Verstappen doubles title lead with Texas thriller

Max Verstappen has treated a sell-out Austin crowd to a nailbiting last-lap victory over Lewis Hamilton at the United States Grand Prix.

This article originally appeared in The Phuket News.

The title rivals started alongside each other on the front row of the grid and threatened to come to blows early. Hamilton had the inside line to the first corner, and though Verstappen swept dramatically left to try to cover the apex, the Briton won out and pushed the Dutchman off the track on exit.

But fully loaded with fuel and on the delicate medium tyre the Red Bull Racing car was quickest, and for the first 10 laps Verstappen harried the leading car for position, with teammate Sergio Perez closely in tow.

Hamilton’s defence was steadfast, so the Bulls tried to crack him with strategy. On lap 20, much earlier than expected, he came in for his first of two pits stops, with Perez in two laps later.

On fresh rubber Verstappen was able to unleash his pace, and by the time Hamilton was forced to stop on lap 13 he’d lost 6.5 seconds.

But on the hard-compound tyres momentum swung back towards Mercedes, and as they neared the end of the stint Hamilton closed to within three seconds and was poised to make his move through the second stops.

Red Bull Racing pre-empted the move and went aggressive again, bringing in Verstappen on lap 29. It gave him 27 laps to run but guaranteed him track position for the final stint.

Hamilton responded by staying out until lap 37. He lost more than five seconds to the Dutchman when he rejoined, but with 18 laps to go on much newer tyres, he sliced through advantage until there was less than two seconds between them with seven laps to go.

But with the best of his tyres worn away and encumbered by the dirty air of the Red Bull Racing car, Hamilton couldn’t get close enough to launch a move.

With two laps to go he charged his battery for a final-lap assault, but Verstappen had spent the stint keeping his tyres fresh, and he had just enough rubber in reserve to emerge a 1.3-second winner.

“We went aggressive, and I wasn’t sure it was going to work, but the last laps were fun,” he said. Super happy of course to hang on.”

Hamilton was sanguine in defeat, putting the loss down to having an all-round slower car.

“Congratulations to Max, he did a great job today,” he said. “It was such a tough race.

I gave it everything, but at the end of the day they just had the upper hand this weekend. We couldn’t have asked for more.”

The Briton at least scored a point for fastest lap, which took his championship deficit from six points to 12 with five races remaining.

Sergio Perez completed the podium, but he finished 42 seconds off the lead after losing access to his water bottle early in the race, turning his race on the hot track into a slog.

“I think by the middle of my second stint it was starting to get pretty difficult, I was losing strength,” he said. “I think it was my toughest race ever physically.”

But his trials were rewarding for the team, which closed the gap to Mercedes in the constructors standings to 23 points.

Charles Leclerc was a lonely fourth after a clean start kept him ahead of the midfield for the duration.

Daniel Ricciardo was a superb fifth in one of his strongest performances of the year. The Australian beat Carlos Sainz in an enthralling wheel-to-wheel duel on the first lap, and the two reignited hostilities in the final stint, the McLaren driver again prevailing after some light contact through the fast turn 18.

The fight took the best out of Sainz’s tyres, which dropped him to seventh behind Valtteri Bottas on the penultimate lap, the Finn recovering from a ninth-place start with a grid penalty.

Lando Norris was eighth, unable to break into the Ricciardo-Sainz battle, ahead of Yuki Tsunoda and Sebastian Vettel, completing the top 10.