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Miami Grand Prix: Max Verstappen wins from ninth on grid to extend championship lead

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Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was in a class of his own as he carved through the field to win the Miami Grand Prix from ninth place on the grid.

It was a masterful performance from the world champion, using an off-set tyre strategy to beat team-mate Sergio Perez, who started from pole position.

Verstappen ran a long first stint on hard tyres, pitting 25 laps later than Perez, rejoining a second behind and passing for the lead a lap later.

It was a humiliating defeat for Perez and raised serious questions about his claims to be able to challenge Verstappen for the title this year.

Fernando Alonso continued his superb season for Aston Martin to take his fourth podium finish in five races with an outstanding performance of his own.

George Russell was a strong fourth for Mercedes while Ferrari had a dispiriting afternoon.

Carlos Sainz challenged Alonso in the first stint but earned a five-second penalty for speeding in the pit lane at his pit stop and then dropped away in the second stint to finish fifth.

Team-mate Charles Leclerc had a race to forget after crashing in qualifying and starting seventh.

He fought a long battle with Haas driver Kevin Magnussen, who drove an outstanding race, before finally getting past with 20 laps to go and taking seventh place behind the second Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, who was on the same off-set strategy as Verstappen.

Verstappen strikes psychological blow in title race

Verstappen’s victory made it three wins to two in his favour this year and extended his championship lead to 14 points.

More than that, it was his most impressive victory so far this season and was delivered in a style that will hurt for Perez.

The Mexican appeared a favourite for victory starting at the front with Verstappen down in ninth after making a mistake on his first qualifying lap and then losing a chance to make amends when Leclerc crashed.

Red Bull chose hard tyres for Verstappen for the start of the race, while the top seven went for the mediums for the first stint, to give him the best chance to come back and win.

Perez failed to make enough ground while Verstappen was fighting his way through the field and was only 3.3 seconds in front when Verstappen moved into second place by passing Alonso on lap 15.

Perez pitted to fit hard tyres on lap 19 and Verstappen’s task was now to prevent his team-mate gaining back too much ground on his fresh hard tyres.

Perez rejoined about 18 seconds behind Verstappen on tyres that were 20 laps fresher. He should have found it relatively easy to reduce the gap significantly.

Instead, Verstappen continued to lap strongly and Perez found it hard to close in.

He reduced the gap to 15.3 seconds on lap 31 but that was as close as he got, and impressively Verstappen then began to inch further away to the point that he was just over 18 seconds in front when he finally made his pit stop on lap 45.

He rejoined 1.6secs back, was 0.7secs adrift by the end of his out lap, right on his tail by the end of the next one, and then passed into Turn One.

Alonso and Magnussen deliver for capacity crowd

The race between the Red Bulls was enhanced by wheel-to-wheel battles throughout the field in front of a 90,766 capacity crowd.

The fans witnessed classic American razzmatazz before the start as legendary rapper LL Cool J introduced the drivers one by one accompanied by an orchestra playing music specially composed by pop star Will.i.Am in front of celebrities including actor Tom Cruise and singer Shakira, tennis legends Roger Federer and Serena Williams and NFL star Patrick Mahomes.

Alonso and Magnussen were probably the other two stars of the race. The veteran two-time champion stayed impressively close to Perez in the first stint while holding off Sainz.

The Ferrari looked to have the pace to challenge Alonso but Sainz dealt himself a blow when he was caught speeding in the pit lane trying to minimise his stop time.

As it turned out, Sainz did not have the pace to challenge Alonso and he slipped back behind Russell in the second part of the race.

Hamilton in the other Mercedes used the same off-set strategy as Verstappen to fight back from 13th on the grid to pass Leclerc and Alpine’s Pierre Gasly to finish four seconds behind Sainz in sixth place.

Leclerc saved himself some blushes by finally overtaking Magnussen at the third attempt, having been re-passed twice before when trying to do so earlier in the race.

Ferrari will wonder how their lead driver found it so hard to beat a man in a customer car from a team with a significantly smaller budget.

Leclerc was followed home by the Alpines of Gasly and Esteban Ocon, who snuck ahead of Magnussen in the closing stages.

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