Coming into this week’s Formula 1 race in Miami all eyes were on the looming showdown between Red Bull teammates Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez.
Verstappen has led the standings for the World Drivers’ Championship the entire year but after four races each Red Bull driver had two wins to his name and were only separated by only six points.
Returning to a traditional grand prix format after last week’s sprint race, Saturday’s qualifying session appeared devastating to Verstappen as a late crash by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc ended the day early before he could put in a true flying effort.
The crash secured pole position for Perez while Verstappen would begin the race far behind in 9th. Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso would join Perez on the front row followed by fellow Spaniard Carlos Sainz of Ferrari and a surprise second-row start from Haas’s Kevin Magnussen.
When the lights went out in Miami, the starting order was largely stable, as no early accidents or significant mistakes caused any chaos. However, back in 9th, Verstappen was beginning an assault on the grid that would add to his lure as one of the greatest come-from-behind drivers In Formula 1 history.
The Red Bulls began the race on a split strategy with Perez starting on the medium tire, like most of the rest of the grid, and Verstappen taking the hard tire. It became obvious early that the medium tire was struggling and the hard was the preferred tire of the day.
Within four laps, Verstappen had already clawed his way up to sixth, mercilessly devouring the field. The highlight of his ascent was a brilliant move in which he passed two cars at once coming out of one turn.
By lap 12 of 57, Verstappen was just outside the podium in fourth and three laps later he was stalking Perez who was in the lead.
Before Verstappen could engage Perez, the Mexican driver was called into the pits on lap 20 to switch out his worn mediums for hards, mirroring the strategy adopted by most drivers and teams on the grid.
The question now was whether Perez could bring Verstappen on fresher hard tires to set up a challenge for the former when Verstappen would eventually have to pit for fresh tires.
Unfortunately for Perez, the next twenty laps would prove to be even more dominant for Verstappen than the first twenty. With clean air in front of him, the Dutchman relentlessly put distance between himself and Perez in second, consistently putting in new fastest laps in unbelievable fashion.
By the time Verstappen came in for his pit stop, the race was all but over.
In the end, the Red Bulls finished 1-2 with Verstappen winning over his teammate by an astonishing five seconds. Alonso put in a fantastic drive to secure the final spot on the podium. The Aston Martin ace called it a “lonely” drive as the two Red Bulls were nearly twenty seconds ahead of him and he was never challenged from behind once they passed him.
Verstappen won his 38th race in Formula 1 and extended his championship lead to 14 points over Perez. Red Bull stands at a seemingly insurmountable 224 points in the Constructors’ Championship over twice as much as second-running Aston Martin, which has 106 points.
Formula 1 heads to Italy on May 21 for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, affectionately and simply known as Imola for drivers and fans alike.
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