F1 – US GP – Race
Hodwy, MiniFans! It’s race day in Texas but before we could kick off, all eyes went to Hamilton’s car, who had reported problems with his brake system and his mechanics got to swapping his brake material on the grid, calling both the FIA and their rivals’ attention, as it is an unusual operation. The work was finished in time, but whether it was fruitful or not would only be seen on track.
Disaster struck Sainz in the first corner. His start hadn’t been the greatest, but he had managed to tuck behind Verstappen when Russell collided into him, making him spin and earning a five-second penalty for the Mercedes driver. The pole sitter was dropped to the back of the pack and let his team know he had a puncture from the hit, but he ended up retiring due to bigger problems derived from the impact.
Verstappen started pulling away as Hamilton tried not to lose too much time with his old championship rival. Meanwhile, Aston Martin had managed to slot both his drivers in 3rd and 5th, even if the dream didn’t last too long once the teammates of the leading drivers could use their DRS but were still managing to keep Leclerc behind both of them.
Track limits violations started to be notified to drivers very early on, and Hamilton was the first one of the front drivers to stop, soon followed by his teammate and Verstappen, leaving Pérez as the provisional race leader, with a chunk of front wing missing after an early small contact with Bottas. He’d get called in as well, but the team decided to only change his tyres, deciding that the time loss for changing it would be greater than what would be lost with the missing flap.
While mostly everyone had changed to hards, Leclerc was still comfortably out in mediums, not knowing that he was about to get lucky. The safety car came out after Bottas spun and got stuck in the gravel, with a virtual first but a fully fledged one later, as a recovery vehicle was needed to retrieve the Alfa Romeo. After the Suzuka fiasco, a note from race direction came out letting everyone know that the crane had been deployed. The ones that hadn’t stopped yet took advantage of the slowed down period and they all lined up behind the safety car.
In the first lap after the restart, a crash between Alonso and Stroll, caused by the latter swerving as the Spaniard was about to overtake him, prompted a second safety car. Amazingly, only Stroll retired, with his tyres completely blown up, while Alonso, whose front tyres had left the ground for quite a few seconds, managed to make it back to the pits for fresh tyres and a brand new front wing, in order to rejoin the race.
The second restart was quieter and without notable incidents, save for Gasly leaving more than the space of ten cars in between him and another car. Leclerc finally managed to overtake Pérez after a few attempts, hoisting him up into podium positions. At the front, unlike what had happened at the start of the race, Hamilton was finally getting in tune with the hard tyres and closing into Verstappen. Once he was close enough, which added to Verstappen’s complaints on radio about some undetermined problems with his car, the team decided to go for an undercut.
Red Bull copied their strategy, as did Leclerc, but the worst Red Bull stop in a very long time made him lose positions with both Hamilton and Leclerc. Mercedes had gone for hards, while the other two had chosen mediums for the last stint of the race. The battle between the Red Bull and the Ferrari was fierce but clean, reminiscent of their head-to-head encounters in 2019. Leclerc would eventually yield, but still tried to keep close to Verstappen’s rear wing as the Red Bull set fastest laps and quickly reduced the gap to Hamilton.
Verstappen’s medium tyres were keeping up with him and giving him enough pace to eat away at the seconds that separated him from Hamilton, while Leclerc’s weren’t as fresh, and he dropped back, settling in third. With only a handful of laps left, the newly crowned world champion had his eyes locked on Hamilton’s rear wing and only needed one attempt to regain the race lead. The battle heated up on the radio, with both drivers hitting three strikes in track limits warnings, but once he hit them, Hamilton slightly backed off, and Verstappen could cruise to the finish line.
Statistics are a known liar, and the race in Austin was great proof of that. In a track where safety cars are a rarity, two came out in very quick succession, allowing Leclerc to take advantage of the smaller time loss that would eventually help him to score a podium. The pole sitter got taken out in the first corner, forcing him to abandon, and we saw Vettel back in the lead, even if it was mostly a mirage. The winner still came from the front row, which has been home to the winner in all but one instances, but Verstappen had to fight tooth and nail to score the win.