MIAMI GARDENS, US: Max Verstappen used an aggressive early pass on Formula One championship leader Charles Leclerc then controlled the inaugural Miami Grand Prix for his third victory of the season.
The reigning world champion started third Sunday, but Red Bull quickly got the best of Ferrari for a second consecutive race. Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. had locked out the front row in qualifying for Ferrari, but Verstappen pounced at the start to get ahead of Sainz.
He then set his sights on Leclerc and used a strong outside pass on the ninth lap to claim the lead. Verstappen went unchallenged until a late crash between Lando Norris and Pierre Gasly brought out the safety car and setup a 10-lap sprint to the finish on the 19-turn, 3.36-mile circuit (5.41 kilometers) built around Hard Rock Stadium.
Leclerc got a few looks inside but Verstappen didn’t relent and the Dutchman won by 3.7 seconds. He also won two weeks ago at Imola as Red Bull capitalized on a poor Ferrari weekend on Italian home soil with a 1-2 finish for Verstappen and Sergio Perez.
In Miami, Ferrari settled for second and third for Leclerc and Sainz.
Perez was fourth for Red Bull and Mercedes showed much improvement with a fifth and sixth place finish for George Russell and Lewis Hamilton. It’s the fourth time in five races that first-year Mercedes driver Russell has beaten the seven-time champion.
The race itself wasn’t the thriller the 85,000 in attendance Sunday breathlessly expected when they snagged one of the hottest tickets in sports. Promoters never had a general ticket sale because of crushing early demand and the campus surrounding Hard Rock Stadium was the place to party over the last three days.
Whether it was at the man-made beach club where musical acts have entertained since Friday or the “marina” that docked 10 boats on plywood covered in a decal to resemble rippling water, F1 got the sun, sand and Miami backdrop it wanted when it agreed to this 10-year deal.
Come race day, the celebrities were out in full force. Dwyane Wade took selfies on the starting grid and Paris Hilton danced in front of the McLaren garage; Tom Brady, David Beckham and Michael Jordan posed for a pre-race picture with Lewis Hamilton, who hosted former first lady Michelle Obama on Saturday at the track. Serena Williams ducked into Mercedes’ hospitality and Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny arrived at the venue with Perez and spent most of pre-race at Red Bull with the Mexican driver.
The Miami event gives the US two F1 races in one season for the first time since 1984. F1 will add Las Vegas as a third American race in 2023.