F1 Miami Grand Prix Sprint Saturday: Can anyone catch Max Verstappen?

MIAMI — He described his car as “terrible.” His reaction when told by the team that he had captured pole position was “LOL.” And yet dawn breaks on another day of Formula 1 action here at the Miami Grand Prix with the paddock wondering if anyone can catch Max Verstappen.

It has not just been that kind of season for Verstappen, but rather this has been the overarching storyline for F1 the past three seasons and counting. Everytime the field looks to put the Red Bull driver under pressure — like McLaren did yesterday during the first two qualifying sessions — Verstappen has answered that bell.

A prime example comes from the 2023 season, and qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix. Fernando Alonso, Charles Leclerc, and Esteban Ocon put everything on the line in their final push laps, with all three drivers qualifying on provisional pole.

But not for long.

Because as the seconds ticked down in Q3 Verstappen pushed his RB19 to the utmost limit, extracting every millisecond he needed to put himself in P1.

Yesterday it was Lando Norris. McLaren brought a whole host of upgrades to the Miami Grand Prix, and Norris topped the timing sheets in both SQ1 and SQ2. But those times were set on the medium compound, as required by F1 Sprint regulations. When the softs were bolted on, it was again Verstappen at the front of the field, with the rest of the grid wondering if they can somehow find a way to catch him today.

Can they?

Ferrari and McLaren likely believe they have a shot. But as we have seen time and time again, everytime the challenge has been put to him, Verstappen has answered the call.

Will McLaren’s pace carry the day?

As the team themselves admitted, SQ3 was something of a disappointment after what Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri both showed during the first two qualifying sessions Friday afternoon.

But could Saturday’s Sprint Race tell a different story.

As noted above, Norris was quickest in both SQ1 and SQ2 on the medium compound. As for Piastri, he finished SQ1 in P2 behind his teammate, and came across the line P6 in SQ2. Yet once the softs were bolted on, the two McLarens could not duplicate their earlier success.

Regarding Norris, the McLaren driver lost too much time in the first sector, and could not make up the gap over the next two sectors to Verstappen. Using telemetry data from F1-Tempo, you can see how Norris in the upgraded MCL38 was quicker through that first portion of the lap:

Yet, look at the difference in SQ3, as Verstappen was quicker through that first sector:

As the two drivers came out of Turn 8 and into the fast and flowing start of the second sector, the game was over. Norris was down 0.842 seconds to Verstappen at that point, and could not make up the lost time.

But Saturday could be a different story, given the past McLaren showed on the medium compound during both SQ1 and SQ2

“We saw really strong performance from the car in Sprint Qualifying but ultimately, it wasn’t rewarded in the session that counted. Both drivers had issues on the Soft tyre that compromised the final result,” said Team Principal Andrea Stella following the session. “However, we definitely take encouragement from the pace we’ve seen today. This is just the start of the weekend, and there are many opportunities to capitalise on the strength of the upgraded car we’ve brought to Miami. It’s been a great effort from the team at the factory to get it here, and we look forward to rewarding that effort with strong results across the weekend.”

Norris as well pointed to that first sector as his undoing.

“I just pushed too hard, as simple as that,” said Norris following Sprint Qualifying. “The car was feeling very good. Just silly, to be honest. A couple of mistakes in Turn 1 and just a big spiral from there. A shame because the team have done a good job, the upgrades are working, so I’m happy with everything. Just not with one thing.”

While Verstappen came through in SQ3, the mediums may very well be the flavor of choice for Saturday’s F1 Sprint Race.

Which, given what we saw in SQ1 and SQ2, could bode very well for McLaren.

What is happening with Mercedes?

A team with more questions than answers right now?

Mercedes.

The upgrades the team brought to Miami seemed to do the trick during FP1 Friday, but when the lap times started counting for real, the Silver Arrows found themselves frozen out come SQ3. Both George Russell and Lewis Hamilton failed to advance to SQ3, and they will start outside the points on Saturday. Russell qualified in P11, with Hamilton right behind him in P12.

Can they make up the ground on Saturday?

They admit it might be tough.

“The car felt really good in [SQ1], and then [SQ2] it didn’t feel terrible, it’s just we were seven-tenths off – that’s just I think the pace of our car,” commented Hamilton after Sprint Qualifying. “I think the Sprint race is going to be tough. We’re [starting] in 12th, so I don’t expect a huge amount from there to be honest. It’s not an easy circuit to overtake on or to follow [other cars], so just trying to step into the points somehow if we can.”

Russell sounded a bit more optimistic, but conceded that the team has to find more answers during qualifying sessions. “I mean, I’ve got no doubt we’ll move forward in the Sprint race,” described Russell. “We need to try and get on top of our qualifying woes. It’s always difficult to fight with the cars ahead when we’re starting on the back foot.”

Ultimately, the team just need to find more pace, as they lag behind the other top teams at the moment.

“I feel like we extracted everything from the car, and that’s just our pace,” conceded Hamilton. “We just have to accept it for the moment that we’re seven-tenths off.”

F1 Grand Prix of Miami - Previews Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images

Can Daniel Ricciardo break through?

A number of drivers are starting to feel the pressure of a fast-moving driver transfer market.

Among those drivers? Daniel Ricciardo.

Ricciardo began the season as one of the drivers in the discussion for a seat at Red Bull alongside Verstappen in 2025. But over the first few race weekends, the discussion shifted, leading many to wonder if instead of fighting for a spot at Red Bull, Ricciardo was fighting for his F1 future itself.

Friday, however, brought a moment in the sun for the Australian driver.

Ricciardo advanced to SQ3, and when the dust settled he came across the line fourth-fastest.

“I feel obviously really good about it. It was just a good session,” said Ricciardo following Sprint Qualifying.

Following the first few race weekends of the season, that saw Ricciardo struggle in comparison to teammate Yuki Tsunoda, the team made some changes to the chassis of Ricciardo’s RB01 ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix. Those changes have given the driver much more confidence in the car, as he followed what was his strongest weekend in China — incident with Lance Stroll aside — with Friday’s stellar performance.

“I definitely felt a lot better in China and yeah, hopefully that’s the start,” said Ricciardo to the media, including SB Nation, Thursday. “But a lot of it comes out here feeling and being comfortable, you know? There was, honestly, something that once I hit the track in China, I did feel like I had a bit more.

“So whether that is a physical change that maybe something chassis provided me, and it just gave me a bit more feeling of really what the car is gonna do. So that was good.”

What might be better?

His first points of the season, which are definitely on offer given where he will start today.

“I’d love to be more than eighth, for sure,” described Ricciardo on Friday. “I’d love to get a few points from it … I’m sure the second row will help our cause in getting some points.”

Pressure mounting on Logan Sargeant

On the other end of the grid this Saturday we find hometown hero Logan Sargeant.

As rumors continue to work their way through the paddock about Sargeant’s future, and the notion that the young and talented Andrea Kimi Antonelli will be tapped for Sargeant’s seat as soon as possible, the Williams driver is truly fighting for his future.

During Friday’s FIA Press Conference, Williams team boss James Vowles downplayed the Antonelli rumors. But in that denial the Williams Team Principal made it clear: Sargeant needs to “earn his seat” to keep it.

“Let’s put it this way. I haven’t spoken to Kimi since Abu Dhabi last year. Hopefully that puts it in context. I know nothing about what’s going on at Mercedes’ tests right now. We are looking, as everyone else is, for where we want to be on driver line-up for next year and we have our own young driver [program],” said Vowles in response to a question from Scott Mitchell-Malm of The Race. “In the case of Kimi, I can’t really adjudicate on the level he’s at. In case of him coming into the car this year, I’ve always said from the beginning, it’s a meritocracy. Logan has to earn his seat. And at the moment, he has some tough targets where he has to get much closer to Alex. But there is nothing on the radar at the moment for replacing him.”

To that final point, Sargeant did finish ahead of teammate Alexander Albon in Sprint Qualifying. And he has two more sessions ahead of him today — the F1 Sprint Race as well as qualifying for the Miami Grand Prix — to make his case.

But it certainly feels like the clock is ticking.