Max Verstappen claims “staying out of trouble” on the opening lap was pivotal to providing the foundation for his comeback victory in the 2023 Miami Grand Prix.

The reigning World Champion had appeared favourite for pole position on Saturday, but a mistake on his opening Q3 run placed him ninth on the grid as Charles Leclerc brought out the red flags by tailing into the Turn 7 barrier late in the session.

However, Verstappen swiftly made up the lost ground to close within two seconds of his team-mate by the time Perez headed for the pits at the end of Lap 21.

Verstappen explains how it was important for him to avoid contact in the midfield pack at the start to then be in a position to utilise the lightning pace of his RB19 later in the race to secure the victory.

“Yeah, it’s been a good one,” he said. “I mean, just really staying out of trouble at the beginning. And because, of course, the people around me, you know, they tried to gain positions as quickly as possible on lap one.

“But knowing that, of course, you have a quick car, then once it all settles down, you just try to pick them up one by one. And that worked out quite well. I had even a three-wide on the straight [with Kevin Magnussen and Charles Leclerc], which was quite entertaining.”

Despite Perez being on 21-lap fresher Hard tires than Verstappen, the Dutchman was able to largely retain, and at times extend, his advantage at the front to come out only 1.2s behind once he emerged from the pits at the beginning of Lap 49.

Fitted with grippier Medium rubber, Verstappen hunted Perez down and danced around the outside of his Red Bull team-mate at Turn 1 only two laps later.

“And then yeah, we had good pace, I could look after my tyres,” he continued. “And then once I was in clean air, it was just about getting to that lap number we targeted. That’s why maybe in the middle of that stint, I was not entirely sure if I was going to make it. But then I was getting close to the number and I said ‘OK, this is good’.

“So then I started pushing, I could extend the gap again, which really made my race today, I think, because once we pitted, of course, then I had the fresher tyres to the end.

“But also the tyres, which also were a bit more fragile today, so, yeah, then I had a good battle with Checo. I mean, we were free to race, which was said before, and yeah, we had a good go at it. But of course, most importantly, is that we don’t touch but that that all worked out really well.”

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB19 at the start of the race. 07.05.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 5, Miami Grand Prix, Miami, Florida, USA, Race Day.

Verstappen’s triumph from ninth on the grid marked the first time a driver had won from that particular grid slot since Niki Lauda at the 1984 French Grand Prix.

Last year witnessed Verstappen set a new record for the most wins in a single season from different starting spots, including successive victories from P10 and P14 respectively in Hungary and Belgium.

A driveshaft failure in the second part of qualifying for this year’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix also resigned the 25-year-old to starting down the order, the end result being a gain of 13 places to come home second.

Asked if he had to show a lot of patience on the first lap, Verstappen said: “Yeah, I mean, I was in that situation as well in Jeddah, and maybe one or two times last year.

“So you just have to be careful not to have any damage on your car, but it worked out well.”

Verstappen states that the idea to begin the race on the Hard tyre was on his mind immediately after qualifying had concluded.

The two-time F1 title winner recalls that he considered starting on the more durable compound would enable him to charge through the field at a quicker rate.

“Yeah, this is something [starting on the Hard tyre] I wondered about already yesterday, together with my engineer,” he explained. “We were quite strongly opinionated on that already – then, of course, you have to discuss it with the team, with the strategists, and yeah, they were like: ‘OK. In terms of race time, it was very close between doing a Medium/Hard or Hard/Medium.

“It didn’t really matter. But, of course, when you start on the Hard, the risk is a bit higher because we only had one, so if you had a lap one puncture or whatever, then, of course, your race is a bit tougher. But I was happy to take that gamble and do it the other way around.

“I think even if it was the other way around, of course, you always have to look after your tyres, also on the Medium – but I just felt like maybe it gave me a better opportunity to get through the field initially. Because I mean, by Lap 14 I think, I was already on a podium position, so from there onwards it’s mostly about driving in clean air and you have to look after your tyres anyway.”

A second consecutive victory in Miami for Verstappen has granted him a 14-point advantage in the Drivers’ standings over Perez heading to Imola for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in two weeks.

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