Updated: Feb 9
Written by Morgan Holiday, Edited by Aiden Hover
Formula 1 has returned to America in style, and Max Verstappen took his eighth victory of the season ahead of title contender Lewis Hamilton. It would be easy to say the Dutch driver converted his pole position into a victory, but that doesn’t tell the story of the tense fight between the Red Bull driver and his Mercedes rival that went back and forth throughout the 56 laps at the Circuit Of The Americas.
As the lights went out, Hamilton in second got a better start than the pole sitter, and was ahead coming out of turn 1 as Verstappen went wide trying to cut him off. Perez in third managed to retain his position, and so at the end of the first lap the top three were Hamilton, Verstappen, and Perez. While there was no major action at the front, a little further down the field, the Ferrari and McLaren drivers were fighting for position. Leclerc managed to hold fourth place, while Ricciardo got past Sainz for fifth, and Norris remained in seventh. Even further down the field, Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll tangled with the Williams of Nicholas Latifi, knocking them both down the order.
Pit stops started early as most drivers pit for hard tyres before lap 15. Optimum strategy appeared to be starting on the medium tyre, pitting early for hards, and then making a second stop for another set of hards later in the race. Attempting an undercut to regain the lead of the race Verstappen pitted on lap 10, and by the time Hamilton followed on lap 13, he had successfully retaken the race lead.
On lap 15 Pierre Gasly retired with a broken suspension, after facing pre-race drama on the grid with a sensor change. As the race progressed and the top ten settled into their positions, battles were being fought hard in the midfield. Alpine vs Alfa Romeo stirred up drama, as Raikkonen passed Alonso at a point that Alonso felt was outside track limits, and Alonso did the same to Giovinazzi several laps later. After a radio exchange between Alpine and Race Director Michael Masi, it was clarified that overtaking on the outside of the track was not allowed, and Alonso was ordered to give the place back to Giovinazzi by his team.
By lap 25, drivers were starting to come into the pits for their second set of hard tyres. After a brief VSC for a marshall clearing debris off the track, Verstappen came in on lap 29 to cover Hamilton, who didn’t pit for a second time until almost ten laps later. After his second stop, Verstappen was back in the lead, and it was a race till the end. On lap 41 Hamilton set the fastest lap of the race, a 1.38.485, and the chase was on. With the seven second gap between them drawing ever closer, the midfield fought for final positions. Perez and Leclerc sat calmly in third and fourth place, but behind them the battles raged on. Sainz in sixth drew closer to Ricciardo but couldn’t manage to get past, while behind him Bottas tried move after move to get around the Ferrari.
Alpine struggled in the second stint of the race, with Ocon retiring from a mechanical issue on lap 42, and Alonso retiring with a rear wing problem ten laps later. Meanwhile up front, by lap 51 Hamilton had closed the gap to Verstappen to barely over one second. Their battle, as the race drew to a close, was not only with each other, but with the cars they had to lap along the way. A problem getting past Tsunoda cost Verstappen over four seconds to Hamilton, and headed into the final lap Haas’ Schumacher was also finding it hard to make way for the top pair. It was Schumacher though, in the end, that gave Verstappen DRS down the main straight going into the 56th and final lap, and helping him to keep Hamilton behind. As the nail biting race drew to a close and Bottas finally passed Sainz for sixth place, Verstappen crossed the line only 1.3 seconds ahead of Hamilton.
Verstappen now holds a 12 point lead in the driver’s championship over Hamilton, and Perez’s third place allowed Red Bull to close the gap in the Constructor’s to just 23 points behind Mercedes. Leclerc, Ricciardo, Bottas, Sainz, Norris, Tsunoda, and Vettel made up the final points finishers. With the sun setting on a dramatic weekend in Austin, the teams and drivers will now be looking ahead to Mexico, which is where they will be racing when Formula 1 returns.