Charles Leclerc claimed pole for the inaugural Miami Grand Prix with another demonstration of superb precision, executed flawlessly for Ferrari driving on what is a testing track that has been punishing drivers across the weekend. His title rival Max Verstappen was pressured into a small error that cost him and he could manage only third, with Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz in second, while the audience at the Miami International Autodrome’s first competitive session boisterously revelled in the show they put on.
Lewis Hamilton, who had been hoping for some improvement from Mercedes this week, improved on his recent qualifying form with sixth place but his team remain eight-tenths back from the leaders.
A capacity crowd of 82,500 roared on their driving heroes as Miami ensured a noisy, vibrant welcome and the drivers duly took to the stage with some tense and testing runs that emphasised how the single lap discipline remains a charged, gripping spectacle. The crowd has come for entertainment and they have paid handsomely to do so, with ticket prices opening at $900 for a three-day pass.
Thus far Miami has delivered, they have basked in the fulsome facilities and trackside, the beaming grins, and party atmosphere was one of a crowd who had unashamedly come to enjoy themselves. Purists may sniff at the glitz of the racing business in Miami but certainly not the fans here for whom the event was successfully tailored.
The drivers gave them a suitably feisty appetiser for Sunday’s race. The session had always looked to come down to a showdown between the two leading title protagonists, Verstappen and Leclerc and so it proved as they made their final decisive laps but Sainz was also insistent he too would not be ignored.
On his first hot lap in Q3 Leclerc was quick through the first two sectors but Verstappen behind him was immense in the final, tight testing sequence of turns, his time of 1min 28.991sec had the edge over Leclerc by just six-hundredths.
On the final laps, Leclerc once more opened the running and pushed hard, up in the first sector and again the middle he made the difference at the close setting a time of 1min 28.796sec. Sainz so nearly matched him and did indeed go quicker in the opening sector to a roar from the crowd only to be pipped by two-tenths. Verstappen pushed but a small error and some oversteer cost him through turn five as he rued losing time to mechanical problems in practice. He was forced to back off and was beaten by Sainz as well. He was having to give it his all such are the margins between the leaders but there is little to choose between Ferrari and Red Bull in race pace, a tense showdown awaits on Sunday.
Yet it is Leclerc with his third pole this season who is again in the best possible position to extend a formidable 27-point lead over Verstappen.
Mercedes had been hoping to make some steps forward in Miami. They had upgrades brought to the car and they do appear to have delivered some improvement. Certainly Hamilton felt happier especially after some trying qualifying runs this year. “It was a much, much better qualifying session than I’ve had for the last three races,” he said. “So I’m grateful for that to be honest and I’ll take it,”
However with George Russell who was quick earlier in the weekend in 12th stating he had “no confidence” in the car, the team clearly have a long way to go.
“It’s a bit inconsistent,” he said. “When we get it into the window it’s fast. The potential was there.” They were not expecting to overcome their issues in one fell swoop but Hamilton’s position suggests at least some incremental progress.
Britain’s Jamie Chadwick won the opening race of the new W Series all-female championship season in Miami. The reigning champion lost and re-took the lead in a competitive and incident-packed race. Marta García from Spain took second and Britain’s Jessica Hawkins, who is a driver ambassador for the Aston Martin F1 team, was third.
Chadwick is the defending W Series champion, having won the series’ first two seasons but had to work hard to win on her first outing this year. The 23-year-old is racing this season for the team backed by former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner and has opened her third season in W Series with a strong statement of intent. “That was a bizarre race, I don’t know what happened but we will take that,” she said.
Valterri Bottas was in fifth for Alfa Romeo, Pierre Gasly in seventh for AlphaTauri with his teammate Yuki Tsunoda in ninth. Lando Norris was in eighth for McLaren and Lance Stroll in tenth for Aston Martin.
Fernando Alonso was in 11th for Alpine and Sebastian Vettel was in 13th Aston Martin, with Daniel Ricciardo in 14th for McLaren and Mick Schumacher in 15th for Haas.
Alex Albon and Nicholas Latifi were in 18th and 19th for Williams. Kevin Magnussen was in 16th for Haas and Zhou Guanyu in 17th for Alfa Romeo.
Alpine’s Esteban Ocon did not take part in qualifying after he suffered a cracked chassis from a crash in final practice. He will start the race from the back of the grid.