Max Verstappen has not been beaten by his teammate in back-to-back Formula 1 races at the chequered flag since 2016. It’s a remarkable stat, and one that Sergio Perez must overcome at the Miami Grand Prix to make most people think there will be a genuine title fight this year.
Perez was excellent in Baku, stronger than Verstappen during the main Grand Prix and showing great skill to respond to his teammate as both drivers pushed each other hard.
Behind the Red Bulls, Charles Leclerc brilliantly maximised what he had underneath him and Mercedes appeared to get the setup wrong, which exacerbated their dip in performance.
It would be foolish to think that Red Bull won’t be on top again, even though the Prancing Horses should be a threat over one lap.
Why Verstappen is the big favourite
Most likely in 2023, Verstappen will be the bookies favourite for every race but he so often bounces back from a below par weekend with victory.
It’s a trait that tells you a lot about his character. The 25-year-old is a perfectionist and has so much confidence in his natural talent that he knows, being beaten in consecutive F1 races will take something spectacular.
Naturally, there has been talk of whether Perez can replicate Nico Rosberg‘s 2016 season. Since Red Bull have the dominant car right now, one DNF for Verstappen could take at least four races to recover if he leads Perez in a one-two in each of those Grand Prix.
But, just think about Lewis Hamilton versus Valtteri Bottas, Mika Hakkinen against David Coulthard, Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barichello, Ayrton Senna with Gerhard Berger – those are just some examples of a top driver simply being too good for their teammate.
Perez can lay another blow on Verstappen though this weekend with an on merit win and with that would come plenty of confidence, momentum and perhaps a mentally change too.
“I’m mentally very strong,” Perez told reports. “That’s my biggest strength and that has always been.
“It is not easy being Max’s teammate because he’s delivering all the time and he’s winning all the time. We’ve seen it in the past that it’s not easy for a teammate to survive.
“I believed in myself but I had to go very deep into understanding the whole concept of the car and making sure that I put the right tools in place to be able to fight.”
Proper daylight, dry practice
Remarkably, the Miami GP will mark the first time three practice session will be run in the dry at day time. Weather forecasts suggest possible rain on Sunday for the race, but sunny skies on Friday and Saturday.
Bahrain and Saudi Arabia featured night practice, FP2 in Melbourne was curtailed by rain and Baku was a sprint weekend.
It’s nice to have a traditional weekend as there are no excuses for the teams to not optimise their cars and it gives us a clear indication of who is on the pace.
Mercedes and Alpine didn’t enjoy the lack of practice in Baku, so they should be more competitive this weekend.
“I think we obviously leave that weekend behind,” Esteban Ocon told the press. “We try and focus on the positives that we had, which is that the updates that we had were working.
“We didn’t use it the proper way and the way it should have been. Doing only three laps in FP1 and just fixing the setup from there on has been very tricky for us.
“So we didn’t use the car the proper way, we didn’t optimise it and we couldn’t really see the performance of the car. But we have three sessions here to turn things around, bounce back and that’s what we’re looking to do.”
Resurfaced Miami track
The 5.412 km (3.363 miles) Miami International Autodrome has been resurfaced which will be a test for the tyres and some teams will naturally get on top of it better than others.
Tyres hasn’t been a big talking point so far this year, which is perhaps a good thing you may think, but the C2 tyre didn’t fare well in Bahrain, overheating in the traction zones.
Pirelli have brought the C2-C3-C4 range to Miami, so the C2 is the hard tyre, and if it doesn’t have much pace or longevity, it will force the teams towards a two-stop.
The pit lane time loss is 21 seconds, so around average for the calendar, and the hot track temperatures, which could reach 60 degrees Celsius, may invite more strategy options.
This is where Ferrari will be seriously tested and you would back Aston Martin and Mercedes should come to the fore.
“I’m confident we’ll make progress but of course we want the competition,” said George Russell. “I think the competition we’ve got at the moment between Ferrari and Aston Martin, every race we go to is really close between us in qualifying.
“The pace is really close in the race and if that was the fight for victory, it would probably be one of the most exciting seasons we’ve seen in a long, long time.
“And it’s obviously just a shame that there’s two more cars well out in front? So, forget about those two and just watch the race for P3. It may be a bit more exciting. It’s challenging.
“I think in no sport, you never want to see somebody dominating. You want to have that competition and that’s what we all want. In an ideal world, you have 20 drivers and 10 teams all capable of winning every single weekend, if you do the right job.”
Who will be leading the midfield charge?
McLaren‘s upgrades definitely worked in Baku as their slow speed performance was excellent – watch out for them in Monaco.
The end of the middle sector in Miami is slow speed, so it should suit Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri, who is back to full fitness after suffering from food poisoning last weekend.
“The car felt good in Baku, our new upgrades seem to be a step in the right direction, and we achieved the best we could under the circumstances,” said Norris.
“It’s now time to continue improving race-by-race and finish the double-header on a positive by getting the most we can out of the MCL6 and try to secure more points for the team.”
Nico Hulkenberg thinks Haas will be more competitive in Miami but their car doesn’t seem to be dialled in compared to other midfield cars. Alfa Romeo appear to have the same issues too, which explain their lack of pace.
“Baku was definitely not our weekend, but we have taken some lessons from it and we have moved on to a new race week,” said Valtteri Bottas.
“I am glad to be back in Miami, I have good memories from last year’s inaugural race and the welcome we received here in Florida. We need to make a rapid improvement in terms of performance, maximising the different track we’ll have this week.
“We are as motivated as ever: it may seem tough right now, but there are still many races ahead, and we are all keen on doing the very best. I am looking forward to being back behind the wheel this weekend, feeling confident and ready for a new challenge.”