Max Verstappen withstands heat, late caution, Leclerc to win inaugural Miami Grand Prix

Verstappen Miami Leclerc
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MIAMI GARDENS, Florida — Max Verstappen used an aggressive early pass on Formula One championship leader Charles Leclerc then controlled the inaugural Miami Grand Prix for his third victory of the season.

The reigning world champion started third Sunday, but Red Bull quickly got the best of Ferrari for a second consecutive race. Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. had locked out the front row in qualifying for Ferrari, but Verstappen pounced at the start to get ahead of Sainz.

He then set his sights on Leclerc and used a strong outside pass on the ninth lap to claim the lead. Verstappen went unchallenged until a late crash between Lando Norris and Pierre Gasly brought out the safety car and set up a 10-lap sprint to the finish on the 19-turn, 3.36-mile circuit (5.41 kilometers) built around Hard Rock Stadium.

Leclerc got a few looks inside but Verstappen didn’t relent and the Dutchman won by 3.7 seconds.

Verstappen, the prerace favorite who looked exhausted after surviving a hot, humid day in South Florida, also won two weeks ago at Imola as Red Bull capitalized on a poor Ferrari weekend on Italian home soil with a 1-2 finish for Verstappen and Sergio Perez.

In Miami, Ferrari settled for second and third for Leclerc and Sainz.

Perez was fourth for Red Bull and Mercedes showed much improvement with a fifth and sixth place finish for George Russell and Lewis Hamilton. It’s the fourth time in five races that first-year Mercedes driver Russell has beaten the seven-time champion.

The race itself wasn’t the thriller the 85,000 in attendance Sunday breathlessly expected when they snagged one of the hottest tickets in sports. Promoters never had a general ticket sale because of crushing early demand, and the campus surrounding Hard Rock Stadium was the place to party over the last three days.

Whether it was at the man-made beach club where musical acts have entertained since Friday or the “marina” that docked 10 boats on plywood covered in a decal to resemble rippling water, F1 got the sun, sand and Miami backdrop it wanted when it agreed to this 10-year deal.

Come race day, the celebrities were out in full force.

Dwyane Wade took selfies on the starting grid and Paris Hilton danced in front of the McLaren garage; Tom Brady, David Beckham and Michael Jordan posed for a pre-race picture with Lewis Hamilton, who hosted former first lady Michelle Obama on Saturday at the track.

Serena Williams ducked into Mercedes’ hospitality and Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny arrived at the venue with Perez and spent most of prerace at Red Bull with the Mexican driver.

The Miami event gives the U.S. two F1 races in one season for the first time since 1984. F1 will add Las Vegas as a third American race in 2023.

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.