Max Verstappen managed to hold off rival Lewis Hamilton in a tense battle at the US Grand Prix, extending his championship lead in the process. It was a race that came right down to the wire – another lap, it would have been an entirely different result, but it was the Red Bull driver who took the day.
There was nothing between the two in qualifying, with Verstappen on pole and Hamilton in second. Hamilton took the lead at the start, making a better start and passing his rival on the inside. Verstappen spent the first ten laps trailing his rival, and was then brought in for an early pit stop. Mercedes wanted to keep Hamilton out, but Red Bull forced their hand by pitting Sergio Perez on lap 12, bringing in their driver on lap 14.
Perez rapidly fell away and the latter half of the race became a straight battle between Verstappen and Hamilton. The Red Bull driver came in for a second stop on lap 30, letting Hamilton into the lead – Verstappen took the lead after Hamilton pitted on lap 37, and there was a nine-second deficit to overcome. Hamilton had the pace advantage, and with five laps to go, he was less than two seconds behind. Two laps to go, the gap was under a second – he was able to get close, but not close enough, and Verstappen took the win, very closely followed by his rival, who took the bonus point for fastest lap.
As a result of the win, Verstappen’s championship lead expanded to 12 points, and it was a slightly unexpected result. Mercedes have been the form team in the past few races – they’ve been quick, and they really should have taken the lead again in the US – but Red Bull beat them in the strategic game. In a number of races, Verstappen’s aggressive driving style took him out when Hamilton put the pressure on, but he was measured today and it paid off handsomely.
Adding to Red Bull’s excellent result, Perez came third, duelling with Charles Leclerc. The Frenchman finished fourth, with Daniel Ricciardo rounding out the top five – a sign of Ferrari and McLaren’s tightly fought battle for third in the constructors’ championship. Valtteri Bottas recovered from an engine grid penalty to finish sixth, a solid result after starting in ninth. It was a bad day for AlphaTauri, as both of their drivers failed to finish, and Fernando Alonso dropped out after lap 49 following a battle with the Alfa Romeo drivers and a rear-wing failure.
There are now only five races still to go, and the season is still up for grabs
After the race, Verstappen: “We lost out in the start so had to try to do something else. Tyre wear is high around the track so we did go aggressive. I wasn’t sure it was going to work. The last few laps were fun, a bit sideways through the high-speed corners, but I’m super happy to hang on.
“Incredible, first of all it was amazing to be here but also to see so many fans around the track, hopefully we can do this for many years to come.”
Hamilton said: “Firstly congratulations to Max, he did a great job today. It was such a tough race. Got a good start and gave it absolutely everything but at the end of the day they had the upper hand this weekend.
“Fair play to my team they gave it everything with the strategy but wow what a crowd. It was a pleasure to perform in front of you today. This is definitely our acceptance into the US. It’s an honour to be out here and I hope we can get more races here and that the sport continues to grow.”
Perez said: “Since lap one I ran out of water so could not drink at all. By the middle of the second stint, it was starting to get difficult, I was losing strength. It was my toughest race physically.”
On 7 November, we remain in the Americas for the Mexican Grand Prix. There are now only five races still to go, and the season is still up for grabs – if we see five more races that go down to the wire, I wouldn’t be surprised. Hamilton won here in 2019, but this season, who knows what will happen?