Race Report: Verstappen holds off Hamilton for USGP win

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CIRCUIT OF THE AMERICAS, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA - OCTOBER 24: Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, 1st position, arrives on the podium during the United States GP at Circuit of the Americas on Sunday October 24, 2021 in Austin, United States of America. (Photo by Glenn Dunbar / LAT Images)

While my Fantasy GP picks had Lewis Hamilton winning the US Grand Prix, I felt like that was a decent bet given the pace of Mercedes on Friday as red Bull looked a little on the back foot. As the weekend evolved into Saturday’s qualifying session, it looked as if Mercedes were nursing some issues or moving backwards a bit while Red Bull made some key adjustments that put the two cars nearly on par with each other.

On Sunday, that notion seemed to manifest in an incredibly close race that was decided by an aggressive early stop by Red Bull to give Max Verstappen the win holding off Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes with Sergio Perez coming third.

Win

A big win for Max Verstappen who now leads the Driver’s Championship by 12 points. Red Bull were on the back foot on Friday but the team turned it around on a track that is traditionally a Mercedes-friendly circuit. Red Bull’s strategy was aggressive but spot on to keep the Mercedes behind them.

A win for Charles Leclerc and Ferrari with his 4th place finish to tighten the battle in the Constructor’s Championship title. Charles has been quietly stringing a series of 4th place finishes and taken the fight back to McLaren in a big way.

A win for Yuki Tsunoda who finished 9th giving the team some much-needed points given Pierre Gasly’s DNF. Also a win for Honda who are tucking tail and running from F1 at a time when they may just win a title.

Huge win for Austin, Circuit of the Americas and American F1 fans in general for the massive turnout and support for a sport that has eluded them for so many years. What a great show of support from a fanbase often chided for its fickle approach to sports fandom and attention span.

Fail

A fail for Mercedes who hobbled Valtteri Bottas with an engine change penalty, one presumably wonders if that wasn’t key engineering research for any potential additional engine change for Lewis later this season. He started 9th and could only manage 6th on the day.

A fail for Lewis would be harsh because in the end, the two were very closely matched and he gave it everything he had, as did Mercedes strategy team, trying to get the win. In the end, this is a Mercedes track and losing here stings a lot!

A fail for Alpine who retired both cars with technical issues. This is not on par with their recent performance gains and a setback but one wonders if they are simply focused on 2022 at this point meaning the cars are not being heavily developed and it is, as they say, what it is.

WTH

A WTH for Sergio Perez who didn’t have a working drink system and was nearly dehydrated by the end of the race. A drink bottle is essential so losing on during a hot, long, humid race is brutal. May want Adrian to look into the drink bottle a bit.

A WTH for the back markers who did have am impact on the race and while you can’t simply disappear, there were a few who made passing them a bit difficult, especially for Max and Lewis.

WTH was Shaq riding in and why was he just standing on the podium? Funny, he was taller than Lewis even with Hamilton on a step. There is a part of me that does get embarrassed at the lengths Americans go to for “entertainment value”.

A WTH with celebrities? There was a a rapper and Serena Williams who were both towing handlers who nearly mugged Martin Brundle for asking them a question. If you are going to be invited to the grid and paddock, shouldn’t you be prepared to answer a few questions to the host broadcaster? Thanks to Ben Stiller and Rory for at least answering a few questions even though the media were told they were not to be asked. Get over it people.

Pirelli Key Moments:

  • Red Bull’s Max Verstappen won an intensely tactical race with a two-stop strategy, having started from pole. After losing the lead to Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton at the start, Verstappen made his first pit stop from P Zero Yellow medium to P Zero White hard on lap 11, with a successful ‘undercut’ to gain the lead from his rival, who stopped three laps later.
  • At the second round of pit stops, the Dutchman again stopped before Hamilton: who went eight laps longer to have much fresher hard tyres at the finish and race the Red Bull driver hard over the final laps, closing to within less than a second at the flag.
  • Verstappen and Hamilton both adopted the same medium-hard-hard strategy, while Red Bull’s Sergio Perez in third (who only had one fresh set of hards available) did two stints on the medium followed by just one on the hard.
  • Wear and degradation were quite high and at the same significant levels seen in free practice at the demanding COTA track: noted for its bumps, aggressive surfaces and very fast first sector.
  • Despite some drizzle earlier in the day, conditions were warm and dry for the race, but with some wind too. The race got underway with 31 degrees centigrade ambient and 39 degrees of track temperature.
  • All the drivers began the race on the P Zero Yellow medium tyre, with the exception of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda on the P Zero Red soft (which they had used to set their best Q2 times on Saturday).
  • As expected, it was a two-stop strategy for everyone, with just two drivers stopping three times.

USGP Race Results:

PosNameCarLapsLaps LedTotal TimeFastest LapPitstopsPts
1Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda56481h34m36.552s1m39.096s225
2Lewis HamiltonMercedes568+1.333s1m38.485s219
3Sergio PérezRed Bull-Honda560+42.223s1m39.566s215
4Charles LeclercFerrari560+52.246s1m39.303s212
5Daniel RicciardoMcLaren-Mercedes560+1m16.854s1m40.345s210
6Valtteri BottasMercedes560+1m20.128s1m40.147s28
7Carlos Sainz Jr.Ferrari560+1m23.545s1m40.377s26
8Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes560+1m24.395s1m40.228s24
9Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda550+1 lap1m41.151s22
10Sebastian VettelAston Martin-Mercedes550+1 lap1m40.481s21
11Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo-Ferrari550+1 lap1m41.145s20
12Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes550+1 lap1m41.189s20
13Kimi RäikkönenAlfa Romeo-Ferrari550+1 lap1m41.34s20
14George RussellWilliams-Mercedes550+1 lap1m41.12s20
15Nicholas LatifiWilliams-Mercedes550+1 lap1m41.818s20
16Mick SchumacherHaas-Ferrari540+2 laps1m41.395s20
17Nikita MazepinHaas-Ferrari540+2 laps1m42.886s30
Fernando AlonsoAlpine-Renault480DNF1m40.067s40
Esteban OconAlpine-Renault390DNF1m42.194s30
Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri-Honda130DNF1m42.015s20
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Worthless Opinion

Sorr of surprised Ricciardo didnt pick up a penalty for clearly opening up his wheel mid turn to hit Sainz. BBC made the point this week the stewards obsess much more about marginal questions at the front while in the mid pack it’s much wilder. Part of the continuing consistency issues in stewarding.