Will Verstappn’s championship drive win him the title?

Max Verstappen beat Lewis Hamilton at his own game to claim victory in a nailbiting United States Grand Prix, reasserting himself as the championship favourite in this dramatic season.

This article originally appeared in The Phuket News.

Everything is bigger in Texas, and performances don’t come much bigger than Max Verstappen’s victory at the United States Grand Prix.

Formula 1 arrived in Austin with the standings delicately poised and form guide unclear. Mercedes had unexpectedly dominated the Turkish Grand Prix, run on a similarly demanding circuit, and the German marque had taken pole position at the Circuit of the Americas every year since 2014.

And Hamilton loves the circuit, having won five of the previous eight races ever run at COTA, and Friday practice suggested he would be in the box seat to control the race, with Red Bull Racing well adrift.

But in adjusting to the unusually warm conditions and aggressively bumpy track the performance of the cars equalised such that Verstappen could pip Hamilton from pole — but then the Briton snatched back the lead at the start with a better launch.

Yet momentum swung again — Hamilton was slower in the opening stint, but Verstappen couldn’t find a way past without overheating his tyres. So he and Red Bull Racing took the race into their own hands.

They landed their first punch with an early stop on lap 10 and then a second blow by forcing Hamilton to pit just a few laps later by applying pressure with Sergio Perez.

It got Verstappen ahead on the road, but suddenly the plan was backfiring. Hamilton was quicker on the new hard tyre, and after less than 20 laps he was sizing up Verstappen, whose car had chewed the rubber almost down to the canvas.

He came in for another early stop to secure track position — aggressive but now with a tinge of recklessness, for Red Bull Racing had no idea whether the Dutchman could make it to the end of the race without another stop.

Hamilton waited eight laps before taking his new tyres, earning himself a substantial pace advantage. Even faster now, he scythed through his deficit until in the final five laps the pair were sharing the track for what promised to be a titanic title duel.

But no shots were fired.

Verstappen had processed his difficult middle stint and had been whispering to his tyres, massaging them through the laps until Hamilton was upon him. Now he was unleashing the precious rubber remaining to keep the Briton at a crucial one-second buffer, from where he couldn’t launch a move.

In a chess-like grand prix dictated by strategy from the pit wall, Verstappen had taken control from the cockpit and judged it beautifully — judged it in a style more often associated with some of Hamilton’s best drives.

Indeed observers of this season might remember the same strategy with roles reversed in Bahrain, which Hamilton won at the death over an over-eager Verstappen who lacked the patience to execute the plan.

If there had been any doubt that Verstappen lacked the maturity and racing nous to win delicate races, they were blown out of the water in Austin with an afternoon of precise performance.

“You surprised me there as well mate, I did not think you had it in you,” Verstappen’s race engineer, Gianpiero Lambiase, radioed him as he returned triumphantly to pit lane. “That pace after so many laps was incredible.”

This wasn’t a perfect weekend from Verstappen, and it was far from a dominant win. But it was a championship-calibre drive from a man hoping to make himself a championship-winning driver by the end of the year.

And if he pulls it off in a little over six weeks time, his win in front of 140,000 raucous fans, who packed the Circuit of the Americas to bursting point on warm autumnal Austin Sunday, may prove to be the moment that turned the tide in his favour.