Max Verstappen Wins Masterful U.S. Grand Prix

·3 min read
Photo credit: Clive Mason - Formula 1 - Getty Images
Photo credit: Clive Mason - Formula 1 - Getty Images

Leadership from both Mercedes and Red Bull Racing trusted their drivers in today's United States Grand Prix. When Max Verstappen lost the lead to Lewis Hamilton on the race start, Red Bull pivoted by pitting Verstappen early to put him in position to defend a lead at the end of the race. When Mercedes saw the move, they lengthened their second stint to give Hamilton the opportunity to chase down and pass Verstappen on track. Both strategies worked perfectly, and the resulting race was a classic.

Verstappen made his first stop on lap ten. That change gave him the net lead when Lewis Hamilton stopped three laps later, but it quickly closed back up when Hamilton ran quicker laps on newer tires. Red Bull stopped Verstappen short again, setting up a situation where he would be guaranteed to lead when Hamilton made his final stop and would have to be passed on track to lose the race. Mercedes could have pivoted back to Red Bull's strategy and tried to mitigate the damage from that short pit, but they left Hamilton out for a long second stint and instead set their driver up to chase down a gap of nine seconds with newer tires on the final stint.

With 20 laps to go, Hamilton knew his mission. He cut it to five seconds quickly, and with fifteen to go his win seemed inevitable. Then, with ten to go and the gap down to just three seconds, the gap started to shrink more slowly. It floated between one and two seconds for the entire rest of the race, and, while Hamilton got within the crucial one second twice in the final two laps, a well-timed lapped car actually gave Verstappen a DRS advantage on the final lap that Hamilton did not have. A particularly masterful final three laps and a little help from dirty air kept the seven-time and reigning champion at bay, leaving Verstappen to complete an ambitious in-race strategy pivot that required nothing short of a perfect race from him. It is one of the signature wins of his young career.

Despite a valiant effort and an incredible first half of his final stint, Hamilton's never got within position to take a swing at Verstappen for the race lead. A bonus point for fast lap mitigates the damage to just six points, but what Hamilton may have once thought would be the swing that got him back the championship lead instead ended up being a race that pushed Verstappen's lead up to an impressive twelve points. That means, for the first time in quite some time in this long and closely-contested season, Verstappen cannot lose the championship lead next weekend by finishing second if Hamilton finishes first.

Sergio Perez ran a quiet race to third, completing the podium for Red Bull Racing and completing an excellent day for Red Bull's outside shot of taking the World Constructor's Championship from Mercedes. Charles Leclerc and Daniel Ricciardo rounded out the top five. Carlos Sainz Jr. also beat Lando Norris on track in a battle for seventh, effectively ensuring that Ferrari gained points over McLaren in the battle for third in the constructor's standings with both of its cars.

Valtteri Bottas (6th), Yuki Tsunoda (9th,) and Sebastian Vettel (10th) rounded out the points-scoring finishers. Fernando Alonso retired after taking some damage in a battle on track with both Alfa Romeo drivers for a non-points position, while Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon both retired with separate mechanical issues.

Formula 1 returns in two weeks for the Mexican Grand Prix. If that race can match either of the energy or the on-track action of today's race at the Circuit of the Americas, it will be one of the best of the year.

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