(L to R): Sergio Perez, Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Miami International Autodrome, 2023

Don’t call it a comeback: Verstappen charges past Perez to win from ninth

2023 Miami Grand Prix review

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When Max Verstappen was the 20th and final driver to be introduced onto the starting grid by LL Cool J in Formula 1’s latest attempt to inject Super Bowl-esque razzmatazz into their pre-race ceremonies, the world champion’s icy calm demeanour should have sent his rivals’ radars buzzing.

This was no small task ahead of Verstappen. Starting mid-pack due to part-misfortune, part-mistake, Verstappen was looking to become only the fifth driver in F1 history, and the first since Niki Lauda in 1984, to win a grand prix from ninth on the grid. Yet his whole aura was of a driver totally convinced that his victory was inevitable.

And his confidence was earned. Before his turn seven error on Saturday, there had been daylight between him and Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez across the weekend. Perez had pole position, but while Verstappen had set a target of “P2 minimum” for the race, everyone knew he only had eyes for the top spot.

Perez, who had been late for the pre-race drivers parade, was on time for the formation lap. As he pulled away, he and the six cars behind him all did so with yellow-walled medium tyres. Verstappen, meanwhile, had opted for hard tyres – an aggressive choice that put him at odds with his team mate ahead, who’d chosen to follow conventional wisdom.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Miami International Autodrome, 2023
Verstappen planned a different strategy before the race began
“When you are starting on pole, starting on the hard is much more like a gamble,” the pole sitter later explained. “Pretty much the whole grid went for the medium start – I think none of us realised how weak a tyre it was.”

Perez was joined on the front row, as he had been in Saudi Arabia, by Fernando Alonso. Seven weeks earlier in Jeddah, Alonso had elicited thunderous cheers from the Aston Martin garage when he launched off the start line to snatch the lead from Perez into the first corner. Starting again from the inside front row grid slot, however, Alonso couldn’t quite summon the same traction that had propelled him ahead of the Red Bull in as the Miami lights went out.

Perez cut right, covering the inside line into turn one. That allowed him to power out of the right hander with his lead intact, Alonso slotting behind him into second and Carlos Sainz Jnr’s Ferrari retaining third.

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Fourth-placed Kevin Magnussen was pincered by Pierre Gasly on his left and George Russell on his right, demoting the Haas driver to sixth. Further back, the only drama came in the form of Nyck de Vries bumping into the back of Lando Norris, but while both lost places neither seemed particularly damaged by the touch, and race control showed no interest in investigating the matter.

Race start, Miami International Autodrome, 2023
Perez covered off the threat from Alonso at the start
Verstappen’s mission to carve his way through the fodder to catch his team mate had suffered an initial setback when Valtteri Bottas cheekily slipped by both him and Ocon in the opening corners, dropping the Red Bull to tenth. But this only lasted until turn 11, when Verstappen demonstrated the RB19’s inherent overtaking prowess even without DRS by diving up the inside of the Alpine to reclaim eighth. Having proved so effective the first time, Verstappen figured he might as well try the same on the Alfa Romeo the following lap, snatching eighth with an identical move into turn 11.

Incredibly, the 6.4 second margin between leader Perez and eighth-placed Verstappen on lap three was the biggest lead Perez enjoyed over his team mate over the entire 57-lap grand prix. When DRS was activated, Verstappen had a front row seat for Charles Leclerc’s pass on Magnussen into the turn 17 hairpin, before stalking the pair of them onto the pit straight. As the Haas drew alongside the Ferrari, Verstappen, DRS open, simply drove around the pair of them like a Le Mans prototype lapping two lower-class cars to move up into sixth at the start of the fourth lap – already more than a third of his way through his charge to the front.

George Russell was next, two-and-a-half seconds up the road. It took just over two laps for Verstappen to whittle that down to under a second and two more tours to line up a pass into turn 17, even while Russell enjoyed DRS and a slipstream from Gasly ahead. Having lost position to Verstappen, Mercedes saw an opportunity to take advantage of the Red Bull’s superior speed.

“So if we just hang onto Verstappen and follow him through Gasly,” Russell’s race engineer Marcus Dudley suggested. “You make that sound easy,” Russell replied.

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Gasly became the next victim on the next lap, offering little defence to Verstappen in an effort to minimise his time loss. But as he exited the final corner, Russell had momentum and charged to the inside into turn one, passing the Alpine to successfully execute the strategy his engineer had suggested moments before.

(L to R): George Russell, Mercedes, Pierre Gasly, Alpine, Miami International Autodrome, 2023
Having warned passing would be hard, Russell made progress
“You made that look easy,” Dudley said, impressed. “Should listen to you engineers more often,” quipped Russell.

Out front, Perez was already beginning to feel his team mate looming behind him despite the five seconds and two cars that sat between then. Perez began leaning more on his medium tyres, producing a new fastest lap, only for Verstappen to immediately eclipse it by two tenths moments later.

Verstappen had a constant stream of cars to provide him the benefit of DRS. Sainz was the next to be used and discarded by the championship leader on lap 14, easily dispatching the Ferrari under braking for turn 11. Now, only Alonso sat between Verstappen and his race-leading team mate.

After qualifying, Alonso had predicted he would inevitably be caught by the championship leader on the 25th lap. But with his hard tyres offering remarkable grip and consistency, Verstappen arrived on the back of the Aston Martin 10 laps earlier than that.

Alonso knew better than to try and fight over the position and by the time the pair entered turn 11, Verstappen was through. Eight cars had come before him and eight cars had been picked off. Now there was nothing between him and a straight fight for the win with Perez.

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By now, the mediums were coming to the end of their natural lives. Sainz used Verstappen picking off Alonso to attack the Aston Martin ahead, before Ferrari opted to pit him for his switch to hard tyres. However, Sainz was too eager on his way into the pit lane and violently locked up both front tyres, cutting the beam 2.2km/h too fast and earning a five-second time penalty.

Perez enjoyed a much quicker pit stop than his team mate
On lap 20, with Verstappen almost in DRS range of Perez, Red Bull brought the leader in to rid him of his mediums. By the time he emerged from the pit lane behind Ocon, Perez was just under 19 seconds behind his team mate. With no question over whether the tyres would hold up over a one-stop strategy, Perez knew his best opportunity to hold onto victory was to make the most of his new hards and try to build as much of a buffer as he could for when Verstappen eventually made his stop.

Once Perez’s cold tyres were up to temperature, he began to slowly erode Verstappen’s lead, effectively building up his advantage over his team mate when Verstappen stopped later in the race. But while the Red Bulls were engaged in a virtual battle on the timing screens, an on-track scrap was brewing between Sainz and Alonso, who had rejoined from the pit lane behind the Ferrari after being undercut by Sainz stopping five laps earlier.

Sainz’s pit lane speeding penalty had undermined his efforts, but Alonso was still keen to clear the Ferrari and resume his position behind the Red Bulls. Which was perhaps why, on lap 27, Sainz offered no defence when Alonso pulled alongside him on the approach to turn 11, taking the place well before they had begun to turn in for the left hander. Two laps later, the Aston Martin would breeze by Ocon’s Alpine, which had yet to stop, for third.

Perez was making good use of his new hard tyres, pumping in a string of laps in the mid 1’31s to lower Verstappen’s lead to a touch under 15 seconds by the end of lap 30, translating to a lead of a few seconds if Verstappen was to pit at that point. But it was almost as if that 15 second margin triggered an alarm inside Verstappen’s cockpit as he soon picked up the pace, lowering the fastest lap of the race on lap 32.

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The gap remained fairly static between the two Red Bulls until lap 38, when a mistake by Perez at the long left-hander at turn seven saw him run frustratingly wide of the apex at turn eight, robbing him of exit speed for the long straight ahead. The error cost Perez a full second and Verstappen capitalised. Over the next few laps, the race leader grew his advantage little-by-little, lap-by-lap to over 18 seconds – more than it had been when Perez had first left the pits on lap 20.

On lap 45, it was time. Verstappen peeled into the pits to fit on medium tyres at the price of surrendering the lead back to Perez. A three-second stop was almost a second slower than Perez had received, but that would not have concerned Verstappen at all as he steered out of the pit exit to see the sister RB19 flash past him just metres ahead.

“Just sensible on the tyres, Max, please. Bring them in gently,” Verstappen’s engineer Gianpiero Lambiase cautioned his driver. “They will be slightly more vulnerable.”

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By the time Verstappen was up to speed, he was 1.6 seconds behind his team mate. But with the purchase of the fresh mediums, he took eight tenths out of Perez in the final two sectors to earn DRS by the end of the lap. Perez’s position at the front was now in clear and present danger.

Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Miami International Autodrome, 2023
Verstappen breezed past Perez in the DRS zone
Verstappen was tucked up behind the leader as they both bounced over the chicane on lap 47, allowing him a decent run down the long back straight. With DRS giving him a 20km/h advantage, Verstappen had to take the outside line for the hairpin as Perez covered the inside line as best he could. But with the tighter line and naturally better traction from his tyres, Verstappen had all the momentum heading over the pit straight.

Perez did his best to cover the inside line once again, but with so much more speed and mechanical grip than his team mate, Verstappen sailed past on his outside into the lead. Perez said afterwards the team had to come first in deciding how hard to fight the other car.

“Obviously at the end of the day we have to put the team ahead of us,” Perez later explained. “We are just two drivers but there’s so many people working back home and working really hard we have to show respect. In the end we had a really good fight between us and I think a bit more will have meant contact and I don’t think that will have been fair for any of us.”

With Verstappen’s objectives all now ticked off, all he needed to do was complete the final ten laps to the end of the race. With older, slower tyres, Perez had no chance to counter-attack and was already out of DRS range by the end of the lap.

In third place, 15 seconds behind, Alonso was running unopposed. With no hope of catching the Red Bulls ahead and no pressure from Russell behind, he had enough spare mental capacity to watch team mate Lance Stroll overtaking Alexander Albon on the screens around the track. “Nice overtake into turn one,” Alonso mused.

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin, Miami International Autodrome, 2023
Alonso found time to keep an eye on his team mate
Despite drivers predicting that the Miami circuit would offer limited overtaking, there had been far more racing than the previous weekend in Baku. But once Verstappen had stormed around the outside of his team mate, the race for the win effectively ended. After being the fastest man around Miami across the weekend until his mishap in Q3, the world champion had once again stamped his authority on the field and his team mate by blowing them all away in the race. He crossed the line to take the chequered flag for the second consecutive year in Miami and consolidate his championship advantage over Perez.

“Good drive today, Max,” Lambiase said with typically low enthusiasm. “We made it hard for ourselves but we’ll have a look at what we could’ve done better yesterday. But today was a very good drive.”

Verstappen was equally understated in his own assessment of his race. “It’s been a good one,” he later said. “Once I was in clean air, it was just about getting to that lap number we targeted. But then I was getting close to the number and I said ‘OK, this is good’, so then I started pushing, I could extend the gap again, which really made my race today.”

Having been hunted down and beaten by his team mate with no Safety Cars, Perez had to accept he just hadn’t been quick enough in Miami. “Max had very strong pace, so we didn’t manage to open a gap,” he said. “We had a bit of a fight on track, which was quite clean – to the limit, but clean – and obviously putting the team in front of us. But obviously, today Max deserved the victory because he was the strongest car out there.”

(L to R): Sergio Perez, Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Miami International Autodrome, 2023
Perez missed his chance to take the points lead from Verstappen
Alonso took his fourth third place of the season to further solidify his hold on that position in the championship, while Russell came in fourth for Mercedes well ahead of Sainz and team mate Hamilton, who had waved the sister Mercedes by at one point. Charles Leclerc had struggled to seventh place with the two Alpines of Gasly and Ocon eighth and ninth. Magnussen claimed the final point in tenth in a race that featured no retirements, no Safety Car interventions or any local yellow flags over its 57 laps.

On the podium set against the backdrop of the Miami Dolphins stadium, Verstappen’s arrival was greeted with a chorus of boos that only the likes of Tom Brady would have received during the peak of his New England Patriots’ domination over the AFC East. But much like the famous quarterback, Verstappen’s reception was a sign of just how high a level he continues to perform at where even winning from the midfield has become routine for the world champion.

But after a frustrating setback on Saturday, Verstappen had once again shattered the hopes of his team mate, his rivals and anyone else hoping to see him beaten on Sunday.

“Yesterday was, of course, a bit of a setback,” the race winner said. “But today, we just kept it calm, kept it clean. And for sure, winning a race from P9 is always very satisfying.”

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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21 comments on “Don’t call it a comeback: Verstappen charges past Perez to win from ninth”

  1. As the Haas drew alongside the Ferrari, Verstappen, DRS open, simply drove around the pair of them like a Le Mans prototype lapping two lower-class cars to move up into sixth at the start of the fourth lap

    It’s lines like these that make me appreciate @willwood the most of all contributors. Always an easy and fun read, these reports.

    1. Max had a better exit on the previous corner. I guess Max everybody look average.

      Maximum speeds in the race:
      1 18 L. STROLL 348.0
      2 24 G. ZHOU 344.0
      3 22 Y. TSUNODA 342.5
      4 1 M. VERSTAPPEN 341.4
      5 27 N. HULKENBERG 338.9
      6 16 C. LECLERC 338.4
      7 55 C. SAINZ 337.9
      8 44 L. HAMILTON 337.5

  2. Two things I noted.
    That was truly a blistering drive from VER, pulling out 0.2s a lap on PER on 20 lap older hards is impressive.
    PER was the only driver who put up any fight on VER. Let’s contrast ALO defending against HAM in Hungary in 2021 against what he did with VER yesterday, I would say ALO jumped out of the way in Miami.

    1. Tommy Scragend
      8th May 2023, 13:31

      Let’s contrast ALO defending against HAM in Hungary in 2021 against what he did with VER yesterday, I would say ALO jumped out of the way in Miami.

      In a different car, on a different circuit, in a different situation. So not comparable at all.

    2. Because F1 is all about managing tires why should Alonso defend hard and ruin his tires and his own race. In Hungary 2021 he was defending Ocon’s and Alpines race win. But in general it’s also something that I hate about modern F1 it’s more about strategy and managing tires instead of racing and defending every position possible

    3. Two big differences I would point to @tricky.

      Firstly, passing is very difficult at the Hungaroring even with DRS. In Miami, along with many newer circuits that feature a very long straight, DRS passes are trivially easy. Alonso defended more at the Hungaroring because it was a realistic option. Indeed Hamilton could not get past at all until Alonso made a mistake.

      Secondly, Alonso was trying to maximise the team’s position by ensuring Hamilton could not catch and pass Ocon for the win. By contrast, he was not realistically racing the Red Bulls in Miami, so there was nothing to fight for.

      1. Yes, sad because alonso is exactly the kind of driver who could’ve made life difficult for verstappen, but I’m guessing since sainz was very close behind at the time he didn’t want to ruin his tyres as it could potentially end up costing him the podium.

    4. It is a lot harder defending from a real F1 racer than from a bus driver

  3. I watched the GP today and yesterday the BTCC from Brands Hatch.

    You’ve read about Max’s drive and the speed of the Red Bull here, but the 3rd BTCC race was an equally incredible drive from Ash Sutton in the NAPA Focus. Thanks to picking a start position of 11th on the reverse grid, he had some work to do, but wasted zero time. By 3/4 of the way around the 1.2 mile Indy circuit he had overtaken 7 cars into 4th place, seemingly without hitting any of them.. and lowest possible hybrid time available thanks to his win in race 2.

    Only disappointed not to see the onboard of that first mile.. maybe it’ll be on the highlights programme.

    1. And Sutton’s race was far more entertaining to watch because with no DRS he had to get the moves done properly. Also when the clear fastest driver on the grid, Ash Sutton, came up behind Ricky Collard at the end to challenge for the win, Collard gave it absolutely everything to defend and was actually able to hold Sutton off after a brilliant final lap battle (but lost it due to a track limits penalty which was clear cut in my opinion), whereas when Verstappen similarly challenged Perez in Miami the DRS made the move inevitable and Perez had no chance to defend.

      I know F1 and the BTCC are completely different series and the racing can’t be directly compared. BTCC has gimmicks like reversed grids which is what put Collard in from in the first place, and the cars are slower. But it is simply the case that motor racing is more entertaining when a slower car is able to defend from a faster car and overtakes are not inevitable, as long as the car behind can follow closely enough to have a go.

  4. Over the next few laps, the race leader grew his advantage little-by-little, lap-by-lap to over 18 seconds – more than it had been when Perez had first left the pits on lap 20.

    That’s pretty impressive considering how old his tyres were at that point. I suppose he was just quicker than Pérez all weekend, and would probably have done a rather simple pole to win had he not messed up qualifying. Fair enough.

  5. Great recovery race from max. But there is one thing I don’t understand. Why did he abort the first lap in Q3? He had gone wide, but I guess if he finished that lap he could have still set a time that was even better than P8 Ocon who was already a second slower than Perez. No reason to completely abort that lap unless he was off track limits.

    1. wbravenboer
      8th May 2023, 14:31

      I also had that question. I suppose he wanted new tyres and wanted to set a lap as late as possible to get the most advantage. Max was in his out-lap when the red flag came.
      If he had started a new lap after his failed lap, he could have at least set a time. His first lap failed because he made an error in the first turn, and that cost him in the next turns too.
      The red flag was really unlucky.

    2. Jimmy Cliff
      8th May 2023, 14:52

      Agree, I was equally puzzled but then not why he aborted that push lap but more why he didn’t do a 2nd push lap straight after.

      His tires were not ruined (no massive lock up), he was only at turn 8 so plenty of time to recharge battery and get tires cleaned and with an extra lap there was still plenty of time to return to the pits, get new tires and go out for 2nd attempt.

      For me going off line in turn 7 was not the real mistake Max/RB made – the mistake was not setting a banker lap after it and just return to the pits and waste their time sitting there. Certainly compared to Leclerc, Max only made a minor driver error – Leclerc error was massive with lock up and complete loss of control hitting the barrier.

      Given the performance advantage Max showed all through practice and Q1 & Q2 even a half decent lap would have put Max p3 or p4.

    3. Why did he abort the first lap in Q3?

      He might only have enough fuel for three laps, and wanted to avoid a repeat of last year’s qualifying in Singapore.

      1. Misread! He could indeed have finished the intended fast lap and still done just three laps. Probably a mix of frustration about the spoiled attempt and overconfidence that they had a second chance later on in qualifying.

  6. Proud_Asturian
    8th May 2023, 17:28

    Don’t call it a championship.
    With Perez and Alonso the fraud as the only “opposition”, it’s a coronation.

  7. Coventry Climax
    8th May 2023, 20:06

    Back in ’84, when Lauda pulled that same trick, everyone was in awe.
    It’s irrelevant whether you like Verstappen, this was an equally awe-inspiring, faultless drive. Just compare it to Perez’ performance in what’s essentially the same car. (No, don’t give me that cr.p that it isn’t.)
    And then there’s the risk that’s briefly mentioned, but seems to conveniently be dismissed by everyone. It is a gamble starting on the hardest tyres. Wouldn’t be the first time that choice turned out to be the wrong one. Would have been interesting to read all the experts roasts here, if that tyre choice hadn’t worked out like it did.
    Yes, he’s got a fast car, just like Senna once did, or Schumacher, or Hamilton, but this was a masterclass by Verstappen – nothing else, just like it was for the other three I just mentioned.

    1. +1 well said

    2. The members in this website seems to not like Max and this clouds their opinion about him. Honestly I didnt expect him to win this one let alone win by +5 secs. Checo putting a fight like Roseberg is a wishful thinking when he is just a Bottas.

    3. Fully agree. Quite an exceptional drive like we’ve seen from Hamilton from time to time as well, managing pace, tires, reading the race. We need more of this caliber drivers.

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