On a coronation weekend, how apt then that Max Verstappen should deliver a salutary reminder that he is in no mood to pass on his Formula One world championship crown. The Dutchman delivered a relentless and flawlessly executed drive to win the Miami Grand Prix, putting the pretender to the throne, his Red Bull teammate Sergio Pérez from Guadalajara, to the sword with clinical efficiency.
The pair had started the race separated by eight places, with Pérez on pole and Verstappen in ninth. When he took the flag the world champion was a full five seconds up the road from his teammate, who was impotent after a masterclass in pace and tyre control from Verstappen who had, ominously it seemed, barely broken sweat.
“We kept it calm, kept it clean and winning a race from P9 is very satisfying,” he said with no little understatement. “It was a good race. I stayed out of trouble at the beginning, had a clean race and picked the cars off one by one. I stayed out really long on the hard tyres and I think that’s what made the difference.”
Fans were fortunate Verstappen had so much to do. His charge through the field at the Miami International Autodrome, up to second place by lap 15, was by some distance the highlight of another pedestrian race as F1 struggles with single-stop meetings turning all too soon into a procession.
When F1 visits Miami the hype is inescapable, the commitment to it being bigger, louder, and more entertaining is palpable. It’s showtime in Florida is the message at the circuit that winds its way around the Hard Rock Stadium, home to the Miami Dolphins NFL team. This year they threw the kitchen sink at it, pre-race at least.
Before the off F1 had introduced its new pre-race ceremony that is likely (doubtless to the horror of many fans) to be employed at eight races this season.
This grand hoopla, it is understood, is not entirely popular with drivers. It saw them introduced to the crowd as they walked out to the grid one by one with rapper LL Cool J announcing each with a theatrical flourish. Were this not enough they also arrived to an honour guard of cheerleaders and the backing of a 30-piece, black-tie orchestra, conducted by singer and songwriter will.i.am standing on a pedestal.
It was a grandstand opening for a race that largely proved somewhat pedestrian. Overtaking, as had been expected, was a somewhat onerous task. If it is to be a destination city race as the promoters and F1 so desperately desire, there needs to be more focus on actually allowing the cars to go racing.
Fortunately for Verstappen and Red Bull, at least their formidable straight-line speed and DRS advantage meant he was barely inconvenienced. Their car works on every variation of track and surface and is a country mile ahead of its rivals still. Verstappen put it to use with calm control in delivering a succession of quick laps on a tyre strategy that proved to be crucial in giving him the advantage over Pérez.
It was another exhibition from the world champion that demonstrated why he remains the strong favourite to take a third title this season. He has now extended his lead in the world championship over Pérez to 14 points after five meetings.