Max Verstappen prevailed once more at the United States Grand Prix, hosted at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
Having won at the Sprint on the Saturday, Verstappen was starting the Grand Prix in an unfortunate sixth position, having had his lap time deleted during Qualifying. On Pole was Charles Leclerc, with Norris in second and Hamilton in third. Given that the Austin Grand Prix has never been won by anybody outside of the top two, an exciting race was to be expected.
As the lights went out, Norris got a slightly better start than Leclerc and managed to get ahead of him at the first corner, leading the race. A collision occurred further back between Ocon and Piastri, resulting in damage to both cars. The Alpine and McLaren later had to retire on lap seven and lap eleven respectively, resulting in Ocon’s third DNF in the last five races.
Leclerc had an unfortunate start, falling into second at the first turn, and Hamilton getting past him not much later. He was now left with Verstappen hot on his tail – it was only a matter of time before the inevitable happened; the Red Bull driver overtook Leclerc on the inside line – the Ferrari was forced off the track but was still in the fight when he returned to the race, so Verstappen was not obliged to give the place back. By the end of lap 11, Verstappen was safely ahead of Leclerc.
There appeared to be many different tyre strategies across the teams at this Grand Prix – some teams opted for a one-stop strategy (questionable, given the nature of Austin’s track – indeed, they themselves changed their minds later in the race), others for three. Verstappen was the first to pit at lap 17 onto new medium tyres, and this triggered pit stops ahead of him. Norris and Sainz both came in the following lap, but Leclerc stayed out, something which has been queried heavily, given Ferrari’s reputation for eating through their tyres this season.
Interestingly, Mercedes decided not to pit Hamilton immediately, instead leaving him to lead the race, a decision that arguably had consequences later on in the race. It wasn’t until lap 20 that Hamilton pitted, with an unfortunate 3.6-second stop. This slowed the Mercedes driver, and left him with a lot of work to do to regain his position, exiting the pit lane in sixth.
Leclerc finally pitted onto hard tyres during lap 23, leaving Norris in the lead once more, with Verstappen hot on his tail. Hamilton had regained positions, now in third. The chase was on for the lead, but it seemed as though Norris had a pretty comfortable 2.4-second lead on Verstappen. However, he soon locked up while turning which closed the distance between himself and the Dutchman behind him, which eventually allowed Verstappen to get into DRS range of the McLaren in front of him. At turn 12 of lap 28, the two cars were fighting wheel-to-wheel, but the Red Bull pulled ahead, now leading the race.
However, all was not easy for Verstappen. Despite now leading the race, he reported on lap 34 that he was having serious problems with his brakes. He was pulling away, but seemed to be having trouble braking in the corners. Norris pitted onto new hard tyres and was aiming for the undercut as Verstappen pitted the following lap, but was unsuccessful. Verstappen stayed ahead of the McLaren despite the problems with his car and a slow (by Red Bull standards) 3.3-second pit stop.
Verstappen and Norris continued to climb through the ranks, Hamilton falling behind as he pitted, and both overtaking Leclerc on lap 39, who fell into third. Hamilton emerged from his pit stop in fourth, and overtook the Ferrari at turn 12 of lap 43.
Fernando Alonso, who (despite Aston Martin’s struggles this weekend and having to start from the pit lane) was now in eighth – a solid race so far for the Spaniard. However, he reported a “rear suspension failure” on lap 48, and had to retire the car. This left Aston Martin’s hopes with Lance Stroll, who was also having a promising race.
Hamilton was moving in on Norris, closing an over three-second gap by lap 49, passing the McLaren at turn two. He was now in it for the win, being told over the radio to chase Verstappen, who was battling his braking issues, saying to his engineer “No talking in the braking, man!”. This later became the source of lots of memes about this race weekend.
Hamilton was powering ahead, and by the final lap, the gap between himself and Verstappen was under two seconds. This finish was going to be close. However, Verstappen had DRS as he lapped the Alfa Romeo of Zhou Guanyu and Hamilton did not, allowing the Red Bull to pull ahead, saving his lead.
He crossed under the chequered flag to claim his 50th Grand Prix win in his career, with Hamilton in second, Norris (who took Driver of the Day) in third, Sainz in fourth, Pérez in fifth, Leclerc in sixth, Russell in seventh, Gasly in eighth, Stroll in ninth and Tsunoda in tenth, who also took fastest lap.
This Grand Prix provided an impressive race from many drivers – Lance Stroll appeared to be in his redemption arc, placing in the points for the first time since Spa. Gasly and Tsunoda also performed well, scoring some solid points for their teams. However, in my opinion, Hamilton’s drive was the most impressive – he was so close to taking the victory, and it has been argued that, had there been one or two more laps, he would have won. It leaves some to question whether Mercedes’ timing of his pit stop cost him the victory – if he had been brought in straight after Verstappen, perhaps he would have been able to get past him on the fresher tyres.
His achievements were not to last though – after the race, both himself and Leclerc were disqualified from the race following a physical floor and plank wear inspection failure. A huge disappointment for both drivers, but fantastic news for Williams, as this boosted both drivers into the points – the inaugural points for the American driver Sargeant at one of his home races. Tsunoda also gained a fantastic five points for his team, and Sainz was promoted onto the podium.
This weekend provided us with some fantastic racing: wheel-to-wheel combat, some interesting strategy decisions, Sargeant’s first points, and some genuine racing for the victory – could this race suggest that Red Bull’s incredible dominance this season may be coming to an end? We shall have to wait and see at next week’s Mexican Grand Prix.