Qualifying: Sergio Perez stuns for pole as Charles Leclerc red flag ends Q3 early

Henry Valantine
Red Bull driver Sergio Perez during qualifying. Miami May 2023.

Red Bull driver Sergio Perez approaches Turn 11 in Miami. May 2023.

Sergio Perez has taken pole position in a frenetic qualifying session for the Miami Grand Prix on Sunday, with Fernando Alonso alongside him on the front row.

Q3 ended early after Charles Leclerc spun into the barriers after losing control of his Ferrari on the high-speed exit of Turn 4, with Race Control deciding not to restart the session with only moments left, and the Ferrari driver letting out his frustrations on team radio.

Max Verstappen aborted his first flying lap in the final part of qualifying after losing balance following a gust of wind early on, but Leclerc’s crash meant he was unable to set a representative time in Q3, meaning he will line up ninth on Sunday after a tricky qualifying session for all involved on Saturday.

A tank-slapper for Q1 for Nico Hulkenberg out of Turn 16 was an early reminder of how the Miami International Autodrome could punish the drivers on Saturday, with the Haas driver missing the wall by a matter of centimetres in the opening minutes.

As for Hamilton, arriving on the scene faster than anticipated at Turn 17 behind the sister Haas of Kevin Magnussen, he took evasive action and hit the wall, claiming he had damage on his front wing and meaning he had to abort a flying lap, prompting an investigation from the FIA into whether or not the Dane had impeded the seven-time World Champion, to take place after the session. Both drivers were eventually cleared of any wrongdoing.

He was soon out again on the same set of tyres, however, but with an extra lap of wear than he would have liked.

The tightness of the chasing pack behind Red Bull and Ferrari on show in FP3 carried on into Q1 as well, with the track improving all the time and only small gaps between the eight teams behind the front-runners.

Only 1.214s separated the entire field in Q1, but both McLaren drivers were casualties of the session, with Lando Norris missing out in P16, along with Yuki Tsunoda, a big shock as Lance Stroll went out in his Aston Martin in 18th, along with Oscar Piastri and Logan Sargeant, who will line up last on the grid at his ‘nearest’ home race, having grown up a stone’s throw from Miami.

Where both Red Bull drivers once again set the pace in the early part of Q2, it was Carlos Sainz who lit up the timing screens by setting ‘purple’ first and second sectors, but faded slightly in the final part of the lap to go just 0.038s behind Verstappen’s benchmark midway through the session.

Sergio Perez, meanwhile, as he did in Azerbaijan last weekend, nudged the wall while on a flying lap, grazing the wall at Turn 4 while looking the other way – no harm done though, as he was able to carry on.

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For the final run in Q2, Leclerc was the first driver to dip below the 1:27 mark, his 1:26.964 putting him temporarily above Verstappen while the Red Bull driver was on another lap, before he promptly took another tenth and a half off Leclerc’s best time.

But in terms of eliminations, Lewis Hamilton was the big name to drop out of the session, claiming it was left “way too late” for him to try another flying lap in Q2, hindering his preparations for his final run.

The seven-time World Champion will line up only 13th on the grid, the first time he has qualified lower than the top six in any American race in his career, with Alex Albon, Nico Hulkenberg, Zhou Guanyu and Nyck de Vries also dropping out.

This in turn led to appearances in Q3 for both Alpine drivers, a first time in the top 10 for Valtteri Bottas this season, as well as Kevin Magnussen out-qualifying his Haas team-mate for the first time this year.

In Q3, Verstappen was forced to bail out of his first flying lap as gusts of wind picked up at the Miami International Autodrome, the Dutchman caught out on his flying run as Perez set a benchmark of a 1:26.841, with Alonso behind in second.

It was set up for a barnstorming finale to qualifying, with the pressure on the World Championship leader to get it right after not setting a time at all on his first run.

Pressure was also on Leclerc, who brushed the wall at Turn 16, before locking up heavily into the Turn 17 hairpin, costing him plenty of time and leaving him only seventh after the first runs.

But with Leclerc spinning out and into the barrier at high speed, the red flags were waved with a little over 90 seconds left on the clock. With that being only a matter of seconds longer than a full-speed lap of Miami, the decision was taken to not restart the session and the grid was set with Perez on pole, with Alonso alongside him on the front row.

Miami Grand Prix 2023 qualifying classification

1 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull 1:26.841
2 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +0.361
3 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +0.508
4 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas +0.926
5 Pierre GASLY Alpine +0.945
6 George RUSSELL Mercedes +0.963
7 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +1.020
8 Esteban OCON Alpine +1.094
10 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo NO TIME SET
11 Alexander ALBON Williams 1:27.795
12 Nico HULKENBERG Haas  +0.108
13 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +0.180
14 ZHOU Guanyu Alfa Romeo +0.296
15 Nyck DE VRIES AlphaTauri +0.600
16 Lando NORRIS McLaren 1:28.394
17 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +0.035
18 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +0.082
19 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +0.090
20 Logan SARGEANT Williams +0.183