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F1: What Miami Taught Us About The Duel Between Verstappen And Leclerc

F1: What Miami Taught Us About The Duel Between Verstappen And Leclerc
By Eoin Harrington Updated
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As F1 races go, Miami 2022 will probably not be remembered for the quality of racing on show. A frantic end to the race didn't exactly see the highest calibre of wheel-to-wheel action, with most of the excitement coming from drivers clattering into each other or running off track.

It did, of course, make waves not only in the US but worldwide in bringing global attention to F1. The Super Bowl-esque presentation of the race, with a star-studded lineup of visitors to the track, wasn't for everyone.

But, like it or not, that's what F1 is becoming, especially Stateside. The race clearly drew in plenty of fans to the sunny state of Florida, and it seems as though the sport's commercial-driven approach won't change any time soon.

What Miami did show us, however, was that the F1 title fight between Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc is only getting started. Despite issues early in the weekend for Verstappen, the Dutchman was in dominant form on Sunday, and sent a clear message that he is not daunted by the gap to his Monégasque rival.

Miami F1 GP: Max Verstappen gives clear sign of intent in title battle

After Ferrari locked out the front row on Saturday, with Red Bull stuck in P3 and P4, it looked as though Charles Leclerc was to extend his already massive gap at the front of the championship.

Two decisive moments early in the race won the day for defending F1 world champion Max Verstappen. The first crucial move Verstappen had to make was to get past at least one of the Ferrari cars at the race start. If Ferrari had gotten out of lap one with their cars first and second, they would have had a greater level of control over the race, and could have prevented Verstappen making use of the Red Bull's greater straight line speed.

Verstappen made sure he didn't have to worry about that, by making a stunning move around the outside of Carlos Sainz in P2 at the race start.

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The move around Sainz at the start was mightily impressive, especially given the issues Verstappen had been reporting after his lack of track time early in the weekend. He judged the first corner perfectly, and got himself right behind Leclerc at the end of lap one.

Just eight laps later, he breezed past Leclerc on the start-finish straight, and proceeded to blast off into the distance. F1's newest track brought in three massive straights, making this a good track for Red Bull to exploit the superior power of their engine over Ferrari.

What was nearly more impressive than Verstappen's race start was how he saw out the race win in the closing laps.

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After cruising to a comfortable lead, Verstappen's advantage was evaporated by a safety car caused by a dramatic crash between Pierre Gasly and Lando Norris. When the race restarted, Leclerc had found extra pace and grip in his tyres, and pushed Verstappen hard for the lead over the first few laps after the restart.

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Verstappen, however, remained calm, put his head down, and ultimately pulled away and claimed a winning margin of almost four seconds.

This race taught us quite a bit about what to expect from the F1 title battle this season going forward.

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Charles Leclerc once again had a strong showing, and didn't necessarily do anything wrong over the course of the weekend. He made the most of Verstappen's mistake in qualifying on Saturday to take pole position, and couldn't do much when presented with the Red Bull's straight line speed advantage on Saturday.

But, when it came down to the tight battle at the end, Verstappen showed his experience to remain calm and see out a vital race win. In a quaint way, given how differently they approached last year's title battle, this was a drive from Max very reminiscent of so many of Lewis Hamilton's wins for Mercedes over the past decade.

Verstappen was calm, meticulous, routinely putting in metronomic laptimes, and didn't seem phased by the pressure put on him at the end. It is quite remarkable just how much Verstappen has matured as an F1 driver over the past two years alone, and his newfound levelheadedness only makes him a more dangerous prospect for the Ferraris this year.

The statistic being thrown about most at the end of the race was that Verstappen has still won every race he has finished in 2022. Though that is true, and impressive, it also points to a major issue for the defending F1 champion and his Red Bull team.

Verstappen himself acknowledged while speaking to Sky Sports after the race that Red Bull cannot afford more issues. Retirements from the races in Bahrain and Australia cost Verstappen two second place finishes - 36 points. With those points, He would be 17 points ahead of Leclerc, rather than 19 points behind him.

The Red Bull's poor reliability has caused a massive swing in the world championship and, though they have managed to get both cars to the end of the race for the last two Grands Prix running, it still has the very real possibility of costing them an F1 championship.

The issues they experienced in practice in Miami were followed by sensor issues for Sergio Perez during Sunday's race. Red Bull need to get to the bottom of their car issues if they want to give Verstappen the best chance possible of contending with Leclerc for the title.

The dynamic of the F1 title battle is pretty perfectly poised after five rounds. Max Verstappen and Red Bull appear to have the momentum. There are shades of last year's early summer form to their current run. The run from June to July last year saw them win five races in a row and, with their current straight line speed advantage, it's not out of the question they are approaching that form again.

But that is balanced by the fact that Leclerc is still 19 full points ahead at the top of the standings, and Red Bull have concerns about the long-term reliability of their car. Ferrari will be worried about Red Bull's pace, and about Max Verstappen's ominous form, but they will take solace in the issues their rivals have faced thus far.

F1 focused in on the spectacle of the weekend in Miami. The glitz and glamour took centre stage, somewhat understandably given the setting. But, at the centre of it all, there is a truly gripping title battle taking hold. Don't take your eyes off it.

Wrapping up from the Miami Grand Prix

Position Driver Team Points Race wins
1st Charles Leclerc Scuderia Ferrari 104 2
2nd Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing-RBPT 85 3
3rd Sergio Perez Red Bull Racing-RBPT 66 0
4th George Russell Mercedes AMG F1 59 0
5th Carlos Sainz Jr Scuderia Ferrari 53 0
  • Driver of the day: His race was wrecked by a late crash with Mick Schumacher, but Sebastian Vettel put in a seriously impressive performance before he was forced to retire. The four-time F1 world champion was forced to start from the pitlane after issues with the fuel in his Aston Martin car, and worked his way up from last place to a points position after some brilliant overtaking and clever pit strategy under the safety car.
  • Day to forget: Vettel's old foe Fernando Alonso had a very clumsy day in Miami. After a lightning getaway on the grid, he made contact with Lewis Hamilton, before picking up a penalty later in the race for clattering into Pierre Gasly. Alonso would then go on to drop from ninth to 11th - dropping out of the points - as a result of his penalty.
  • The big question ahead of round #5: Who will bring the biggest upgrades? It's no secret that Barcelona is where most teams will bring their first major upgrade package of the season, with Aston Martin even suggesting they will bring what will essentially be an entirely new car. Time will tell if the F1 pecking order is changed by the new car updates.

SEE ALSO: Martin Brundle Thought He Was Talking To Patrick Mahomes, He Was Not

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