With its steep climb to a hairpin left turn, Circuit of the Americas first turn is an open nerve test. An aggressive approach first paid off for Lewis Hamilton as he passed Max Verstappen at the start of this race. Hamilton dove in and took the lead in the first corner, forcing Verstappen’s Red Bull to pull away after being unable to cut the Mercedes.
Fireworks were expected after the collisions between the two men this season at Silverstone and Monza and the tension is evident as the season comes to a head. Verstappen called Hamilton a “stupid idiot” and aimed a middle finger at his rival when their cars nearly collided in practice on Friday.
Yet after the action started, the competition turned into a chess match more than a slugfest, a matter of team strategy and tire stability, increments and not incidents, by a hot afternoon in Texas, Hamilton staying longer on his tires than Verstappen.
In the end, however, as Hamilton caught up and got excruciatingly closer, the Red Bull driver finished 1.3 seconds ahead of the Mercedes. The victory means Verstappen extended his lead at the top of the table to 12 points.
Verstappen entered the weekend with a six-point lead over Hamilton with six races to go. In the seventh lap of 56, a significant gap had widened between Hamilton, Verstappen, Sergio Perez and the others, with nearly 12 seconds ahead of the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc, fourth. However, Verstappen was breathing into his neck. “He’s faster than me right now,” Hamilton said on team radio.
This was not the case for a long time, as the morning drizzle in central Texas gave way to warmer temperatures under partly cloudy skies, with track temperatures of over 38C putting the tires on. tough test.
While Hamilton had hoped ahead of the race that Mercedes would be superior in a straight line, this circuit, whose design is inspired by famous sections of other tracks around the world, has 20 corners.
“The tires are really hot and I don’t think we’re particularly fast,” Verstappen alerted his team as he stopped on lap 11, placing fifth almost 20 seconds behind the leader.
Hamilton entered the pits three laps later, and when he caught up with traffic Verstappen had taken a six-second lead. But the seven-time British world champion slowly eroded the 24-year-old’s advantage, reducing it to around three seconds halfway through the race.
After 30 laps, Verstappen entered for his second stop, adding hard tires, allowing Hamilton to regain first place. Hamilton did not return to the pit until the 37th lap. That left him with a nine-second deficit to erode, but he was now significantly faster than his opponent.
A late confrontation seemed inevitable. With five laps to go, Hamilton was within two seconds of Verstappen, but Red Bull responded and held him back – right. “Yes, guys! Verstappen told his team. ” Unbelievable. “
“Kudos to Max, he did a great job today,” said Hamilton. “They just got the better of it this weekend. “We lost at the start so we had to try and do something else, but the tire wear is pretty high on this track,” said Verstappen. “Super happy of course to hang on. “
The next stop is Mexico City on November 7th. The high altitude should favor Red Bull, which has increased the pressure on Hamilton to rack up the maximum points from one of his favorite events.
A sold-out crowd of around 140,000 spectators highlights the growing popularity of F1 in the United States ahead of a second American race appearing on the calendar next year, when Miami makes its debut.
While McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo may affect the most convincing Texan twang among drivers – in addition to the accent, he sported a cowboy hat and the burnt orange basketball jersey of the local Texas Longhorns team. during the parade tour – Austin is Hamilton’s country.
The 36-year-old arrived in search of his sixth United States Grand Prix victory in the ninth edition of the race at this circuit, and his first since 2017. He finished second here in 2019, which was enough to seal his sixth world title. He also won his third championship in Texas in 2015. The race was canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The result here means that every F1 race on the track since it opened in 2012 has been won by a frontline driver.
Hamilton and Verstappen led the grid for the sixth time this season, with the Dutchman edging Hamilton 0.2 seconds on the final lap of a thrilling qualifying session. It was the first time since the start of the turbo hybrid era in 2014 that a Mercedes was not in pole position at Austin.
Perez started in third, while Hamilton teammate Valtteri Bottas qualified in fourth but fell to ninth on the grid due to an engine change. With Hamilton sandwiched between the Red Bulls and Bottas at distance, there was a potential advantage on the track for Verstappen. But Perez was nowhere near the pace of the two leaders and Hamilton looked confident.
“Lewis, you are running for the win,” Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff told him over the radio before his second pit stop. “Leave it to me, my brother,” he replied. ” Thank you. But his efforts weren’t quite enough.