The young Dutchman in search of his first world championship was chased by the seven-time champion, and Hamilton was quickly closing in on the lead under the scorching Texas sun on the Circuit of the Americas.
The intensity of the tightest championship race in years may have derailed another driver – especially when Hamilton pulled under a second on the final lap – but Verstappen thrived under the pressure and won his eighth race of the season.
“It was exciting, the pressure was on, not knowing how fast Lewis was going to get you,” Verstappen said. “We managed to hang on at the end.
The victory doubled Verstappen’s lead over Hamilton to 12 points in the standings with five races to go and could prove to be a crucial victory in this classic championship battle.
Verstappen and Red Bull won at a track where Hamilton and Mercedes have dominated for years – Hamilton is a five-time COTA winner – and he put Verstappen to work for the win.
Hamilton chased Verstappen for the last 18 laps and maybe if there had been one more lap he might have caught up with Verstappen and regained the lead in points.
The 24-year-old now has some breathing space to travel to Mexico City, a high-altitude stronghold for Red Bull.
Hamilton is aiming for a record-breaking eighth F1 title, and a fifth in a row.
“Congratulations to Max, he did a great job today. It was such a tough race, ”said Hamilton. “I got off to a good start and gave absolutely everything but at the end of the day they just got the better of it this weekend. “
As Formula 1’s popularity exploded in the United States, championship rivals finished in spectacular fashion in front of an estimated crowd of 140,000. It was one of the biggest sporting events since the start of the pandemic and drew the rich and famous to the Austin circuit.
Celebrities in attendance included actor Ben Stiller, rapper Meghan Thee Stallion, golfer Rory McIlroy and tennis champion Serena Williams, all of whom took part in the pre-race grid walk. Shaquille O’Neal hosted a post-race DJ dance party and presented the winner’s trophy on the podium, where the 7ft foot towered over Verstappen and Hamilton.
Sunday was the last race of the Circuit’s original 10-year contract, but the United States Grand Prix is on the 2022 race calendar. Track chairman Bobby Epstein has said he expects to get a new one. long term deal with F1.
“It’s amazing to be here, but also to see so many (fans) around the track,” Verstappen said before stepping onto the podium as fans rushed to the track for the celebration. “I hope we can do this for many years to come. ”
Hamilton and Verstappen kept the temperature on the rise all weekend. First, Verstappen called Hamilton a “dumb idiot” and gave him the middle finger after an aggressive driving movement during practice on Friday. Hamilton then called it “fun and games”. Verstappen then edged him ahead for pole position in the last qualifying lap on Sunday.
All of this set up a fierce battle for the lead in Sunday’s opening round, as the COTA winner still came from the front row. Hamilton quickly passed Verstappen and the two exchanged heads four times in 56 laps.
It was a breathtaking start as Verstappen and Hamilton have collided twice this season and the risk of another was high. This time, Verstappen backed off into the first corner and let Hamilton take the lead “to avoid any problems”. It was the only moment of potential danger for either car all day.
The drivers did not seem to resent the resentment of the previous incidents at the end of the race. When Hamilton won the championship here in 2015, he casually threw his hat off to teammate Nico Rosberg.
After Sunday’s checkered flag, Hamilton and Verstappen traded punches in the pit lane and then clinked bottles of champagne on the podium.
Still, Hamilton knows Sunday’s result was a missed victory on a favorable circuit as Verstappen fights to dethrone him from the championship.
Hamilton acknowledged that the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez de Mexico, where Verstappen has won twice, is a “very strong circuit” for Red Bull. The same goes for the next race in Sao Paolo, Brazil, where Verstappen won in 2019.
“It’s going to be tough,” Hamilton said.
Verstappen has had high expectations since joining the F1 grid for the first time at the age of 17 in 2015. Hamilton, 36, a series veteran, has been F1’s dominant figure ever since. nearly a decade and won four consecutive championships.
Another Hamilton title will break his tie with Michael Schumacher for the most part in F1. But he hasn’t been in a fight like this for a long time.
After his post-race celebration, Verstappen quickly resumed operations. He was also unfazed by the title chase that was unfolding in his favor as he pushed Hamilton back into the final laps.
“It doesn’t really change much,” Verstappen said. “It’s all about the details. A victory does not give me more confidence. We are all confident. We need to work out the details, starting with Mexico.
Sergio Perez finished third to put both Red Bulls on the podium, but the Mexican ran without access to water and called it one of the most physical races he has ever seen.
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