Sergio Perez claimed his second pole position of the F1 2023 season in qualifying for Sunday’s Miami Grand Prix.
Perez had been outclassed by Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen for much of the Miami weekend, but a crash for Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc with less than two minutes left on the clock meant only the first runs of Q3 counted.
That left Perez on pole with Verstappen down in ninth having abandoned his initial lap. Here are our main winners and losers from qualifying…
By his own admission, this had been Perez’s worst weekend of the season right up until Q3 in Miami.
Unhappy with his own driving on Friday, he was simply not in the same class as Verstappen in the early stages of qualifying – four tenths adrift in Q1 and half a second slower in Q2.
Far from the serious title contender he had been touted as after Baku, this was typical Perez – the exposed, uninspiring, vulnerable wingman busy fighting off the Ferraris as Max got on with the business of winning.
Yet there he was when it truly mattered, celebrating a third career pole with Verstappen somehow stranded back in ninth.
Few truly believe that Perez can defeat Verstappen over the course of a season, but his best shot relies on an ability to take full advantage of any and every opportunity that presents itself.
The red flag for Leclerc’s crash, limiting the Q3 participants to just a single run, presented the opportunity.
Perez, putting in the banker lap where Verstappen did not, took it.
Carlos Sainz had no response to Leclerc’s pace in Azerbaijan, so rather than driving himself to insanity searching for answers in the data he just sat there and took his punishment.
Nine tenths slower in Friday qualifying; six in the Sprint Shootout; 44 (forty-four) seconds away in the race.
It wasn’t pretty, but in accepting Leclerc and Baku have just got something going on Sainz revealed a maturity uncommon among racing drivers – and a confidence in his own set of skills. It wouldn’t stay this way forever.
Which brings us to Miami, where Sainz’s car control on this slippery track surface has brought him straight back into contention.
Already this weekend supersedes Australia as his most competitive weekend of the season, Sainz quicker than Leclerc in FP2/Q1 and only marginally behind in Q2.
Did, perhaps, the slightly unexpected threat from the opposite side of the garage play a role in Leclerc overreaching in Q3?
The thought of Sainz outqualifying Leclerc any time soon seemed almost alien after last weekend in Baku, the Ferrari drivers on two opposing trajectories.
After almost two days of running in Miami, however, it no longer felt that way with Sainz back playing to his strengths.
In the battle of the comeback kings at Haas, Kevin Magnussen has been made to look so last year by Nico Hulkenberg in the early weeks of 2023.
While Hulkenberg reached Q3 in Bahrain and Australia – and finished as high as P7 in Melbourne – Magnussen had become flat in the way he often was prior to being reluctantly released by Haas with Romain Grosjean at the end of 2020.
Yet there is a great spirit and tenacity about Magnussen, always capable of pulling out a result such as this.
Is there parallel to be drawn here with his pole at Interlagos 2022 in the way he simply went out and drove the lap as it came to him, paying little heed to the error-inducing track conditions?
At a time Guenther Steiner has put his driver under pressure by publicly discussing his future – how unlike him – fourth on the Miami grid at Haas’s home race is a timely reminder of Magnussen’s value to the team.
For Valtteri Bottas, read Kevin Magnussen.
With Zhou Guanyu closing the gap in performance to the Alfa Romeo team leader – outqualifying him quite convincingly in Jeddah and Melbourne – there has been a creeping sense in recent weeks that Bottas, now 33 and with his best days behind him, may not be long for this world.
Having outqualified both Mercedes to start fifth here in 2022, Miami had the feel of a gauge of where exactly Bottas is heading at this stage of his career.
A place in the top 10, and an advantage of half a second over Zhou in Q2, show there are signs of life here still.
This is not the first time Verstappen has made a mess of his first run of Q3 and then been denied the chance to make up for it.
It happened a couple of times early in his season-long struggle with Lewis Hamilton in 2021 and caused a helluva lot of hassle when Perez started ahead of him in Monaco last year.
Missing the chance to set a banker lap puts Verstappen in the way of jeopardy in the form of red flags and traffic.
These moments are dressed up as misfortune but simply amount to letting his rivals off the hook, relying on two bullets in the gun when sometimes one must suffice.
Is it a concentration issue? Or is there a fault in his fundamental approach to qualifying, Max guilty of pushing too hard and too soon early in Q3 rather than using his first run as a platform for a final-lap flourish?
Whatever the reason, it is a nasty – and at times extremely costly – habit.
On the subject of bad habits…
Leclerc’s speed in Baku left many convinced that he is the fastest driver in F1 today, but even two dazzling displays in qualifying could not be achieved without what has become something of a party trick.
On the very next lap after setting the time for pole in the Sprint Shootout, the number 16 Ferrari was in the wall, Leclerc losing his front wing having found the limit on his first attempt and dipped a toe over it during the second.
The quickest driver in F1, or simply the greatest risk taker? There is a difference.
Leclerc’s crash here was almost a high-speed version of his 2022 Paul Ricard exit, which is where the heart of his problem lies.
His DNF from the lead in France should have been a pivotal moment in Leclerc’s career – his equivalent of Verstappen’s FP3 crash at Monaco 2018 – but what should have been the harshest of lessons has, at least on this evidence, gone ignored.
When he finally matures he will be close to unstoppable, but right now? Leclerc is a driver still exploring the margins of his own personal limits.
Should that still be the case for someone of his age and level of experience?
So now we know.
If Mercedes’ encouraging performance in Australia had resulted in second (third?) thoughts about their current car concept, the W14’s performance at the two races since confirm their call for a root-and-branch overhaul in Bahrain was no overreaction.
After George Russell fell in Q2 in Baku, this week it was the turn of Lewis Hamilton – the elimination of the seven-time World Champion bringing infinitely more scrutiny on the team’s direction.
Friday has been the time for Hamilton to vent his frustration since the start of 2022 but he was more downbeat than ever before after FP2 in Miami, describing the car as no different to last year.
He spoke of featuring somewhere in the middle of the top 10 in qualifying, but his body language conveyed even that would be optimistic.
With a major upgrade package scheduled for Imola, if this really was the last time the deeply unloved zero-pod concept will be driven in anger by Hamilton on a qualifying lap, it was a perversely fitting end.
McLaren introduced their own long-awaited upgrade package in Baku, but with the MCL60 still inherently draggy it wasn’t exactly optimised on all those long straights.
A better reflection of the steps the team have made, Lando Norris promised, would come from Miami. The only way is up.
P16 and P19 respectively for Norris and Oscar Piastri in qualifying as the car struggled in the hot conditions strongly suggests there is significantly more work to be done.