“If it’s a clean race, I shouldn’t see Max”. Those were the words of Sergio Perez ahead of the Miami Grand Prix. There were no safety cars, no retirements, not even a yellow flag, yet Verstappen came out on top after 57 laps.
After choosing to bail out on his first run in Q3, and not being able to set a lap time when Charles Leclerc crashed in qualifying, Verstappen started down in ninth and dropped a position to Valtteri Bottas at the start.
It was perhaps expected because he was on the C2 hard tyres when most of the field began the Grand Prix on the C3 mediums.
Meanwhile, Perez held off Fernando Alonso off the line but wasn’t exactly pulling away as he opted to save his tyres and remained no more than two seconds ahead of the Aston Martin driver during the opening part of the race.
Verstappen’s tidy overtakes
Verstappen picked off cars one by one, or two in the case of his three-wide overtake on Kevin Magnussen and Charles Leclerc into Turn 1.
He wasn’t breezing by the field like Saudi Arabia, instead having to get moves done on the brakes, which was far from easy on the dirty line.
George Russell, Pierre Gasly – dispatched, then close the gap to Carlos Sainz and Alonso before taking them both by the end of Lap 15 to be in second place.
At this point, Verstappen was 3.8 seconds behind teammate Perez, who was now struggling with his mediums.
This enabled the reigning Formula 1 world champion to slowly close the gap and he halved the deficit when Perez pitted on Lap 21.
Verstappen loses no time despite older rubber
In theory, a driver on younger tyres should be quicker than their rival on old rubber. This was the case at times for Perez but the overall net time loss for Verstappen was zero.
As expected, the Mexican came flying out of the blocks with fastest sectors to go from an 18-second deficit to Verstappen when he exited the pit lane, to 16 seconds on Lap 28.
A key moment came on Lap 31 when Verstappen began to pick up the pace as he was told by engineer Gianpiero Lambiasse to lean more on his tyres, so push harder.
But, Perez was going through a purple patch of his own as the gap came down to 14.7 seconds over the next few laps.
We arrive at Lap 38 and Perez suddenly loses around 1.2 seconds to Verstappen, 0.8 of that came in Sector 1. Presumably, he went wide somewhere and spent the rest of the lap also cleaning his tyres up.
Sometimes, a small mistake like that can drop you out of the optimal tyre window and from there, Verstappen was either faster or could match Perez to the gap began to increase.
Both drivers were going quicker and quicker as the fuel level came down and the track evolved, as it has all weekend in Miami.
The Red Bull pair were going for it and this was a proper race-long duel that was going the way of Perez, but Verstappen‘s incredible pace in the second half of the stint saw the race move into his hands.
Remember, 20 seconds was the pit lane time loss, we told you this would be important pre-event, and Verstappen was 18 seconds ahead when he pitted at the end of Lap 45.
Victory was now inevitable as those spectacular laps from Lap 38 to Lap 45 was where Verstappen won the race, or where Perez lost it depending on your perspective.
Perez fights hard but it isn’t enough
Verstappen brought his mediums up to temperature perfectly and set the move up a lap later by not going for it at Turn 17, knowing Perez may have fought back into Turn 1.
The championship leader waited and was on his teammate’s tail down the main straight and was forced to the outside.
Perez positioned his car perfectly here but just didn’t have the grip to do anything about Verstappen on the outside.
There was the smallest of lockups from Perez, so he really couldn’t have done anything more, or else a collision was just waiting to happen.
The race was lost before the race-winning overtake though and the Miami GP proved why Verstappen simply has the upper hand on Perez more often than not.
Fourteen points in Verstappen‘s favour and his Miami Twice win was one of his best victories in F1, he’s had a fair few of those as well.