to Turn 1, building a small gap over the Monegasque as his tyres continued to degrade.
Tsunoda was the first to pit for fresh rubber on Lap 12, switching to the hard compound of tyre as he rejoined last. Kevin Magnussen came in for his first stop on Lap 13, also switching to the hards and rejoining ahead of Tsunoda after the Japanese driver suffered a sluggish out-lap on his cold rubber.
Alonso came in from eighth on Lap 16, but the Spaniard's stop was hampered by a slow right rear wheel, dropping him behind Ocon and Gasly.
Next to stop was Norris on Lap 19; however, his stop was slow, and he was quickly swallowed up by messers Vettel, Magnussen, and Schumacher on his out lap.
Perez reported a power issue on Lap 20, which cost him several seconds to Sainz in third, but after a rather heated conversation with his engineer Hugh Bird the Mexican, the engine was fixed, and he was able to continue on his way albeit with a slightly reduced amount of power after what was later confirmed to be a sensor issue.
First of the top six to stop was Hamilton as he switched to hards, and after an efficient stop by the Mercedes mechanics, the Brit came back out in seventh and clear of Daniel Ricciardo. Leclerc’s quiet first stint ended two laps later as he boxed for hards rejoining in fourth place, comfortably ahead of Bottas, who had yet to stop.
Race leader Verstappen came in for his first stop on Lap 27, and after some quick routine from his Red Bull mechanics, he was able to rejoin in front of Perez as Sainz briefly led.
Sainz’s lead only lasted a lap as the Spaniard pitted for new rubber on Lap 28, rejoining in third place; however, Sainz lost time to Perez, who pitted on the same lap as his Ferrari mechanics struggled to get his right-front tyre on.
Verstappen led Leclerc by over seven seconds at just past half distance, stringing a set of fastest laps. Sainz held third ahead of Perez, and Russell still on his hards, with Bottas keeping Hamilton at bay in sixth.
Meanwhile, in the race for the final points-paying session Schumacher dived up the inside of Magnussen into 12th, moving him into net 10th place, whilst Vettel lost a position after locking up into Turn 7, giving Norris 14th.
Alonso and Gasly resumed their opening lap on Lap 39, with the Spaniard trying to make a move on the Frenchman into Turn 1 that ended badly for both drivers, as Gasly picked up damage whilst Alonso was handed a five-second penalty for causing a collision.
Gasly was in the wars again not long after, making contact with Norris on the run down to Turn 9, spinning the Brit out of the race and bringing the safety car out, giving Russell, Ocon and Stroll a free stop.
After five laps behind the safety car, the race resumed on Lap 47, with Verstappen holding his lead as Perez attacked Sainz into Turn 1 without any success as the Spaniard held his position.
Bottas’s stranglehold of fifth ended on Lap 50, going went wide into the final corner and allowing Hamilton and Russell through, with Russell passing his teammate for fifth on the next lap.
Perez then went for a late lunge on Sainz, but the Mexican’s move saw him come off second best, clipping the Spaniard’s front wing and giving him plenty of work to do.
Up at the front, Verstappen and Leclerc were involved in a grandstand finish as the pair continued to push each other in the race’s closing stages; however, the Dutchman managed to keep the championship leader at bay.
Vettel and Schumacher’s good run in the points after the pair made contact on Turn 1 ending Vettel’s race whilst Schumacher returned to the pits for a brand new front wing but was now well out of the points as Alex Albon became the prime beneficiary from the pair’s contretemps moving into 10th after starting 18th.
With Leclerc dropping back in the race’s closing stages, Verstappen cruised to his third victory of the season ahead of Leclerc and Sainz, who just denied Perez for the final spot on the rostrum.
Russell completed his hard charge from 12th to finish fifth in front of Hamilton and Bottas, whilst Alonso, Ocon, and Albon rounded off a great day at the office with tenth.
Magnussen and Stroll added insult to injury to their miserable races with a collision at Turn 11 damaging the Dane’s front wing. Unseen to the television cameras, Ricciardo was given a five-second time penalty after leaving the track and gaining the advantage dropping the Australian to 13th.