By JENNA FRYER
AP Auto Racing Writer
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Max Verstappen used an easy Sunday drive to keep Red Bull undefeated on the season, as the reigning two-time Formula One champion drove from ninth to the victory at the Miami Grand Prix.
Red Bull has won all five races so far this season, and teammate Sergio Perez’s second-place finish in Miami was the fourth 1-2 finish for Red Bull this year. Verstappen has three wins this season, while Perez, the pole sitter in Miami, has two.
The win was the 38th of his career for Verstappen, who tied Sebastian Vettel for most victories for Red Bull. At this pace, he’ll smash Vettel’s record by the end of what many critics are already complaining is a boring Red Bull-dominated season.
“I call that simply (expletive) lovely,” Verstappen said on his radio. “That was a good race, a good race all around, so thank you very much. That was really, really good, also good for the team, again”
Red Bull boss Christian Horner praised Verstappen’s poise over the 57-lap race that gave him his second consecutive victory in Miami.
“Well done, Max. That was a mighty middle stint, really impressive on the hard tire and thanks for racing cleanly with your teammate,” Horner said.
Red Bull has said it will allow Verstappen and Perez to cleanly race for the championship, and Perez seemed poised to take the points lead in Miami by starting from the pole. Verstappen held a six-point lead in the standings over Perez at the start of the race, but was relegated to a ninth-place starting position because qualifying was cut short before his final qualifying attempt by a Charles Leclerc crash.
But the Dutchman had no problem driving through the field. He went from ninth to sixth in the first four laps, using a pass of two cars in one corner to gain ground. He was fifth by the ninth lap, fourth on Lap 12 and finally behind Perez in second on Lap 15.
Verstappen took the lead when Perez pitted on Lap 20 and he held nearly a 18-second lead with 15 laps remaining. When he finally made his pit stop, Verstappen returned to the track in second but only 1.6 seconds behind Perez.
It took him just minutes to pass Perez for the win, taking the lead in a wheel-to-wheel battle with nine laps remaining. Although Verstappen has won from a lower starting position before, he becomes the first driver since Niki Lauda in 1984 at the French Grand Prix to win from ninth.
The victory also came on the anniversary of the 2016 announcement that Verstappen was being promoted from the junior team to Red Bull ahead of the fifth round of that season.
Verstappen now holds a 14-point lead over Perez in the standings.
Perez finished second, a full 5.3 seconds behind Verstappen.
“I tried, I gave it all,” Perez said as the crowd chanted his nickname “Checo! Checo! Checo!”
Fernando Alonso was third for Aston Martin but finished 26 seconds behind. It was the fourth podium in five races for the resurgent Spaniard.
“It was not easy, it was never easy, but it was a lonely race,” Alonso said.
George Russell was fourth for Mercedes, followed by Carlos Sainz Jr. of Ferrari, and Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes, who drove from 13th to sixth. Leclerc was seventh, and Alpine drivers Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon were eighth and ninth.
Kevin Magnussen, driver for American team Haas, finished 10th to score a point for just the second time this season. Haas has used the Miami race to spotlight all its American sponsors, including Chipotle, which promised 10,000 free burritos if a Haas driver scored a point Sunday.
Logan Sargeant, the first American driver on the grid since 2015, finished last in his home race. Sargeant was born and raised less than 20 miles away from the circuit in Fort Lauderdale. He started last.
“I put the car in a place I shouldn’t have in Lap 1 and took my front wing off. From there it was a difficult afternoon,” Sargeant said. “On a normal strategy our pace would’ve been pretty solid all things considered. Despite today, I still loved the weekend.”
The sold-out crowd of 90,766 included Jeff Bezos, Tom Cruise, Elon Musk, Serena and Venus Williams, and Roger Federer, while LL Cool J handled driver introductions. The drivers walked out to a new song by will.i.am called “The Formula” made specifically for Sunday’s race. The song, which is a collaboration with Lil Wayne, was performed by a symphony.
Russell after the race said the pre-race show was distracting for the drivers, who discussed the pageantry in their weekly meeting.
“Everybody’s got their different personalities; I guess it’s the ‘American way’ of doing things during sport,” said Russell, president of the driver association. “Personally, it’s not for me. Because I am here to race. I’m not here for the show, I’m here to win.
“I don’t think there is any other sport in the world that 30 minutes before you go out to do your business, you are out there in the sun, all the cameras on you, and making a bit of a show of it,” Russell continued. “I can appreciate that in the entertainment world. We only want the best for the sport. We are open to changes, but I guess we wouldn’t want to see it every weekend.”
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