Verstappen Defies Odds: Tire Strategy Secures Win
From ninth place to undeniable victory, Max Verstappen’s exceptional performance at the Miami Grand Prix is a testament to his skill and strategic prowess. Masterfully navigating early laps, aggressive moves, and tire strategy, Verstappen outshone even his pole-sitting teammate, Sergio Perez, and left the crowd in awe.
Despite beginning in ninth place at the Miami Grand Prix, Max Verstappen faced no significant obstacles, even with his teammate Sergio Perez securing pole position.
Skillfully balancing early-lap restraint, aggressive maneuvers, and a different tire strategy compared to Perez, Verstappen found himself only 3.7 seconds behind after utilizing Red Bull’s powerful DRS advantage to reach second place by the 15th lap.
Once there, Verstappen was unlikely to fall behind, as he demonstrated a clear pace advantage over Perez throughout the weekend, unlike in Baku.
Typically, this edge—stemming from Verstappen’s ability to navigate the fast curves of the first sector (which had caused his qualifying mistake)—would not have compensated for the eight-place grid penalty he received on Saturday. However, his decision to start on hard tires, in order to last longer and maneuver through traffic, proved to be a game-changer. Perez’s medium tires, carrying a full fuel load during the first stint, were more fragile than anticipated, while Verstappen’s hard tires were faster and more durable than expected.
This tire strategy not only helped Verstappen maintain track position but also enhanced his overall performance. He extended his first stint by 25 laps on the hard tires, and once Perez made a pit stop, Verstappen’s speed was remarkable. The tire situation had shifted in his favor due to cooler temperatures and overnight rain. Initially, a medium/hard combination seemed to be the fastest way to finish the race, but in reality, Verstappen’s hard/medium choice was more advantageous.
Pirelli’s Mario Isola revealed after the race that the hard tire’s degradation, adjusted for fuel, was only 0.003 seconds per stint. Moreover, Pirelli found that a new hard tire was just a couple of tenths slower than a new medium tire per lap, rather than the expected 0.5 seconds. Consequently, the hard tire became faster after just a few laps without degradation.
While Perez completed 64% of the race on the faster hard tire, Verstappen covered 79% of the distance with it. This advantage offset the time Verstappen lost navigating through traffic during the first 14 laps. When he switched to medium tires, they were less susceptible to graining on the front right, as the car was approximately 80 kg lighter than when Perez had used them.
Perez acknowledged that the medium tires performed worse than anticipated, compromising their pace. He had to protect the fragile tire to reach around lap 15, making it difficult to rely on it. As Verstappen closed in, Perez realized that the race was becoming increasingly challenging.
Due to the hard tire’s minimal degradation, Perez’s pace on it was barely faster than Verstappen’s, even though his tires were 15 laps fresher. Verstappen couldn’t quite build a 20-second lead to pit without losing the lead to Perez, but it was close enough that when he rejoined the race with 12 laps remaining, he was within DRS range almost instantly.
From that point, Verstappen’s victory seemed inevitable as he drove on initially faster medium tires and utilized DRS. The drivers went wheel-to-wheel for two corners, exciting the crowd but without any real risk of collision. This exchange was more of a ceremonial handover, as Verstappen’s victory had appeared certain for the previous 20 or so laps.
Verstappen’s victory was further supported by his rapid progress in the initial laps, overtaking cars as he encountered them and sometimes even gaining on Perez while doing so. Red Bull’s powerful DRS advantage played a crucial role in this regard, with the double pass on Charles Leclerc and Kevin Magnussen highlighting the might of its DRS.
Christian Horner, full of admiration, pointed out that Verstappen’s pace between laps 20 and 45 was a key factor in his victory. While this was indeed impressive, the strong performances of other drivers who started on hard tires, such as Lewis Hamilton, the Alpines, and Lance Stroll—all of whom had long runs with minimal degradation—indicate that the strategy played a significant part in his success.
Nonetheless, Verstappen’s speed at the circuit was so remarkable that he likely could have won using either strategy. If Perez and Verstappen had switched starting positions and strategies, it is doubtful that Perez could have claimed victory from Verstappen.
Checo pondered how different the race might have been for Max if they had the same strategy, but acknowledged that Verstappen was undeniably the fastest car on the track. Perez expressed the need to understand what went wrong on his end during the race.
Fernando Alonso’s journey to securing another third place was only challenged around the first pitstop window when Ferrari brought Carlos Sainz in as early as lap 18 of 57 in an attempt to undercut Alonso (and to defend against George Russell’s undercut attempt on the previous lap).
Aston Martin had anticipated this move, and there was a heated debate about whether they should react. However, Alonso’s pace and his ability to manage the delicate medium tires convinced the team to stay out longer.
Sainz pushed hard on his out-lap, attempting to secure the undercut, but this seemed to damage the tires, resulting in a lack of pace during his second stint. Alonso stopped six laps later, re-entered the track just behind Sainz, and swiftly overtook him to regain his position. Ultimately, Sainz’s pit lane speeding penalty was not a factor in losing the podium battle to Alonso.
Sainz’s pace plummeted, and he was overtaken by Russell’s Mercedes as well. During his first stint on medium tires, Carlos lost an average of just over 0.3 seconds per lap to the leader, but this increased to around 0.8 seconds per lap during his second stint on hard tires. Despite its new floor, the Ferrari was challenging to handle, with oversteer tendencies that consumed its tires and a high sensitivity to the gusty conditions.
In qualifying, the Mercedes was a stubborn and uncooperative car, struggling with the kerbs and slow corners, and lagging around 0.5 seconds behind the Ferrari. However, during the race, it managed the tires much better, and Russell’s drive to fourth place was commendable.
For much of the first stint, Hamilton found himself in a DRS train in a lowly 13th position, but once he broke free, his hard tires were still in excellent condition, and he continued until lap 37. With the medium tires, he maintained his speed, and his daring move on Leclerc’s struggling Ferrari at Turn 11 was particularly impressive. However, the delay in the DRS train meant he was not quite able to challenge Sainz for fifth place in the end. Hamilton’s weekend was marred by traffic on his out-lap, which hindered him from preparing his tires for his final Q2 run.
During the race, the Alpines and Magnussen’s Haas settled into their natural positions, with Pierre Gasly finishing in eighth place, not far behind the struggling Leclerc, and ahead of teammate Esteban Ocon and the Haas.
After his victory and earning the fastest lap, which put him 14 points ahead, Verstappen said, “Yesterday I told myself minimum P2, because I think that’s where we should finish anyway with the car we have.”
He acknowledged that it’s always challenging to predict what might happen during a race, noting, “If you have a terrible lap one, you make it even harder for yourself, right? But luckily it didn’t work out too bad.” Indeed, things turned out quite well for Verstappen.
Max Verstappen Victory F1 2023 Miami GP Max Verstappen Victory F1 2023 Miami GP Max Verstappen Victory F1 2023 Miami GP Max Verstappen Victory F1 2023 Miami GP Max Verstappen Victory F1 2023 Miami GP
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