Max Verstappen wins first Miami Grand Prix after passing Charles Leclerc early on

Max Verstappen wins first Miami Grand Prix after passing Charles Leclerc early on

Somewhere inside a glitzy spectacle was half-decent racing, and as the checkered flag was waved on a sultry Florida afternoon, Max Verstappen proved himself a worthy winner.

While the scriptwriters may have preferred Lewis Hamilton to cap off this spectacular first Miami Grand Prix with victory, the British superstar started and finished sixth – further proof that his Mercedes is out of the running even with a longtime superman in command .

Verstappen was therefore celebrating his third triumph in five races at the start of his title defence, and the sport itself was toasting an opportunity they had craved for so long – to crack America.

If there was any doubt about it, you should have seen the craziest, highest, blingiest and most diverse grid parade Formula 1 has ever seen. It was the day the old game fell off the coattails of its European heritage and trod the soil of the land of the brave.

Men with eight F1 world titles between them, bearing the names of Emerson, Jackie, Mario and Mika, have been lost in the forest of giants of sport and stardom.

Only one contemporary pilot has won over the American public, and his official title is Sir Lewis Hamilton. The cameras turned on him like a rare tiger on safari as he wandered around the paddock. The rest of the F1 cast were small players in a new world.

On duty were David Beckham, the Williams sisters of tennis, joined by Hamilton’s father Anthony, rapper Pharrell Williams, MBA legend Michael Jordan, NFL great Tom Brady and socialite Paris Hilton. The list goes on, and almost all of them were stars made West of the Pond.

Europe will remain the heart and soul of Formula 1, Monaco in its faded splendor its most totemic emblem, but a place has been found in its heart for this kind of extravagance. Miami 2022 was a glimpse of a freer, cooler future.

Hamilton, wearing giant pink shades that Dame Edna would have been proud of, said: “The vibe here is amazing. The crowd is the best.

He already knew that his chances of triumph could be assessed between slim and zero. His departure did not help. Out of the box quickly, yes, it locked in the first corner, lost momentum and slipped two places.

He quickly passed Fernando Alonso of Alpine, then Pierre Gasly of AlphaTauri. The fact that he fell back half a minute after 22 of 57 laps revealed his struggles. That was a far cry from his six career wins in the United States, one at Indianapolis and the others at Austin, where he also picked up two of his seven world titles.

At least the Americans were treated to some on-track drama to excuse the hype. McLaren’s Lando Norris cut Gasly and his tire exploded. The Briton apologized for his mistake. Too bad – he acquitted himself very well this year.

The safety car interruption allowed Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate George Russell a free pit stop, pushing him back to seventh and right on the tail of his main partner.

On cooler rubber, the threat from Russell was always going to be too strong to resist and it proved. He found a way through on lap 50 to finish fifth.

Russell has now finished ahead of him in all race bars this campaign. Luck conspired against the handsome champion, but this setback did little to help his morale. Barcelona comes next in a fortnight.

It was left to Verstappen to be the star of the day, confirming the form he showed on a mature-dominated weekend at Imola last time out.

Here he got right on the Ferrari of poleman Charles Leclerc on the starting straight to hold the inside line at the first corner and take the lead at the start of lap nine. He had taken the other red car, that of Carlos Sainz, at the start.

So it’s over: Verstappen, Leclerc, Sainz – but only after Verstappen resisted Leclerc’s hot blast after Norris’ crash. It was a good demonstration of avant-garde.

The circus returns to America for the Austin run on October 23, when there will be a more intimate feel both on the track and in the Texas city’s compact downtown, with its bars and restaurants.

It will also attract a more bubbly crowd than the ones partying here.

Then next year comes Las Vegas, the third of the American trio that will host Formula 1 for the foreseeable future. The Strip will try to dazzle Miami. They will have to go if they want to succeed.

Not that the Florida pioneers of Formula 1 worry about competition. As Tom Garfinkel, general manager of Sunday’s race, said: “Vegas joining the schedule is fantastic as all the ships are going up with the rising tide.”

Relive all the twists and turns of the Grand Prix with live coverage from Sportsmail’s MAX MATHEWS…


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