Why Verstappen's raceable Red Bull beat Leclerc — 2022 Miami GP analysis


Red Bull struggled with reliability issues ahead of the Miami Grand Prix but, come Sunday, the RB18's Pirelli preservation – and more – gave Max Verstappen the advantage over Charles Leclerc

MIAMI, FLORIDA - MAY 08: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB18 leads Charles Leclerc of Monaco driving (16) the Ferrari F1-75 during the F1 Grand Prix of Miami at the Miami International Autodrome on May 08, 2022 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Red Bull's RB18 was the much better race car – partly due to how it treated its tyres – come race day

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Max Verstappen took his third victory in five races for Red Bull but still trails Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in the title battle. Every race this year seems to distil down to a fight between these two and this inaugural Miami Grand Prix was no exception.

The pendulum between them has swung wildly but at the end of this weekend it really did seem as if the Red Bull was just fundamentally the faster car. Yes, Ferrari locked out the front row but that was a function of the Red Bull’s less than solid reliability more than anything else. The cooling levels for the hot and humid Florida track had been underestimated and the gearbox overheated during FP1. Replacing it as a precaution for FP2, a hydraulic line was incorrectly fitted. So he lost out on that session too.

All the while Leclerc’s Ferrari ran seamlessly. Carlos Sainz crashed his on Friday afternoon, putting him on the back foot but it had no effect on Leclerc’s progress. The three of them were vying for pole at the end of Q3. The Ferrari was fastest through the sweeps of Sector 1, the Red Bull faster in the long straights of Sectors 2 and 3 and over a lap there seemed barely anything in it. But Verstappen just wasn’t quite as tuned into his car as Leclerc and over-did that final lap – consigning him to third, as Leclerc secured pole from his team mate.

So, what was the route to victory from behind a rival with a front row lock-out?


Grid grip difference

MIAMI, FLORIDA - MAY 08: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB18 and Charles Leclerc of Monaco driving (16) the Ferrari F1-75 compete for position on track during the F1 Grand Prix of Miami at the Miami International Autodrome on May 08, 2022 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Leclerc let Verstappen have inside line on lap 9 thinking – incorrectly – that there would be little grip

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Just as at Imola, third was probably a better starting slot than second. Verstappen was faster off the line than Sainz and was ahead by Turn 2, the Red Bull meat in a Ferrari sandwich as Leclerc led away. This was crucial. Ferrari was now unable to use Sainz as a shield and Leclerc would have to take on Verstappen one-on-one. Yet again.


Tyre usage & car traits

For the first five laps Leclerc edged clear. But that was just the Red Bull’s slower tyre warm-up. The Ferrari fires up the front rubber more readily but if the compound is on the soft side relative to the track’s demands, it will hurt more on the Ferrari than the Red Bull.

None of that would have been of much use if the Red Bull was not so raceable. As ever, it was faster at the end of the straights. And for the first time, it was not being out-accelerated onto the straights by the Ferrari. Perhaps that weight-saving is beginning to pay off for Red Bull.

All of which meant that Leclerc was vulnerable in the DRS zones. On the ninth lap Verstappen opened his DRS flap on the pit straight and simply launched himself down the inside into Turn 1. In the practices the grip off line had been terrible. But now it wasn’t so bad. Leclerc was surprised Verstappen was able to get the car sufficiently slowed. But he did – and proceeded to pull away, his front medium compound tyres in better shape than Leclerc’s.

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Sainz was hanging on not far behind his team mate, always just out of reach of Sergio Perez. Valtteri Bottas’s Alfa Romeo led the best of the rest class, staying comfortably ahead of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes.

Verstappen pulled out enough time that Red Bull didn’t need to immediately respond when Ferrari brought Leclerc in for his hard compound tyres on the 24th of the 57 laps. Even waiting another couple of laps before getting into his fresh hard tyres, Verstappen was still over 7sec clear, 0.8sec of which had been won by Red Bull’s faster pit stop.

That seemed to be game over. The interest was now surely whether Perez could wrest third from Sainz. Carlos suffered a front-right delay at his stop which would probably have allowed Perez to have jumped him – except the second Red Bull had lost 5sec to a sensor failure which had drastically reduced power just as he’d been within DRS reach. It came back to life with some switch changes, albeit around 25bhp down – but the opportunity of passing Sainz had slipped by.

Sainz was increasingly troubled by a sore neck from his Friday crash as the race went on and with Perez slowed by his down-on-power engine the lead two pulled away. On the hard tyres the Ferrari had no problems and Leclerc was every bit as quick as Verstappen, the pair trading fastest laps, but with Max retaining his earlier cushion.


The victory threatened

Lewis hamilton in his Mercedes F1 car at the 2022 Miami GP

Hamilton was once again foiled by a late safety car

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The collision between Pierre Gasly and Lando Norris (as the former rejoined the track after running wide at Turn 8) came at a potentially inopportune time for Verstappen and Red Bull. A VSC changed to a full safety car just as he had passed the pit entry road – giving Leclerc (who was almost half-a-minute clear of Perez) the opportunity of getting onto new tyres and rejoining in the safety car queue right in Verstappen’s wheel-tracks (if Ferrari had also pitted Sainz).

But Ferrari stayed out, much to Red Bull’s relief. It had only a set of fresh hard tyres – which would have taken an age to warm up. Ferrari preferred to bet on its car’s faster warm-up of the existing tyres to take the challenge to Verstappen. Which is exactly how it panned out.

If only DRS had been available immediately, Leclerc could probably have retaken the lead. As it was, he was all over Verstappen but the Red Bull was just too fast at the end of the straights. By the time DRS was enabled after two laps, Verstappen’s tyres were up to temperature and the crisis was over.

Perez was brought in for fresh mediums under the safety car and used these to attack Sainz but the latter did well to repel him to the flag. George Russell – who had qualified his bouncing Mercedes only 12th and started on the hard – was able to run long enough to pit under the safety car for his only stop. That put him on team-mate Hamilton’s tail rather than 15-17sec behind – and on fresher tyres. Inevitably, he was able to pass – but not before they’d both passed Bottas’s Alfa after the latter ran wide on cold tyres shortly after the restart.

Without the safety car, Hamilton would have been the leading Mercedes, albeit likely beaten by Bottas – and around a minute adrift of the victorious Verstappen.