Verstappen canters to Sprint victory in Miami

Max Verstappen converted pole position into victory during Saturday’s Sprint race at the Miami Grand Prix, leading home Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc and Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez at the end of an action-packed encounter.

Verstappen defended his lead at the start and overcame an early Safety Car before building up a comfortable advantage at the head of the field, with Leclerc settling for second and Perez fighting back against fast starter Daniel Ricciardo to claim third.

Ricciardo brilliantly fended off the other Ferrari of Carlos Sainz and Oscar Piastri – who was the sole McLaren finisher after Lando Norris retired on the first lap – to take fourth, with Haas’s Nico Hulkenberg seventh and RB’s Yuki Tsunoda scoring the final point when Lewis Hamilton took a post-race penalty.

As per China last time out, Friday’s Sprint Qualifying session set the grid for the 19-lap, 100-kilometre dash, with Verstappen emerging on top at the end of a tricky SQ3 phase that saw several drivers struggle to get a strong lap out of their mandated soft tyres.

A couple of changes to the starting order saw Valtteri Bottas shifted to the very back of the grid thanks to a three-place grid penalty for impeding Piastri during qualifying, and Alex Albon moved to the pit lane due to suspension changes under Parc Ferme conditions.

Then, before the grid formed, Leclerc and Esteban Ocon were involved in an unusual incident as they left the pit lane, with the Alpine driver – who was released into the Ferrari’s path – forced to take on a new front wing and soon being given a 10-second time penalty.

Verstappen leads from Leclerc during the early laps.

When the tyre blankets came off all 20 cars, it was revealed that the vast majority of drivers would be starting on the medium rubber, with only Tsunoda, down in 15th, and home favourite Logan Sargeant, back in 18th, doing something different by opting for softs.

At the eagerly anticipated start, pole-sitter Verstappen immediately moved to the right-hand side of the track to defend his lead from Leclerc into Turn 1, where a bold Perez lunge around the outside saw him run wide and allow Ricciardo through for third.

Further back, Norris got caught up in drama for the second Sprint start in succession, having been tipped into a spin at the first corner – and left with terminal damage – after contact between Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll in the bottleneck sent the latter’s Aston Martin into the McLaren.

“There was a gap on the inside, so I went for it,” Hamilton commented over the radio afterwards, with Alonso arguing that his former team mate “arrived like a bull”, only for the stewards to look into the incident and decide against any further action.

Alonso was forced to pit for a new front wing, while Stroll returned to the Aston Martin garage to retire his heavily-damaged car and Ocon took the opportunity to serve his 10-second penalty, allowing the Frenchman to close up to the back of the pack under the Safety Car.

Lando Norris’ Sprint race ended on the first lap.

At the restart, Verstappen retained his lead over Leclerc, with Ricciardo holding third from Perez, Sainz, Piastri, Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen, who had benefitted from the drama to turn 14th into eighth and the final points-paying position as things stood.

On Lap 5, Perez used DRS to close in on Ricciardo’s RB down the back straight and make a clean move into Turn 11, with the Australian having to work hard over the following tours to prevent Sainz and Piastri from doing the same.

By mid-distance, Verstappen boasted an advantage of almost two seconds back to Leclerc, despite reporting a “terrible” balance and “zero rear grip” in an update to the Red Bull pit wall, with team mate Perez some three seconds further adrift.

While Ricciardo was just about holding off Sainz and Piastri, the other big battle involved Magnussen and Hamilton, with the Haas driver given a 10-second penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage at the fiddly Turn 14/15 chicane in his defence of eighth place.

A few laps later, the scrap stepped up another gear when Hamilton attempted a move up the inside of Turn 11, where Magnussen ran wide, rejoined the track at the apex of Turn 12 and then banged wheels with the seven-time world champion, who remained ninth.

Daniel Ricciardo held off Carlos Sainz to earn an impressive fourth.

On Lap 14, Hamilton tried to clear Magnussen yet again, leading to another moment between Turns 11 and 12 – the Briton reporting that “he pushed me off the track” – which allowed soft starter Tsunoda through for ninth and into a net points position due to the Dane’s impending penalty.

There were further changes shortly afterwards as Tsunoda and, finally, Hamilton overtook Magnussen, who was hit with further penalties for the clash above and track limits violations, prompting a head-to-head between the RB and Mercedes machines for the final point to the chequered flag.

As all of that drama unfolded, race leader Verstappen kept his cool to see out the remaining kilometres and take the Sprint win, followed by Leclerc and Perez, as Ricciardo narrowly held on to fourth over the chasing Sainz and Piastri.

Hulkenberg was a fine seventh for Haas, with Hamilton managing to beat Tsunoda to eighth but then tumbling down the order after being investigated for speeding in the pit lane when the field passed through it under the early Safety Car and subsequently receiving a 20-second time penalty.

Pierre Gasly therefore took ninth in his Alpine, from Sargeant, Zhou Guanyu, Russell in the other Mercedes, pit lane starter Albon, Bottas and Ocon, with Hamilton winding up 16th ahead of the delayed Alonso and heavily-penalised Magnussen.

Following the Sprint race, drivers will next be in action during qualifying for the Grand Prix later on Saturday, with the session set to begin at 16:00 local time (21:00 GMT).

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