How Verstappen did it: from ninth to first in Miami GP of near perfection


Max Verstappen's error in qualifying for the 2023 Miami Grand Prix looked to have left Sergio Perez with a simple path to victory. but race day was a different story. Mark Hughes explains how the double world champion overturned the odds on his way to victory


Florent Gooden / DPPI

Max Verstappen made one wrong move all weekend – getting out of shape through Turns 5/6/7 in Q3 – and it dropped him from what had looked a nailed-on pole position to a starting position of ninth. Every other thing about his performance was close to perfection and that lowly grid position was not enough to keep him from victory, not even with the other Red Bull of Sergio Perez starting from pole.

Perez had come into the weekend full of confidence from having emerged on top from his Baku duel with Verstappen. But around a more conventional track, where it’s not so much about short 90-degree corners and more about the speed you are able to carry into and through a series of long medium-fast sweepers, that confidence dissolved along with his form. Run for run, he was around 0.3-0.4sec adrift of his team-mate. But he completed his first Q3 lap and Verstappen didn’t. The red flags for Charles Leclerc’s off meant there were no second Q3 runs and hence Perez took pole, totally against the run of play.

With a bunch of slower cars between him and Verstappen four rows back, Perez’s chances of a second consecutive victory suddenly looked very good. Regardless of his pace deficit. But Verstappen prevailed regardless. Aside from his generally superior speed through the sweeps of sector 1, how did Verstappen manage this?


1. Knife-through-butter early progress


Verstappen made quick progress through the midfield pack

Grand Prix Photo

Max was very conservative on the opening lap, just concentrating on keeping out of any scrapes and particularly anxious not to damage the hard tyres he’d started on, as these were his only set. But once everything had settled down, he began making his moves, passing in quick succession Esteban Ocon’s Alpine, Valtteri Bottas’s Alfa, then Kevin Magnussen’s Haas and Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari in the same move, before picking off George Russell’s Mercedes, Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari and Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin. All that took him just 15 laps. His car was way faster of course, but the crucial point was how much faster it was in the DRS zones, easing his passage immensely. Not only was he not losing time to the leader Perez, for 10 of the first 14 laps he was actually gaining on him despite having to pass cars! Again, DRS had a big part to play in that as obviously Perez, with no-one in front of him, didn’t get the 0.3sec lap time benefit it brings. It meant that by the time Verstappen emerged in second place, he was only 3.7sec behind – and on hard tyres that were set to go much longer than Perez’s mediums.


2. Different tyre offset to forecast

Verstappen had chosen to start on the hards only because of the anticipated long grind through the traffic, with the possibility then of challenging Perez by being on the faster medium for the final stint, with Perez obliged to switch to the hard.

But that tyre picture had been formed over Friday and Saturday when the track was running at up to 49 C. On a somewhat overcast Sunday, that was down to 36C. Furthermore, heavy rainfall on Saturday night wiped away any rubber build-up. The combined effect of all this was to make the medium prone to graining its front right. This reduced its early lap time advantage over the hard from 0.5sec to around 0.2sec but worse than that, its graining-induced degradation meant that after a few laps the robust hard became the faster tyre.

So Perez could not take advantage of his lead to pull out time over Verstappen, as he was having to nurse the front-right medium as Verstappen charged through. Verstappen’s choice of starting tyre had paid back spectacularly.

Max Verstappen leads the Miami GP pitlane with medium tyres

Verstappen heads out to hunt down Perez on fresh mediums

Red Bull


Verstappen moves to take the lead

Florent Gooden / DPPI

Max’s emergence in second place coincided with Perez’s front-right beginning to surrender. Within four laps Verstappen had the gap down to 1.7sec – which came just as Perez had built enough of a gap over Carlos Sainz’s fifth-place Ferrari that he could emerge still in front of it after stopping on lap 20.

But because there was almost no degradation of the hard tyre, Perez could not lap significantly faster than Verstappen who was still out there on tyres 20 laps older. In turn, Verstappen couldn’t quite pull the gap out to the 20sec he needed to clear Perez. But for over 20 laps he tried. It was close enough that he rejoined almost immediately within DRS range of his team-mate and on his briefly grippier medium tyres and DRS was able to deprive him.

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Like that, Verstappen made up for his single mistake of the weekend.

Alonso was undercut out of third by Sainz but used the Aston’s much better tyre usage to immediately claim it back on track. Sainz had possibly hurt his tyres by pushing hard on the out-lap, trying to make the undercut work, because his pace dropped away and he was subsequently passed in swashbuckling style by Russell, who took fourth.

Lewis Hamilton, who didn’t make it out of Q2 and started 13th (on account of not getting a clear preparation lap for his tyres) did a Verstappen-like strategy of starting on the hard. But without the Red Bull’s DRS effectiveness he was caught in a midfield DRS train for many laps. Only once he broke free of it did his race really begin. His pace then was strong and into Turn 11 he put a great move on the struggling Ferrari of Leclerc to take sixth.

Maybe one day the Red Bulls will not finish. But that’s about the only hope anyone else has this season.