F1- United States GP – Race
Hodwy, MiniFans! Sunday in Austin came with hotter temperatures and a bright blue sky that didn’t distract from the main dish on its grid. Unlike what he had managed in the sprint shootout, Verstappen’s deleted lap in the normal qualifying meant that sixth was the best spot he could manage, adding a bit of spice and uncertainty to the race.
A very quick reaction from Norris gave him the lead into the first corner and he consolidated it in the following ones, leaving Leclerc in second and a surprising Sainz in third, who had gotten past Hamilton. The seven-time world champion had probably done the best start, but had found himself sandwiched in between both Ferraris into turn one, resulting in having to lift his foot from the accelerator.
Behind them, Verstappen had managed to climb once position, while Piastri’s great start granted him four extra places up the timing tower. Meanwhile, Russell had managed the polar opposite, losing three positions and needing to put the knife between his teeth to gest past a mere Alpine. As the race started to settle, Ocon reported damage on his sidepods after an incident with Piastri and started to lose a lot of speed, eventually coming to a stop in his box, retiring from the race.
It didn’t take too long for Hamilton and Verstappen to get past Sainz, as only five laps had gone by before they were both in front. The Spaniard wasn’t the only one losing to their speed and Leclerc eventually suffered the same fate as his teammate, with the difference that the Red Bull needed a few extra laps to overtake the Ferrari and consolidate his new position. Catching Norris was a whole different story, as his gap to Hamilton was indeed decreasing, but a way slower pace and seemingly settling at around three seconds. On the other hand, not everything was good news to McLaren. Piastri was called into the pits, being told the car needed to be retired.
The first stops came early, courtesy of some of the backmarkers to get rid of their first mediums and fit hards, with eyes on a three-stop race instead of a two-stopper, in part thanks to the higher temperatures on Sunday. At the front, Hamilton finally stole the fastest lap from Norris, managing to slowly chip away at the gap helped by Norris’ problems with the balance of the car.
Among the frontrunners, Verstappen was the first to stop, slotting himself in ninth, right between both AlphaTauri. This prompted a wave of visits to the pitlane, as Norris, Sainz and Pérez also changed their tyres, but both Mercedes drivers stayed out in their attempt to go for a one-stop strategy, but Hamilton’s reply to his team wasn’t too hopeful as to how long he’d manage to keep the mediums, whereas Russell was more optimistic than his teammate, enthusiastically agreeing to the number of laps the team requested from him.
After losing Verstappen’s pit window and locking up his wheels, Hamilton was called into the pits before the team’s preferred lap, with Russell managing two laps more than him. Meanwhile, Leclerc was still going, pitting only almost halfway through the race, likely being the only one who could make it to the end on that set, or at least the one struggling the least to the end.
The midway point of the race saw Verstappen claiming the spot he has occupied the most this season as he easily overtook Norris for first. Despite this, he didn’t seem to be able to create a big gap to the McLaren, but it wasn’t still quite clear whether it was tyre management or if his usual pace wasn’t quite there. However, he didn’t quite need to concern himself with it, as Norris was the one starting to drop behind before he did his second and last stop for hards. Verstappen mirrored it the following lap and the gap was reduced slightly due to the slower stop by Red Bull.
Those who had pitted later for their first stop did their second a handful of laps later as Verstappen regained the lead and Hamilton went the opposite way to the rest of the frontrunners, as he chose mediums for his last compound. The exception to these tyre changes were Leclerc and Russell, who had been the last to pit earlier and it wasn’t clear whether they’d try to go to the end or not. It was soon seen that Russell wouldn’t, as he did the same his teammate had done, leaving Leclerc as the only possibility to see a single-stop strategy.
Mercedes instigated Hamilton forward, as his medium tyres were both fresher and softer than the two drivers in front of him, but it only seemed enough to close the gap to Norris, as Verstappen was told he was matching the Mercedes driver’s pace. The two British nationals had a brief but intense battle in which the elder of the pair had the upper hand and he set off in pursuit of Verstappen. Meanwhile, Ferrari exchanged positions, which permitted Sainz to try and catch Norris, whose pace was progressively getting worse. Despite the quick chomping away at both gaps, the chasers couldn’t reach their prey and had to settle for second and fourth respectively as Verstappen crossed the line in first.
The main “x” to solve for on Sunday was whether Red Bull’s superiority would be enough to take Verstappen to the win, especially after the pace that Mercedes showed in the sprint. Statistics were both for and against this: Verstappen has won from many different positions on the grid, including lower than sixth, but COTA had never seen a winner that had started lower than second. As usual, the scale skewed on his favour, with the Dutch driver finishing on the top step once again, adding a brand new victory to the list, this time needing blood, sweat and tears to achieve it.