Pawtucket Times

Verstappen closes in on Leclerc after winning Miami

- By JENNA FRYER

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — His first day racing around the new Formula One circuit in Miami was absolutely horrible. Then he made a mistake in qualifying that cost him a spot on the front row.

By the time race day rolled around, Max Verstappen had knocked it all out of his system.

Verstappen was explosive at the start Sunday and used a pair of aggressive passes to get past Ferrari and current championsh­ip leader Charles Leclerc. Once out front, the reigning world champion controlled the inaugural Miami Grand Prix for his third win in five races to start the season.

“We still have a few issues to solve,” Verstappen said. “I mean, we are quick, but my Friday was terrible, which is not great. But there’s a lot of potential.”

The 23rd win of the Dutchman’s career sliced knocked eight points off Leclerc’s lead in the standings. Verstappen now trails him by 19 points headed into the Spanish Grand Prix in two weeks.

Verstappen started third Sunday after Ferrari locked out the front row with Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. in qualifying. But in the end, Red Bull got the best of its new rival for a second consecutiv­e race.

Verstappen pounced at the start to get ahead of Sainz, then set his sights on Leclerc and used a strong outside pass on the ninth lap to claim the lead. Verstappen went unchalleng­ed until a late crash between Lando Norris and Pierre Gasly brought out the safety car and setup a 10-lap sprint to the finish on the 19-turn, 3.36-mile circuit (5.41 kilometers) built around Hard Rock Stadium.

Leclerc got a few looks inside in the closing laps but Verstappen didn’t relent and won by 3.7 seconds. He also won two weeks ago at Imola as Red Bull capitalize­d on a poor Ferrari weekend on Italian home soil with a 1-2 finish for Verstappen and Sergio Perez.

In Miami, Ferrari settled for second and third for Leclerc and Sainz, while Perez was fourth. After the race, he said he’s started talks on a new contract with Red Bull but neither side is in a hurry to complete a deal.

Mercedes showed much improvemen­t with fifth- and sixthplace finishes for George Russell and Lewis Hamilton. It’s the fourth time in five races that first-year Mercedes driver Russell has beaten the seven-time champion.

The race itself wasn’t the thriller the 85,000 in attendance Sunday breathless­ly expected when they snagged one of the hottest tickets in sports. Promoters never had a general ticket sale because of crushing early demand and the campus surroundin­g Hard Rock Stadium was the place to party over the last three days.

Whether it was at the man-made beach club where musical acts have entertaine­d since Friday or the “marina” that docked 10 boats on plywood covered in a decal to resemble rippling water, F1 got the sun, sand and Miami backdrop it wanted when it agreed to this 10-year deal.

Come race day, the celebritie­s were out in full force. Dwyane Wade took selfies on the starting grid and Paris Hilton danced in front of the McLaren garage; Tom Brady, David Beckham and Michael Jordan posed for a pre-race picture with Lewis Hamilton, who hosted former first lady Michelle Obama on Saturday at the track. Serena Williams ducked into Mercedes’ hospitalit­y and Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny arrived at the venue with Perez and spent most of pre-race at Red Bull with the Mexican driver.

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