Race of the Year 2022: USA (COTA)
Written by Owen Bradley, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
Max Verstappen vs Lewis Hamilton, Verstappen vs Charles Leclerc, Seb Vettel nearly on the podium, Hamilton nearly keeping his win record alive… What wasn’t there to love about the U.S Grand Prix, held at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA), in 2022?
This was my personal favourite race of the year, because, simply put, it had everything!
The race got under way, with Carlos Sainz (on pole) being jumped by Verstappen, who took the lead going up to Turn 1, a steep incline in altitude. As the rest of the grid scrambled their way through Turn 1, just trying to stay in the race, and possibly make up positions, we lost our first driver from the race… Carlos Sainz, the pole sitter! As George Russell steamed up the inside, trying to take the Spaniard, Sainz unfortunately seemed to almost snap back across the track, taking the racing line, but got major damage, particularly on the left sidepod of the Ferrari.
Coming to the end of Lap 5, somehow, Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll was legitimately in P3, with teammate Sebastian Vettel, in P6. This looked like it would be a strong points haul for Aston Martin, which they needed after somewhat of a weak season.
As a few front-runners such as Verstappen, Hamilton, and Russell had come in, on Lap 18, Valtteri Bottas lost control of his Alfa Romeo, and ended up beached in the gravel trap at Turn 19. This brought out the safety car.
After a few laps behind the safety car, we got back underway, but it wasn’t long before a proper heart-in-mouth situation would appear, as Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll collided on the back straight, sending Alonso airborne for a few seconds, doing his best Mark Webber Valencia 2010 impression. Somehow, Alonso was able to keep the car alive, albeit with major floor and wing damage. The safety car was brought out once again.
As a few laps went on, Leclerc and Perez would begin to battle, and eventually, on Lap 30 - Leclerc would make his move on Perez at the end of the back straight, at Turn 12. Leclerc had made an impressive recovery in these first 30 laps, having started 12th on the grid.
Laps 35 and 36 would see major pit stops for the leaders Hamilton and then Verstappen. However, crucially - the Red Bull pit crew would make a rare and costly error, with the left front tyre slow to be fitted, meaning they lost positions to both Hamilton and Leclerc. The race was on.
Hamilton chasing the win, in the hopes of keeping his win record alive (winning at least one race every season) Leclerc chasing down Hamilton to solidify a great comeback drive from 12th, and Verstappen - chasing the both of them, to add to his win record, and get the win as a tribute to the late great Dietrich Mateschitz.
On Lap 39/56, and with time running out, Verstappen lunged down the inside of Leclerc at Turn 1, but Leclerc got a beautiful switch back coming out of the corner, and managed to retake what was at the time, actually P3.
Sebastian Vettel, yes that’s right, in his final ever race at COTA, led the race, with only a handful of laps to go - and he had made his mandatory pit stop as well, the question was… could he keep going to get the podium?
Max Verstappen would finalise his move, and snatch P3 back from Charles Leclerc later that lap, Lap 39 - at Turn 12 at the end of the back straight. And on Lap 41, Lewis Hamilton would get past Sebastian Vettel at Turn 1, crushing the hopes of Vettel’s fans of another potential win.
Vettel would end up coming into the pits on Lap 42, and a slow stop would drop him out of the points.
On Lap 50/56, Verstappen, who had been closing down Lewis Hamilton since that pit stop error, proceeded to dive down the inside, and take back the lead of the race. Mercedes decided to put Hamilton on the Hard compound tyre, whereas Red Bull decided to put Verstappen on the quicker Medium compound tyre, therefore this created major problems for Hamilton, who did not have as much grip as Verstappen.
After some track limits disputes, and even a penalty being handed out for track limits, against Mick Schumacher, Max Verstappen would come home, to win, and equal the win record set by Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel.
But the drama was not over yet, as on the final lap of the race, Vettel had clawed his way back into the points, and was now throwing everything, even the kitchen sink, at Kevin Magnussen, in an attempt to get past him. And somehow, just about finding the grip around the outside of the fast triple right-hander, slipped up the inside of K-Mag into Turn 19.
Red Bull were delighted, they became Constructors Champions for the first time since 2013, and it was a fitting tribute to Dietrich Mateschitz, who founded the Austrian team.
But what do you think? Is Cota, USA 2022 the best race of the year? Let me know in the comments below!
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