Max Verstappen races to victory in the inaugural Miami Grand Prix

The inaugural Miami Grand Prix lived up to its billing as a heavyweight battle between the two leaders of the series: Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

Verstappen, the reigning Formula 1 champion, won the race on Sunday, reducing Leclerc’s lead from 27 to 19 points after five races. Leclerc finished second, 3,786 seconds behind after starting from pole position, with Spanish teammate Carlos Sainz completing the podium at the Miami Dolphins’ Hard Rock Stadium.

The victory was the third of the season for the Dutch driver – and the second in a row – and he accomplished it with a crucial overtaking on the outside on Sainz at the start to take second place before overtaking Leclerc on the ninth of 57 laps.

Verstappen, who also secured the bonus point for the fastest lap, was flying to victory until McLaren’s Lando Norris collided with AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly and crashed on lap 41, triggering the safety car.

This allowed Leclerc to close the gap and get back in contention in the last 10 laps.

“It was an incredible Grand Prix,” said Verstappen, who has won every race he has finished so far this season and who received the winner’s trophy from Dolphins legend Dan Marino. “(It was) very physical, but I think we kept it exciting until the end.”

The race attracted a cast of world-class celebrities, top sportsmen and a sold out crowd as Formula 1 reveled in a wave of popularity fueled by Netflix docuseries “Drive to Survive”.

“It was crazy. I have never known such interest, such passion and such a huge, huge event, “said Red Bull boss Christian Horner.” I think it was great for the American public to tune into Formula 1 … it was a great event and also an exciting race at the end “.

A race that was a slow burn held in an energy-absorbing humidity provided some fireworks at the end with the safety car rallying the field, putting Leclerc right on Verstappen’s heels with five laps to go.

“On the hard (tires) we were very competitive and towards the end I thought I could catch Max at some point, but today they had the advantage in terms of pace,” said Leclerc.

Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez finished fourth, with Ferrari maintaining the lead in the constructors’ standings with 157 points to Red Bull’s 151.

George Russell continued his record of finishing all races so far in the top five, with teammate Mercedes and seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton sixth after a brief battle between the two.

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