Max Verstappen leapfrogged polesitter Charles Leclerc and covered off a late charge from the Ferrari driver to land victory in the inaugural Miami Grand Prix, one of the most anticipated Formula 1 races of all time.
The defending champion made light work of Carlos Sainz at the start of the 57-lap contest and then swiftly deposed Leclerc in his bid to overturn the points deficit, even though the jeopardy of a late safety car meant Verstappen did have to cover off a rising threat late on. But with the Red Bull driver ultimately triumphing by close to 3.8 seconds, it ends the early trend of the 2022 season in which Verstappen and Leclerc had taken it in turns to win.
Following his Imola success, Verstappen snared back-to-back victories – witnessed by the many celebrities in attendance – in fine style to stand atop a spectacular podium in the shadow of the Hard Rock Stadium. That leaves Ferrari needing to find a response to the ever-growing strength of the RB18 (even if it’s still unreliable) as it seeks to end the Maranello title drought.
Elsewhere, Alexander Albon’s dyed hair brought yet more prosperity as the Williams driver snared another remarkable points finish, plus George Russell maintained his hot streak of top-five finishes by prevailing over Lewis Hamilton.
Here are 10 things we learned from the 2022 Miami Grand Prix.
Tsunoda passes under the shadow of the Hard Rock Stadium, which welcomed celebrities in their droves to sample F1 first-hand
Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool
1. As expected, Miami was a blockbuster event…
The trackside gates were opened to allow the capacity 80,000 crowd to pour towards the podium, a la Silverstone and Monza. Meanwhile, the top-three finishers were escorted underneath the Hard Rock Stadium by a two-bike police escort, sirens blaring and lights flashing. Three Pirelli-branded American football helmets were prepped for their arrival. All in all, the eventual podium ceremony was quite a celebratory centrepiece.
Even if the myriad embellishments to a typical Formula 1 weekend weren’t to everyone’s taste, the organisers certainly went above and beyond to create a huge spectacle for the inaugural Miami Grand Prix. By the end of Sunday, the much-derided fake marina with its painted water illusion had become almost a footnote.
David Beckham, Tom Brady, Michael Jordan and the Williams sisters were the headline sporting superstars to be given a grid pass. That meant they could rub shoulders with former First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama (and DJ Khaled…) while pretending to miss questions from Martin Brundle. Again, their presence and the airtime they were given might be seen as a tedious distraction, but F1 further proved its newfound mainstream appeal having capitalised on the ‘Netflix effect’.
Battles during the race were fairly few and far between
Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images
2. …but the actual race has proved divisive
Strip away much of that excess to focus solely on the 57 laps of racing, and it seems the response to first Miami GP has been split down the middle. Many perceived it to be an irredeemably bland affair despite the late safety car that allowed Leclerc to close on Verstappen. Others reckoned it was decent enough event if a little slow burning.
It was certainly a messy affair at times, with plenty of locked Pirelli tyres plus the incidents headlined by the Haas and Aston Martins tangling and the more dramatic coming together of Pierre Gasly and Lando Norris. The subsequently stricken McLaren forced the safety car to be called, which brought Leclerc back into play. He then gave chase and although fell short, did provide a late injection of excitement.
The race’s neutralisation also paved the way for the intra-team Mercedes battle during the final laps, Albon’s climb to another point for Williams plus the decent dice between the second Ferrari and Red Bull of Sainz and Sergio Perez.
Prior to that – and unlike the early 2022 thrillers in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and to a lesser extent Imola – the action had to be sourced more from the midfield rather than the leading protagonists as overtakes proved difficult and subsequently scarce.
Once ahead of Leclerc, Verstappen faced little challenge to secure his third win of 2022
Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool
3. Verstappen hasn’t lost an ounce of motivation
During pre-season testing, then entering the F1 paddock for the first time as the defending champion, Verstappen said he had achieved his dream. He had reached the peak of motorsport and he didn’t necessarily feel a desire to go on and bag title after title.
That left some to question his motivation. But for the second round in a row, he hasn’t been fazed by a little adversity. Instead, he was ruthless and took control of proceedings.
After he was hobbled by a start issue in the Imola sprint, Verstappen’s time learning the new Miami circuit was massively curtailed by overheating issues in practice. He then made a hash of his final Q3 flying lap to fall to the second row of the grid. But he swiftly launched by Sainz and then cut the 1.2s gap to Leclerc so on lap nine, he could thumb DRS down the shorter home straight to fairly claim first place into Turn 1.
He established a commanding 8s lead as the race wore on, only to have his hard work undone by the safety car intervention. Leclerc could artificially close and with his tyres showing renewed vigour, piled on the pressure in the closing laps. Verstappen showed no sign of cracking, smartly covering off the most serious attempt Leclerc could manage.
Leclerc’s lack of top speed relative to Verstappen meant he couldn’t retaliate once behind and had to settle for second
Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
4. Leclerc was again blunted by tyres and top speed
Leclerc preserves his place at the top of the championship thanks to finishing runner-up to Verstappen, but he ceded another 17 points to his Dutch rival to now hold an advantage of 19 points. Prior to Imola, however, the gap between the pair had peaked at 46 points.
Whereas Leclerc made a major error in Italy by spinning out of a sure-fire third place, in Miami he appeared to maximise the pace of the Ferrari and fell short of Verstappen because of the weaknesses that the F1-75 charger has so far demonstrated.
Leclerc admitted that his lap for pole was good rather than great, but with Verstappen bailing out of his final flier after making a mistake, the Ferrari seized the advantage. But like in Imola when rain washed the rubber off the track, the green surface of Miami appeared to increase the rate at which the Ferrari started to suffer graining on its front tyres.
The decline in pace as Leclerc managed his rubber allowed Verstappen to close. The Florida track, dominated by the massive backstraight and its sweeping high-speed final sector, also suited the Red Bull-badged Honda power unit’s superior top-end poke.
That was evidenced by the speed traps in qualifying. Red Bull topped the charts, Perez over Verstappen, as Leclerc was only 13th fastest through the gate. Sainz was 18th. So, when the chasing RB18 was equipped with DRS on lap nine, the win slipped away from Leclerc.
Ferrari boss Binotto needs to rally his troops to respond to halt Red Bull’s run of wins
Photo by: Ferrari
5. Ferrari needs to respond while Red Bull is still fallible
“If you consider how many points we are taking home from here, we can’t be too disappointed given that we are leading both championships. But it is clear we now need to respond.” That was the assessment from Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto after the Scuderia chalked a 2-3 result in Miami.
Ferrari has so far been extremely cautious in upgrading its F1-75 challenger. It trialled a modified diffuser in Australia but for practice only. Elsewhere, there have only been tweaks to existing components to suit the downforce requirements of each circuit rather than fully new parts.
On paper, Miami is close in nature to the Saudi Arabian track in so far as it’s a high-speed street circuit that favours the top-end performance of the Red Bull-Honda rather than the fast-accelerating Ferrari. That theory turned into reality.
But as the overheating in practice for Verstappen and in-race engine issues for Perez demonstrated, like Bahrain and Australia, Red Bull has a less than perfect reliability record. Therefore, Binotto recognises that while the RB18 is showing signs of weakness, Ferrari must be there to pounce.
After the hectic start to the campaign and the logistical limitations inspired by starting in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Australia and then the United States, a longer spell in Europe starting with the Spanish GP should give way to teams sporting their first major car upgrades. Ferrari will look to hit the ground running to keep Red Bull at bay, having so far kept it conservative.
Sainz finished a grand prix for the first time since Jeddah as he held off Perez for third
Photo by: Ferrari
6. Sainz has found a reset from which he can rebound
The cameras cut to Carlos Sainz in second practice just as he lost control of his Ferrari and backed it into a wall. Having already spun in the opening session, it looked as though the Spaniard might endure another torrid weekend to go with his trip into the gravel in Australia plus qualifying and first-lap shunts in the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
But having overstepped the limit early in the weekend, Sainz hooked together a lap strong enough for second in qualifying to start behind his team-mate to signify the flashes of a recovery. While he was vanquished immediately by the rapid-starting Verstappen, nursing a sore neck and having already brained himself climbing through a gap in the fence, Sainz kept hold of third place at the flag after keeping Perez behind.
Despite promising that his engineers have found some areas of untapped potential, Sainz is yet to close the gap to his team-mate – Leclerc’s fastest race lap was some three tenths quicker. But the consolidation in Miami does offer Sainz a platform upon which he can now rebuild and gain momentum to at least provide better cover for Ferrari in the constructors’ championship.
Albon scored points once again for Williams, once again vindicating his selection after a year on the sidelines
Photo by: Williams
7. Albon finds red-hot form with red hair
Alexander Albon rocked up in Australia sporting a new dyed-red hairdo, kindly given to him by the children at the Wat Sakaeo orphanage in Thailand that he’d recently visited. In Melbourne, aboard the unfavoured Williams, he managed his tyres wonderfully to pull off a one-stop strategy and score an unlikely point in 10th. The tinge had faded a little for Imola, where he scored a still-impressive 11th.
His hair was re-dyed for Miami, and the Thai-Brit was correspondingly back among the points. Having started down in 18th after struggling to sufficiently heat his tyres in qualifying, Albon wound up in ninth. He did profit from the Haas and Aston Martin crashes plus the 10s of penalty copped by Fernando Alonso for causing a collision and track limits violations, but those inherited positions only arrived after his medium-starting tyre strategy had been compromised by the safety car. Swings and roundabouts.
Albon now has three points to his name, more than double champion Alonso, and has promised that the red hair will hang around for the time being.
The Mercedes pair were outshone by Bottas for much of the race, Russell helped significantly by the timing of the safety car
Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images
8. Mercedes has yet to tame the W13
More efficient front wing endplates plus an upgraded rear and beam wing configuration marked the first major update package to be fitted to the W13 since its distinctive size-zero sidepods broke cover in Bahrain. Neither Lewis Hamilton nor George Russell expected to be on the pace all of a sudden but hoped it would further Mercedes’ understanding of the car so it could chase more serious gains in good time.
The team did appear to also get much closer to finding a remedy for its persistent porpoising in the opening practice session. Both were bouncing around in the cockpit far less, with Russell setting the overall pace in second practice by a tenth of a second over Leclerc, even if the oscillations did appear to be more pronounced as Friday running wore on.
But the porpoising returned massively in qualifying to prevent Russell from fighting for spot inside the top 10. The W13, as per Imola, was also reluctant to warm its tyres to hurt his early progress in the race as Mercedes continues to learn what makes its car tick.
Russell would maintain his record of scoring a top-five finish in 2022 after triumphing over Hamilton late on for a 5-6 result.
The Miami track was unforgiving for those who made mistakes, with Ocon forced to miss qualifying after his Saturday practice crash
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
9. Hard Rock Stadium is a setting for hard knocks
The much-loved mentor-mentee dynamic between Sebastian Vettel and Mick Schumacher was put to the test as the pair came to blows five laps from the flag to deny Haas its best-ever finish on home soil.
Vettel was poised to pick up the pieces when Schumacher and Esteban Ocon delayed one another trying to find the apex at Turn 17. But Schumacher tried to cover off the four-time world champion with an optimistic lunge into the opening corner of the following lap and speared underneath the Aston to ruin both their runs. “Which gap was that?” was the surprisingly cordial reply from Vettel.
Not to be out-done by their respective team-mates Kevin Magnussen and Lance Stroll traded blows but the sole safety car was the result of Gasly’s front-left making contact with the rear-right corner of Norris to pitch the McLaren into a spin and out of the race. The narrow confines of the pseudo-street circuit provided an unforgiving setting all weekend.
New FIA race director Wittich has been firm on clamping down on drivers wearing jewellery
Photo by: Jerry Andre / Motorsport Images
10. The FIA isn’t going to drop its bling sin bin
Given the controversy that swarmed around the FIA after events in Abu Dhabi last season, the governing body’s new premiership has sought to distance itself from the previous regime by imposing the letter of the law. That has thrust jewellery into the spotlight.
Ahead of the Australian Grand Prix in April, new F1 race director Niels Wittich reminded drivers that wearing jewellery in the car is prohibited. Then in time for Miami, a document was issued to say this – and checking to see if a driver’s underwear was FIA homologated -would now form part of the rigorous scrutineering carried out at each event.
Several drivers were quick to push back in Florida, calling it a “personal choice” as to what they wear even if they did appreciate the FIA acting on grounds of safety. The consensus, fronted by Lewis Hamilton, is that this is an “unnecessary spat” and a distraction for F1. Sebastian Vettel made his own statement, sporting his finest boxer shorts over his race suit. Pierre Gasly reckoned he didn’t feel comfortable getting into the car without a religious token, while Hamilton said he had two piercings that can’t be taken out any time soon…
In response, the FIA has stressed it’s not an attack on personal expression and has given him a two-race exemption before the jewellery must be gone. Hamilton has no plans to comply.
Hamilton says he has no plans to comply with the FIA’s jewellry crackdown
Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images