EA record crowd of 140,000 spectators awaits a showdown between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton at the US Grand Prix, and the two top favorites for the Formula 1 title, together with their tacticians, deliver the appropriate show. In the end, there are only 1.3 seconds between the Dutch and the British.
After Verstappen’s eighth win of the season, the pendulum in the world championship swings back in the direction of the challenger. After the 17th round of the World Championship, Verstappen is now leading with twelve points – with five races still to go and 133 possible points. “Unbelievable”, stammered the winner, and team boss Christian Horner confirms: “What a great ride.” Which, by the way, also applies to the loser Hamilton. Third is the second Red Bull driver Sergio Perez.
Basketball icon Shaquille O’Neal is already holding the 17th round of the World Cup on the grid for one of the world’s greatest sporting events. Attention that this humanly and technically pointed title decision definitely deserves. The first 240 meters, which go steeply uphill in Austin, already keep what everyone promises. With his ninth pole position of the season, Verstappen broke the years of Mercedes superiority in Texas.
Hamilton is only in second position, but inside. A small advantage when chasing the first left bend up the hill. Hamilton, already a four-time winner in Austin, has the quicker reaction and is picking up speed accordingly. Verstappen stops from the right, pushes the rival to the side and into the pit exit. But the Mercedes keeps its nose in front, turns first, the Dutchman does not get the curve, rides over the lane.
At the key point, another crash between the two title rivals does not seem to be ruled out, they had already clashed at the start of training, the Dutchman then cursed the opponent as a “stupid idiot” and showed him the middle finger. He then vows to concentrate only on himself from now on. It remains the trend of this season that the technical balance of power between the two top racing teams shift from race to race.
Day by day in Austin. From training to qualification, the challenger Red Bull was able to make up a second. Suddenly there is grip again and with it the pace – which is why Verstappen can put real pressure on Hamilton. Result of a change in the vehicle set-up, in which aerodynamicist Adrian Newey, who has recovered from a serious bicycle accident, and simulator driver Sebastien Buemi have their part, who rebalanced the set-up overnight.
Mercedes, on the other hand, is capricious this season, also when it comes to the durability of the engines. Valtteri Bottas therefore had to drop five places on the grid, which means that Hamilton is fighting against two Red Bull Honda at the front alone. Without a crash at the start, it is clear that the race will be decided by the tires. Verstappen comes in after eleven of the 56 laps. A so-called undercut like something out of a textbook.
Hamilton and Mercedes forego the direct counterattack – the strategy poker begins. Recently, Mercedes had deficits in this discipline. Hamilton picked up fresh tires two laps later, while Verstappen took the lead with a clear six-second lead. Even under racing conditions, it apparently has the much better car this weekend, which gives the Mercedes engineers further guesswork. All you have left is the Hamilton factor.
Nevertheless, the spectators see the lively race that it deserves. With a lot of German participation. Sebastian Vettel has meanwhile worked his way up to the top ten after changing the engine from the third from last starting position on the rather difficult to overtake track. But in the end the Heppenheimer finished tenth, which is a strong performance in view of the lame Aston Martin. His seven overtaking maneuvers are just as balm for him as the point of honor. Mick Schumacher in the basically hopeless Haas-Ferrari duped his team-mate Nikita Mazepin dramatically as the penultimate, and in the end he was left with a good 16th place.
Shortly before the middle of the race, Hamilton’s form improved once again, halving the gap to the front runner. In lap 30, Verstappen puts on fresh rubber again, again the tension results from the Mercedes reaction. The strategists leave Hamilton outside, wanting to force such a decision shortly before the end of the race.
“You are on the way to victory,” says Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff. But the record world champion asks for calm from the command post, full concentration. Since one still suspects a late chance. He stays ahead eight laps longer than the adversary, then with the last set of tires the race to catch up begins.
Verstappen is now a good nine seconds ahead of him again, with 18 laps left. Hamilton’s engineer Peter Bonnington calculates: “The last three laps will be the decisive ones.” His driver also drives the same attack, sometimes taking two seconds per lap from the leader, ten laps before the end he appears in the rearview mirror. In the last two rounds, the gap shrinks to one second. It is possible to drive up, but hardly come by. The attacker has a chance, Verstappen defends himself with everything he has. That’s not much on the rims, but it’s enough.