When Max Verstappen was the 20th and final driver to be introduced onto the starting grid by LL Cool J in Formula 1’s latest attempt to inject Super Bowl-esque razzmatazz into their pre-race ceremonies, the world champion’s icy calm demeanour should have sent his rivals’ radars buzzing.
This was no small task ahead of Verstappen. Starting mid-pack due to part-misfortune, part-mistake, Verstappen was looking to become only the fifth driver in F1 history, and the first since Niki Lauda in 1984, to win a grand prix from ninth on the grid. Yet his whole aura was of a driver totally convinced that his victory was inevitable.
And his confidence was earned. Before his turn seven error on Saturday, there had been daylight between him and Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez across the weekend. Perez had pole position, but while Verstappen had set a target of “P2 minimum” for the race, everyone knew he only had eyes for the top spot.
Perez, who had been late for the pre-race drivers parade, was on time for the formation lap. As he pulled away, he and the six cars behind him all did so with yellow-walled medium tyres. Verstappen, meanwhile, had opted for hard tyres – an aggressive choice that put him at odds with his team mate ahead, who’d chosen to follow conventional wisdom.
“When you are starting on pole, starting on the hard is much more like a gamble,” the pole sitter later explained. “Pretty much the whole grid went for the medium start – I think none of us realised how weak a tyre it was.”
Perez was joined on the front row, as he had been in Saudi Arabia, by Fernando Alonso. Seven weeks earlier in Jeddah, Alonso had elicited thunderous cheers from the Aston Martin garage when he launched off the start line to snatch the lead from Perez into the first corner. Starting again from the inside front row grid slot, however, Alonso couldn’t quite summon the same traction that had propelled him ahead of the Red Bull in as the Miami lights went out.
Perez cut right, covering the inside line into turn one. That allowed him to power out of the right hander with his lead intact, Alonso slotting behind him into second and Carlos Sainz Jnr’s Ferrari retaining third.
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