Improved McLaren flies, then fails and hands pole position to Verstappen

Max Verstappen took pole for the Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix sprint race as McLaren’s initial promise of improved qualifying shined but faded badly in SQ3.

Lando Norris looked like a pole contender in an updated McLaren that CEO Zak Brown called “almost a b-spec car,” beating SQ1 and SQ2 on medium tires.

But the SQ3 was defined by drivers struggling to get the soft tires into the proper temperature window.

Five of the 10 drivers in SQ3 failed to improve their times in SQ2 with the media and Norris was chief among those who struggled.

He was struggling with his McLaren in sector one and bled long enough there that not even a quick final sector could put him above ninth place.

That left Verstappen, even in what he called “pretty terrible” Red Bull driving, to take pole position for the sprint, just over a tenth of a second faster than Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who recovered nicely from losing the most of FP1. to an early mistake.

Sergio Perez was third, but arguably the star of SQ3 was Daniel Ricciardo, who put his RB fourth on the grid, equaling the best qualifying result of his post-McLaren comeback.

Last time in Shanghai, Ricciardo got the chassis change he wanted and continued his good form as RB’s fastest driver.

Carlos Sainz was fifth ahead of Oscar Piastri, who has only half of the new McLaren update this weekend.

Lance Stroll took a rare intra-team victory over Fernando Alonso in Aston Martin as they shared the fourth row, with Norris and Nico Hulkenberg completing the top 10.

SQ2 double output for Mercedes

Unlike McLaren’s at least temporary promise, a major package of improvements at the Miami GP did not work out well in Mercedes’ debut.

Both drivers struggled to achieve a full lap during sprint qualifying, with struggles visible in the low- and high-speed corners.

George Russell overtook Lewis Hamilton, but finished 11th and 12th, eliminated by Stroll and Hulkenberg.

And there could be more pain on the way given that Mercedes is under investigation for a pitlane incident – potentially mechanics servicing Hamilton’s car without wearing proper safety equipment.

Esteban Ocon got his Alpine into SQ2 and finished 13th ahead of the second Haas of Kevin Magnussen (fifth in SQ1 but dropped to 14th in SQ2) and RB’s Yuki Tsunoda, whose Chinese GP struggles appear to have continued in Miami.

A quiet victory for Sargeant

Logan Sargeant was fastest in SQ1 in the final sector, but a costly mistake in the first sector left him 0.511s off a spot in SQ2. “I’m an idiot,” was Sargeant’s radio message after completing his final lap.

But that was good enough for Sargeant to move ahead of Williams team-mate Alex Albon on merit for the first time.

Albon had his fastest lap time (good enough for 16th) erased for making a mistake and cutting the chicane. He is set to start behind Sargeant on the back row of the grid for the sprint.

What will most likely prevent an all-Williams back row is if the stewards punish Valtteri Bottas for a fairly obvious impediment by Piastri during his first qualifying session with his new race engineer.

Bottas was 18th fastest behind Sauber team-mate Zhou Guanyu and Pierre Gasly, who was 16th fastest in his Alpine.

Ranking results

Pos. Name Car Q1 Q2 Q3
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda RBPT 1m28.194s 1m28.001s 1m27.641s
2 Carlos Leclerc ferrari 1m28.537s 1m27.977s 1m27.749s
3 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda RBPT 1m28.681s 1m27.865s 1m27.876s
4 Daniel Ricciardo RB-Honda RBPT 1m28.700s 1m28.122s 1m28.044s
5 Carlos Sainz ferrari 1m28.435s 1m28.262s 1m28.103s
6 Oscar Piastri McLaren-Mercedes 1m28.056s 1m28.163s 1m28.161s
7 spear ride Aston Martin-Mercedes 1m28.807s 1m28.323s 1m28.375s
8 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin-Mercedes 1m28.192s 1m28.189s 1m28.419s
9 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 1m27.939s 1m27.597s 1m28.472s
10 Nico Hulkenberg Haas-Ferrari 1m29.040s 1m28.330s 1m28.476s
eleven George Russell Mercedes 1m28.387s 1m28.343s
12 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m28.736s 1m28.371s
13 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1m28.873s 1m28.379s
14 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1m28.377s 1m28.614s
fifteen Yuki Tsunoda RB-Honda RBPT 1m28.687s
sixteen Pierre Gasly Alpine-Renault 1m29.185s
17 Guanyu Zhou Sauber-Ferrari 1m29.267s
18 Valtteri Bottas Sauber-Ferrari 1m29.360s
19 sergeant logan Williams-Mercedes 1m29.551s
twenty Alex Albon Williams-Mercedes 1m29.858s