Formula 1: No shortage of desperate excuses after Miami

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Miami, Formula 1 (Photo by Michael Potts/BSR Agency/Getty Images)
Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Miami, Formula 1 (Photo by Michael Potts/BSR Agency/Getty Images) /

The attempts to discredit Max Verstappen’s Formula 1 success get sillier every time, and his come-from-behind win in Miami prompted signs of desperation.

Two-time reigning Formula 1 world champion Max Verstappen wasn’t supposed to win Sunday afternoon’s Miami Grand Prix at Miami International Autodrome — at least not according to the sportsbooks.

After a disastrous qualifying session left practice’s fastest driver in P9 on the grid, four rows and eight spots behind teammate Sergio Perez, Perez was poised to take the lead of the Formula 1 world championship for the first time in his career.

But Verstappen, who is rarely an underdog these days, still managed his tires better than anybody and found a way to drive through the field, passing all eight drivers who started in front of him, to win the 57-lap race around the 19-turn, 3.363-mile (5.412-kilometer) temporary street circuit around Hard Rock Stadium.

It was a crushing blow to Perez, who had a major opportunity to capitalize on Verstappen’s qualifying misfortune.

Dubbed the “king of the streets” after winning in Baku, he needed to make the most of Sunday’s race, given the fact that four of the season’s seven street course races are now in the books, and 15 of the remaining 18 events are road course races.

Perez has not won a Formula 1 road course race since joining Red Bull, while Verstappen has won 10 of the last 11.

Instead, Perez saw a six-point deficit become a 14-point deficit — and he actually finished the stretch of four straight street races with seven fewer points than Verstappen (94 to 87).

As is pretty normal whenever an era of Formula 1 sees one driver win often, there was no shortage of excuses and conspiracy theories after Sunday’s race.

Martin Brundle immediately pondered whether or not Perez starting on the hard tires would have allowed him to challenge Verstappen. Let’s be clear: it’s not an unfair thing to question. But the answer is quite clear, clear enough that any sort of further focus on the question does, in fact, end up sounding silly. However, that didn’t stop certain folks from running with it.

Verstappen, on 20-lap older hard tires than Perez after Perez’s pit stop, was able to extend his gap over his teammate. At one point, it dipped below 15 seconds. By the time Verstappen finally pit (after setting multiple fastest laps of the race on 30+ lap hard tires), he was more than 18.5 seconds ahead.

That’s just better tire management, plain and simple. It’s not that hard to admit.

It would have been silly to have Perez start on the hard tire anyway, to the point where Perez actually had the opportunity to do so but turned it down. Verstappen made the decision to do so since he was in a position to take a gamble, starting from ninth place on the grid after a qualifying disaster.

Nobody in the top seven started on the hard compound. Had Perez done so, Red Bull surely would have been accused of trying to sabotage his race. We all know how that goes.

After the race, David Croft remarked that “maybe we need just a little bit more pushing and a little less tire saving.”

While he was largely referring to the fact that there were no retirements (though that should be seen as a positive, shouldn’t it?), it’s a pretty strange thing to say, especially after a race that saw far more passing than was anticipated on the tight streets around the home of the Miami Dolphins.

You don’t suddenly need wrecks to keep fans interested.

As for tire saving in general, when Lewis Hamilton does it, it’s a masterclass. When Perez does it, he’s the “tire whisperer”. But when Verstappen does it?

“We need less tire saving.”

It’s become a bit of a parody, almost like all of the manufactured headlines trying to create drama within Red Bull where there isn’t any, whether it’s the fabricated nonsense about Verstappen wanting a new teammate or something else.

Even after Miami, you have some trying to stir things up by blaming Red Bull for “not telling Perez where Verstappen was”, as if that would have made a hair of a difference in the end result. The desperate grasping at straws is laughable.

But it’s about what fans have come to expect in recent years. While it’s unfair to accuse Sky Sports of picking favorites (you can draw your own conclusions), their commentary largely fuels some of the crazy conspiracy theories that emerge after a race such as this one.

And let’s not pretend they don’t know exactly what they’re doing, either.

So when Verstappen started from ninth place on Sunday, a place from which no driver had won since 1984, this sort of reaction seemed inevitable, in the event that he actually managed to once again defy history with yet another come-from-behind win.

Last summer, Verstappen became the first driver to win from 10th place or lower two races in a row since Bruce McLaren in 1959/1960. Nobody else has pulled that off in Formula 1 history. And like he was on Sunday, he was a betting underdog heading into one of those two races.

The fact that this was one of the few races which Verstappen wasn’t supposed to win probably made it extra hard to accept for those pulling for a different result. Hopes were high among those who don’t root for him and those simply looking for a more competitive title fight alike, as this was finally a race he wasn’t supposed to win.

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And he still won — relatively comfortably, too. Cue the peanut gallery.