Red Bull's Max Verstappen claimed victory over Lewis Hamilton in a thrilling United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas, but it proved much harder than expected after a delay on pit lane cost him time and position.
Verstappen had taken the lead of the race at the start when pole winner Carlos Sainz was sent spinning by a late lunge from George Russell, but had to fight his way back to the front in the closing stages after his problematic stop.
Charles Leclerc had started from 12th place because of power unit penalties, but battled his way back and briefly went wheel-to-wheel with Verstappen before having to drop back to finish on the podium in third.
The result means that Red Bull has clinched the constructors championship for the first time since 2013, one day after the passing of team co-owner Dieter Mateschitz, which was marked by a moment of silence before the race.
After the inclement conditions of Singapore and Suzuka, the drivers would have been delighted to see the FIA's weather system boldly declare a zero percent chance of rain for the United States Grand Prix. And indeed, the skies over Austin could hardly have been a more intense blue with pockets of benign white cloud allowing the sun to beam down on the cars assembling on the grid ready for the lights to go out.
Ferrari Carlos Sainz had topped qualifying and duly lined up in pole, but after that there had been a light shake-up to the order with Red Bull's Max Verstappen promoted to P2 alongside Sainz followed by Lewis Hamilton and George Russell on an all-Mercedes row two. Lance Stroll was in fifth for Aston Martin alongside McLaren's Lando Norris. Further back and out of position due to power unit grid penalties were Sergio Perez (eighth), Charles Leclerc (12th), Fernando Alonso (14th), Zhou Guanyu (18th) and Yuki Tsunoda (19th), with Esteban Ocon starting from pit lane after Alpine made changes to his car under parc ferme conditions.
Verstappen wasted no time in getting ahead of Sainz in the run up the hill to the first corner, and Sainz was sent into a spin by contact from a distracted Russell who had been focussed on trying to get an advantage on Hamilton. The clash allowed Hamilton to seize second ahead of Stroll, with Russell holding on to fourth ahead of Vettel and Norris, and Perez already up to seventh ahead of Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon, and Leclerc already up to tenth ahead of Bottas and Alonso.
Sainz limped home to pit lane but the diagnosis on the Ferrari was terminal - radiator damage resulting in a water leak - and he was forced to retire. Russell's car had got off unscathed, although the five second penalty that the race stewards were quick to hand him would have stung. The race continued with Verstappen needing just three laps to pull out a two second lead over Hamilton. Two laps later Russell passed Stroll to take up station someway behind the lead pair. Despite end plate front wing damage from contact with Bottas on the opening lap, Perez had put his new engine to good use and was already in fifth and poised to stage a successful strike of his own on the Aston Martin, and then immediately bear down on Russell.
Vettel was in sixth but now in the cross hairs of Leclerc who was also making speedy process through the field having made quick work of the likes of Norris, Gasly and Bottas. Pit stops started on lap 9 with Albon and Tsunoda among the first to come in. They opted to stay on the medium compound, Albon having locked-up up and flat-spotted his tyres at the start, but many of the others including Bottas, Ricciardo and Zhou opted to switch to a set of the hard tyres. Hamilton tried to stretch his tyres a little longer than that but by now the rubber was at its wits end and he was forced in on lap 12 - also for the hard tyres - dropping him to seventh.
When he responded on the next lap, Verstappen's main concern was the gusty wind rather than tyre degradation. He too opted for the hard tyres, briefly handing the lead of the race to his team mate while Russell sat on pit lane for his five second penalty before service could start on changing the tyres. Perez then came in next time by, restoring Verstappen to the lead. Leclerc was up to second ahead of Hamilton, but the Monegasque was yet to pit as he stretched his first set of tyres longer than the others. Vettel was also hanging on to fourth on his original tyres keeping him ahead of Perez, Russell, Alonso (also still to pit), Stroll, Ocon and Mick Schumacher.
What Leclerc really needed was something to happen while he was hanging on, some stroke of luck to give him a chance to pit without dropping too far back. Something like Bottas spinning off at turn 19 and getting stuck in the gravel to trigger a safety car on lap 18, for example.
Leclerc reacted immediately and dived onto pit lane while the safety car was busy picking up the race leader and packing everyone together. Verstappen's lead was wiped out and Hamilton was right on his rear wing for the restart, followed by Perez, Leclerc, Russell, Vettel, Stroll, Gasly, Alonso and Norris in tenth. The top five were now all on hard tyres, but the Astons had opted to stay on the medium compound as had Alonso. After that the choice of tyres was more evenly distributed, with Albon taking the opportunity presented by the safety car to make his second stop and transition to the white-walled tyres.
The race resumed on lap 22 of 56, with Verstappen flooring it out of turn 18 to jump away from Hamilton as the green flags waved. Russell tried but failed to get on even terms with Leclerc, while the two Astons were also side-by-side down the straight with both under pressure from a flying Gasly as Tsunoda got the better of Norris for tenth.
But seconds later the safety car was back in action after a big accident on the back straight. Alonso had been closing on the back of Stroll and moved left to make a pass only for Stroll to make the same move in defence, resulting in the Alpine slamming into the back of the Aston. Alonso was briefly launched into the air by the impact but landed safely and without destroying the floor of the A522. Stroll's car had extensive damage to the rear and was out on the spot, while Alonso made it back to pit lane to have his mangled front wing damage. Otherwise he was in a surprisingly good state despite the force of the impact, allowing him to rejoin in 16th.
The accident had released a shower of debris across the track, a piece of which took out Norris' wheel deflector with malice aforethought. There needed to be an extensive clean-up before the race could resume on lap 26, Verstappen again keeping control ahead of Hamilton, Perez, Leclerc and Russell who all held station into turn 1, with Vettel now the lone Aston in sixth followed by Gasly, Tsunoda, Norris and Schumacher. behind them, Kevin Magnussen just managed to fend off Ocon in a battle over P11.
It took Verstappen no time at all to move out of DRS range, but he wasn't sounding happy: "What's happened to my drivability, it's *****!' he told the Red Bull pit wall over the team radio. Hamilton soon got his tyres up to temperature and stayed in touch while keeping out of reach of Perez who was fighting hard to defend from Leclerc into turn 12. Perez locked up while Leclerc briefly went off track, meaning he had to immediately give the position back. However the Ferrari driver would not be denied, and on the following lap and next time through the same corner he pulled off the perfect lunge down the inside to out-brake the Red Bull and achieve a textbook pass to put him into third place. He soon pulled clear of Perez, who now had Russell closing up on his tail.
Verstappen was still agitated by the gusting wind and complaining about changes he mad been told to make to his engine settings. Sensing an opportunity for an undercut, Hamilton made his second pit stop for a new set of hard tyres at the end of lap 34. It was hammer time for the Mercedes and Hamilton duly put his foot down on his out lap following a rapid switch to a new set of hard tyres. Verstappen reacted by pitting next time by for mediums, but there was a painful delay at the front left as the mechanic was forced to switch wheel guns. Even when it was done, he was further delayed by Leclerc coming past having made his own, swifter stop.
Perez was back in the lead of the race with Vettel in second but both were yet to make their second stops. Hamilton was de facto leader ahead of Leclerc, with an unhappy wound-up Verstappen chomping at the bit to get past him. Russell had also pitted and briefly fell to P7 before getting past Magnussen, with the Alpines of Ocon and Alonso plus Albon in the Williams filling out the rest of the top ten.
After a few white knuckle attempts, Verstappen finally forced his way past the Ferrari which simply didn't have the straight line speed of the Red Bull. Perez chose this moment to make his stop, dropping him to fifth, handing temporary charge of the race to Vettel, who then pitted on lap 42 to switch to a final set of mediums - only to suffer an excruciatingly long stop of 16.8s, a complete disaster that dropped him out of the top ten by the time he struggled out of the pit box.
Hamilton was now in front by three seconds from Verstappen, with Leclerc close behind having pulled away from the wounded Perez. Russell was no longer able to threaten the Mexican but equally was under no pressure from Magnussen who was yet to make a second visit to pit lane. Despite his encounter with Stroll, Alonso was back up to seventh ahead of Ocon and Albon, while Norris was finally looking up for a fight with two great passes on Yuki Tsunoda and Zhou Guanyu to move back into the points. After that Albon presented little challenge, and the McLaren also made surprisingly easy work of dispatching Ocon moments later.
With ten laps to go, the big question was whether Hamilton could find some way to hang on at the front to claim his first win of the season. Leclerc had fallen away from the battle, perhaps having overtaxed his tyres in that earlier battle with Verstappen, and he was starting to drop into the clutches of Perez. Russell was running a lonely fifth while Alonso had picked off Magnussen for sixth, after a damaged wing mirror on the Alpine had helpfully flown off down the back straight.
A poor first sector for Hamilton on lap 49 enabled Verstappen to get within DRS range of the Mercedes, and that was all the invitation the Dutch world champion needed to blast past down the straight on the next lap, the straight line speed of the Red Bull making the move inevitable whatever Hamilton tried in response. Hamilton did his level best to hold on to the back of his rival and managed to stay within DRS range, complaining to the Mercedes pit wall about Verstappen repeatedly going off track in his efforts to stay ahead.
At risk of a 'three strikes and you're out' penalty for exceeding track limits, Verstappen had to tidy up his lines. Instead, it was a mistake from Hamilton that effectively ended the battle in the Red Bull's favour, handing them the constructors championship in the process. Leclerc joined them on the podium with Perez fourth, and Russell crossed the line in fifth ahead after clinching the bonus point for fastest lap with a late switch to softs. Norris and Alonso had a big fight over sixth that ultimately went to the McLaren driver, while Vettel left it late to pick off Magnussen who had managed to one-stop the race for ninth. Tsunoda picked up the final points position ahead of Ocon, Albon, Zhou, Gasly (who had a five second penalty for not following safety car restart protocols), Schumacher, Ricciardo and Nicholas Latifi at the back.