The stars came out for a glamorous renewal of the Miami Grand Prix, only to be eclipsed by a show-stealing performance from Formula 1’s own superstar, Max Verstappen.
The two-time world champion appeared set to lose the lead in the drivers’ standings entering Sunday’s Sunshine State showdown after a poor qualifying session left him adrift of championship rival and pole sitter Sergio Perez in ninth.
But the Dutchman did what he does best, carving his way through the field on a track where overtaking isn’t easy before overhauling his Red Bull teammate to make it back-to-back wins in Florida.
Verstappen is now 1/8 to retain his title after extending his advantage in the drivers’ championship to 14 points, with Perez 5/1.
Having gotten the better of his team mate in Azerbaijan, the question now is whether the Mexican can remain competitive in a two-man title battle. Sunday’s race in Miami would suggest that could prove tricky.
Given the tight nature of the Miami International Autodrome, Perez’s perceived superior ability on street circuits and the Mexican’s recent form, the odds appeared stacked against Verstappen.
Starting on the faster medium compound tyre, Perez had been expected to build a sizeable lead before pitting for the hard tyre.
However, the former Force India driver was unable to pull away from the pack, later blaming graining on the tyres for a lack of pace, leaving him vulnerable to Verstappen.
Verstappen, starting on the hard tyre, had quickly moved into second after just 15 laps and was just 3.3 seconds behind Perez when he came in for fresh rubber.
Despite having newer tyres, Perez was unable to reel in Verstappen, who continued to increase his advantage before swapping to the medium tyre and coming out just behind his teammate.
The outcome was inevitable from that point and with 10 laps to go, Verstappen cautiously passed Perez before pulling clear to win by over five seconds, claiming the extra point for fastest lap in the process.
It was a drive of remarkable quality from Verstappen, who looked back to his peerless 2022 form, with the Dutchman 2/5 to record back-to-back wins for the first time this season at Imola later this month.
Despite the performance of Verstappen, this will go down as a missed opportunity for Perez to take over as the leader in the Drivers’ Championship and is a significant blow to the confidence of those who thought he could challenge his teammate for F1’s top prize.
Red Bull were once again untouchable in Miami with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso finishing best of the rest in third, 26 seconds adrift of Verstappen.
It was Alonso's fourth podium of what’s been an excellent season so far and he still believes he can win a race at the right track, despite the form of Red Bull.
Aston continue to outperform Ferrari, who had been expected to be the main rival to Red Bull this year but once again disappointed in Miami, failing to build on a positive weekend in Azerbaijan due in part to a lack of race pace.
Carlos Sainz fell from third on the grid to fifth, while Charles Leclerc was seventh with both being passed and subsequently finishing behind a Mercedes.
With Mercedes admitting they are miles off where they expect to be, it was a worrying race display from the Italians with Sainz bemoaning an inability to push on certain tyres and Leclerc frustrated with a lack of consistency.
Having been slammed by chief executive officer Laurent Rossi in the build up to the Miami Grand Prix, Alpine posted a solid result with their second double points finish.
Rossi had blasted the team for their below-par showings in Bahrain, Australia and Azerbaijan, with the French manufacturer having had expectations of challenging for top-six finishes this season.
That has yet to materialise but eight-placed Pierre Gasly leading home his teammate Esteban Ocon in ninth in Miami may have at least brought the team some breathing room.
The same can’t be said for McLaren, who, after a couple of positive races, endured a nightmare weekend with Lando Norris 17th and Oscar Piastri 19th.
Both drivers had issues during the race but McLaren fear the defining factor is the inability to get their car working on low-grip surfaces, something to keep an eye on going forward.
Sergio Perez looks poised to take over the lead of the Formula 1 Drivers Championship 2023 after a dramatic qualifying hour for the Miami Grand Prix.
The Mexican veteran, who won in Azerbaijan last weekend, starts from pole position in the Sunshine State, while his Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen starts down in ninth.
The Dutchman currently leads the title standings by six points ahead of Perez and will be looking to charge through the field after a weekend in which he has been in a class of his own.
|What||2023 Miami Grand Prix|
|Where||Miami International Autodrome|
|When||20:00, Sunday, 7th May|
|How to watch||Sky Sports Main Event & F1|
|Odds||Sergio Perez 8/11, Max Verstappen 7/4, Fernando Alonso 13/2, Carlos Sainz 25/1, Charles Leclerc 50/1|
Verstappen has held a huge advantage throughout the weekend in Miami, often at least half a second faster than anyone else.
But he made a mistake at a crucial time late in qualifying and then was not able to put a final lap time on the board as Charles Leclerc's crash brought out the red flags with only 90 seconds left on the clock - too late for the session to be restarted.
This is the second time in the first five races Verstappen has started a race in an unrepresentative position.
In Saudi Arabia, a mechanical failure in qualifying left him 15th on the grid.
In that race, the world champion was able to recover to second place, but couldn't overhaul team-mate Perez, who had again started from pole.
It could be different in Miami though.
Not only is Verstappen likely to be comfortably the quickest driver on track during the race, the Red Bull is also the fastest car in a straight line. And when the DRS is open they find more performance than anyone else.
When Verstappen passed George Russell's Mercedes in the DRS zone in Baku last week, the Dutchman was travelling 22mph faster than Russell.
So it shouldn't be long before Verstappen carves his way into contention, and with that DRS so effective - despite the activation zones having been shortened this year - he will likely be able to pass Perez on track as well.
Verstappen looks a more attractive bet at 7/4 than Perez does at odds-on.
Although the threat of rain during the race seems to have receded, it's still going to be a tough afternoon for the drivers.
The track surface is extremely slippery and inconsistent, even after two days of F1 rubber being laid down on it, while the gusty conditions that have caught out several drivers through the preliminaries are expected to be even worse on race day.
That being said, the cars are much more stable when they're fat with fuel and the race in Azerbaijan last week was disappointingly uneventful considering the number of incidents in practice and qualifying.
There were 18 finishers in Baku and three of the four races so far this year have seen either 17 or 18 cars finish.
It's 11/10 that the Miami event follows that pattern, which could be of interest to bettors. Even the Australian Grand Prix which ended in carnage saw 16 cars officially complete the race distance.
While Verstappen was most affected by the qualifying red flag, Charles Leclerc - who actually caused the incident - will also be disappointed with his starting position of seventh.
The Ferrari has looked a clear best of the rest this weekend and the Monegasque driver would have been expecting to qualify at least third.
Like the Red Bull, the Ferrari is a rocket on the straights so Leclerc should be able to gain some places, although a repeat of his Baku podium appearance may be beyond him.
Evergreen Fernando Alonso finds himself starting on the front row and considering that the Aston Martin is stronger in race trim than over a single lap the 41-year-old could be forgiven for dreaming about the possibility of ending his ten-year winless streak.
However, while the Aston is strong through slow corners it is vulnerable on the straights, and that is where the overtaking gets done.
The likeliest scenario is that Verstappen finds a way past Alonso, who ends up in a battle with Carlos Sainz for the final podium spot.
Ferrari pilot Sainz has enjoyed his strongest weekend of the year so far, outperforming team-mate Leclerc.
Race pace has been a weakness for the Scuderia, but there are signs they are making progress in that department and the harder tyres in use this weekend could work out in their favour.
It's 6/4 that Sainz picks up his first podium of the year, while the 11/8 that Alonso fails to finish on the rostrum is also worth considering.
F1 is in Miami this weekend for round five of the 2023 season with Sergio Perez hoping to turn up the heat on Red Bull team mate Max Verstappen in the Sunshine State.
Perez’s victory in both the sprint race and Grand Prix in Azerbaijan saw him cut Verstappen’s lead at the top of the drivers’ standings to six points.
The Mexican is brimming with confidence after winning two of the first four races, voicing his belief that he can genuinely get the better of Verstappen in the Red Bull-exclusive title scrap.
But with 19 races still to go, including this weekend’s glitzy affair, the landscape is liable to change as other teams try to reel in the Red Bulls. One team showing signs of progress are Ferrari and they look poised to deliver a strong showing in Saturday’s qualifying session.
|What||Miami Grand Prix - qualifying|
|Where||Miami International Autodrome|
|When||21:00, Saturday, May 6th|
|How to watch||Sky Sports Main Event & F1|
|Odds||Max Verstappen 8/11, Charles Leclerc 9/4, Sergio Perez 5/1, Fernando Alonso 14/1, Carlos Sainz|
Ferrari arrive in Miami with a spring in their step after Charles Leclerc took pole for both the sprint race and Grand Prix in Azerbaijan, converting those starts into a 22-point haul.
The competitive Monegasque was naturally disappointed he couldn’t convert either start into his first win of the season, and in terms of race pace, the Italians still have some way to go.
Leclerc was around a second a lap slower at times in Baku when both the Red Bulls were pushing hard and even with some major upgrades being introduced this weekend, the Scuderia are unlikely to get close to their Woking-based rivals come race day.
Qualifying could be a different matter though, with Ferrari having seemingly found that one-lap pace that saw them take ten pole positions to Red Bull’s eight last season.
While Carlos Sainz still struggles to get to grips with the SF-23, Leclerc has looked more comfortable, and F1’s best qualifying driver is currently a 9/4 chance to chalk up what would be his 20th career pole this weekend.
The 25-year-old was quick all weekend in Miami last year, topping the practice timesheets before taking pole position, only to be overhauled by Verstappen in the race.
That pole was one of nine Leclerc has recorded at street circuits like Miami, and all the ingredients are there for him to deliver a strong showing on Saturday.
Verstappen may have a thing or two to say about Leclerc’s pole position claims and is 8/11 to record his third pole position of the season.
On paper, it would appear a straight fight between Leclerc and Verstappen for pole, with the two drivers having been the fastest qualifier a combined 19 times in the last 26 races.
Perez has taken two pole positions in that time, both in Saudi Arabia, and if he’s serious about challenging for the world title then his performances in qualifying will need to significantly improve. He’s 5/1 to top the timesheets on Saturday.
Like Leclerc, street circuits seem to bring out the best in Perez, who has taken four of his last five wins at tracks of this ilk.
But having out-qualified Verstappen just eight times in 48 races since joining Red Bull, history would suggest Perez will need a big performance on race day to hang on to his street king crown.
Having threatened a shock pole earlier in the season, Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin were well off the qualifying pace in Azerbaijan.
A faulty DRS didn’t help Alonso’s cause, but he may be set for another frustrating weekend in Florida with his slightly draggy Aston not well suited to the make up of the Miami International Autodrome.
The faster corners and long straights of the track, which has been resurfaced following complaints about grip last year, present Aston with a problem and may open the door to Mercedes.
The Silver Arrows took a step back in Baku but had been competitive in the two races before, with emerging as race winner Verstappen’s main rival in Australia.
The team believe they can go close to matching their Melbourne efforts in Miami, although a lot rests on how the Mercs take to the new surface.
McLaren may also come into the mix as they continue to put their poor start to the season behind them.
A series of upgrades, including a redesigned floor, helped both McLarens get into Q3 in Baku and the team hope those new features could have an even bigger impact on their chances in Miami.