Verstappen cruises to sprint win over Hamilton in Austin


Red Bull's Max Verstappen converted pole position to an easy lights-to-flag victory in the United States GP sprint race, with Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes getting the better of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc at the start to pick up second place.

Lando Norris came close to catching Leclerc in the final laps, with Sergio Perez fifth, both taking advantage of Carlos Sainz' decision to run the race on used soft tyres which backfired when tyre degradation kicked in during the second half of the race.

In a largely incident-free sprint, the only retirement was the perennially luckless Lance Stroll who suffered a brake problem on his Aston Martin forcing him to pull into pit lane on lap 17 of 19.

It might not have been his usual vintage, dominant performance, but Max Verstappen had earlier overcome some engine headaches to top a testing Sprint Showdown. That secured pole position for Saturday's Sprint race at the Circuit of the Americas, having pipped Ferrari's Charles Leclerc by just 0.055s. In fact just a fraction over one tenth had covered the entire top four, with Lewis Hamilton and Lando Norris on the second row. But how would all that translate to 19-lap race pace in slightly cooler, breezy early evening conditions in Austin?

When the lights went out, Verstappen went wide into turn 1 and aggressively protected the lead from Leclerc, allowing Hamilton to take the advantage and steal past the Monegasque for second. Also on the move was Carlos Sainz, the Spaniard passing the two McLarens to move up two places into P4 having made the decision to be the only driver to start on a set of used softs rather than mediums. However with just one practice session this weekend, the teams had little data about how long the tyres would last in race trim.

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB19 leads at the start of Sprint. 21.10.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 19, United States Grand Prix, Austin, Texas, USA, Sprint Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Coates / XPB Images

Behind Oscar Piastri now in sixth, Sergio Perez was making insistent probing attacks but could find no gap to exploit. He was coming under attack from George Russell who was up to eighth having started from 11th after his penalty for impeding during qualifying. Perez finally cemented his move on the papaya rookie through turn 12 on lap 3, and Russell also pounced in turn 15. However he went off in the process meaning the stewards took an interest in the situation and subsequently handed him a five second penalty. Two laps later and it was Pierre Gasly's turn to pick off the McLaren into turn 1, the MCL60 potentially compromised by making contact with Sainz at the start.

Although he was comfortably in the lead and out of DRS range of his pursuers, Verstappen was not pulling away from Hamilton with his usual dispatch and was complaining about the driveability of the RB19 again, much as he had done in the Showdown. Further back behind Leclerc in third, Sainz' soft tyres were starting to fall away leaving him under pressure trying to hold on to P4 from Norris and Perez as the race reached half distance. Norris finally pulled off the move on lap 10 with a dive into turn 12, and Perez also got the better of the ailing Ferrari on lap 11.

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB19.
21.10.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 19, United States Grand Prix, Austin, Texas, USA, Sprint Day.
-, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

Tyre degradation was fast becoming a bigger factor than expected even for those on the mediums. It made it a problem for Russell when it was his turn to step up to the plate and try to pass Sainz, while keeping one eye on Gasly gradually closing from behind. This was all valuable data for the teams working on their tyre strategies for tomorrow's full-length Grand Prix.

At the front, Verstappen was now pulling away with over six seconds in hand over Hamilton, who had built up a similar margin over Leclerc. Norris and Perez were too far back to successfully challenge the lead Ferrari, while Sainz was able to continue to frustrate Russell. Gasly was falling away, but secure in the final points-paying position from Williams' Alex Albon and from Piastri who had arrested his decline in tenth with just three laps remaining.

Sprint winner Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing celebrates in parc ferme. 21.10.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 19, United States Grand Prix, Austin, Texas, USA, Sprint Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

Verstappen's final winning margin was nine and a half seconds, which he summarised as "simply lovely, that." The only change in order during the final laps was a retirement for Lance Stroll, who was forced to retire his Aston Martin with brake issues on lap 17. After the finish Russell's five second penalty dropped the Mercedes behind Gasly, but he remained far enough ahead of Albon to hold on to the final points-paying position by a slender three tenths.

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