Verstappen battles to tight win over Hamilton in US GP

Race winner Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing celebrates in parc ferme. 22.10.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 19, United States Grand Prix, Austin, Texas, USA, Race Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images
© XPB 

Max Verstappen started the United States GP from sixth but there was a sense of inevitability as the Red Bull driver took his 50th F1 career victory, despite braking issues leading to a close finish with Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton.

McLaren's Lando Norris joined them on the podium ahead of Carlos Sainz, whose Ferrari team mate Charles Leclerc started on pole but suffered from an attempted one-stop strategy and finished in sixth behind Sergio Perez.

Esteban Ocon and Oscar Piastri were early retirements, the pair clashing at the start with the Alpine incurring sidepod damage and the McLaren forced out with a water leak. Fernando Alonso started from pit lane but retired late in the race with floor issues on the Aston Martin.

Friday's qualifying session already felt a long time ago, but finally it was time for Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris to take up their positions at the head of the grid for the start of the US Grand Prix at a roasting Circuit of the Americas. It was a somewhat depleted spectacle consisting of just 16 cars, all on medium tyres. Haas and Aston Martin had opted to work on their cars after the end of yesterday's Sprint, breaching parc ferme rules and earning pit lane starts for Kevin Magnussen, Nico Hulkenberg, Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll.

Lando Norris (GBR) McLaren MCL60 leads at the start of the race.
22.10.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 19, United States Grand Prix, Austin, Texas, USA, Race Day.
-, EMail: © Copyright: Rew / XPB Images

When the lights went out and the race got underway, a sub-par launch for Leclerc allowed Norris to immediately dive down the inside into turn 1 to take the lead. Carlos Sainz also got the better of Lewis Hamilton to climb one space into third. George Russell had the worst start and lost multiple positions, allowing Max Verstappen to pick up one place for fifth but harried by Oscar Piastri. Esteban Ocon in seventh but carrying sidepod damage after tangling with Piastri at the start: clearly struggling, Ocon was forced aside by Russell and Sergio Perez in quick succession on lap 3, on his way to dropping to the back and retiring on lap 7.

Hamilton had the edge on Sainz and cruised past the Ferrari four laps into the race to restore himself to third. It wasn't long before Verstappen - hitherto opting to preserve his tyres - came knocking with DRS enabled, and promptly demoted Sainz another spot. Ferrari were evidently not on top form, Leclerc next to be passed by Hamilton on lap 6 and the Monegasque not barely bothering to argue the point.

Hamilton was now on a charge, nibbling away at Norris' three second lead. There was more bad news for McLaren with Piastri reduced to a crawl on lap 10; he was ordered to report to pit lane with a water leak, his day over. There was no safety car but the retirement prompted a scattering of initial pit stops from the midfield runners. It was still too early to make it to the finish, meaning they were now on a two-stop strategy.

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB19. 22.10.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 19, United States Grand Prix, Austin, Texas, USA, Race Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Moy / XPB Images

There was no such early stop for the leaders, with Verstappen successfully dispatching both Ferraris for third. The Red Bull hadn't had to strain too hard, but he was five seconds behind Hamilton who had himself crept to within two seconds of Norris, who was now complaining of balance issues. Russell didn't have the speed to follow Verstappen's example to catch Sainz and Leclerc and was struggling in sixth, incurring multiple deleted lap times for track violations which Perez was keen to point out to the stewards.

Tired of pootling around, Verstappen was the first of the big names to pit on lap 17, dropping from third to ninth. Picking up a second set of mediums meant a second stop for him later in the race was assured. Norris responded next time around and chose the hard compound while Sainz stuck to mediums, but Hamilton stayed out ahead of Leclerc and Russell with Norris rejoining in fourth.

The Mercedes gambit soon came back to bite Hamilton who locked up and ran wide, forcing him to come in after all on lap 21. A slow service with a problem on the front right while changing onto the hard compound saw him come back out behind Verstappen. Russell had already been picked off by Norris and he was called in on lap 22, dropping to eighth by the time he came back out. Leclerc was the final leading car to pit on lap 24, restoring Norris in the lead - but with less than two seconds in hand over Verstappen who was calmly awaiting his moment.

Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) AlphaTauri AT04 makes a pit stop.
22.10.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 19, United States Grand Prix, Austin, Texas, USA, Race Day.
-, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

He didn't have to wait long before diving down the inside of turn 12 to take the lead for the first time on lap 28, despite Norris' best rearguard defence. Aware that Verstappen would have to stop again, Norris kept his foot down and stayed as close as possible to the back of the Red Bull, but once he dropped out of DRS range of the leader he fell back into the clutches of Hamilton. But despite appearances, all was not going well in the Red Bull cockpit with Verstappen increasingly stressed about his brakes, despite maintaining his pace.

Norris abandoned his one-stop strategy and pitted again on lap 35 with a superfast service that saw him stick with the hards. Verstappen and Sainz both responded next time around. Hamilton had a ten second over Perez and Leclerc, Verstappen rejoining in fourth ahead of Norris, Russell and Sainz. Hamilton and Perez then pitted, as Verstappen leapt past Leclerc to retake the lead with 17 laps to go.

With Verstappen's victory seemingly assured despite his braking headaches, the main focus was on what Hamilton could do, having been the only leading driver to finish on medium tyres. He soon took care of Leclerc on lap 43 with DRS into turn 12 and then picked off Norris exiting turn 1 on lap 49. But the gap to Verstappen was too great to address in the time remaining, and Hamilton ultimately had to settle for second. He was followed across the line by Norris, Sainz, Perez, Leclerc, Russell, Pierre Gasly, Lance Stroll and Yuki Tsunoda, with Alex Albon just missing out on points for Williams. Fernando Alonso was a late retirement with an issue on the floor of the AMR23.

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