Max Verstappen took full advantage of a strategy advantage handed to him by the omnipotent Red Bull, winning the 2023 United States Grand Prix despite never looking comfortable until crossing the finish line.
Complaining of a brake issue throughout the race, Verstappen haemorrhaged time to Lewis Hamilton in the final few laps and only finished two seconds behind the Dutchman.
Lando Norris led the early stages but McLaren‘s decision from the start of the weekend to focus on saving hard tyres ultimately cost him a shot at fighting Verstappen, who took the 50th grand prix win of his career.
Hamilton ran nearly an identical strategy to Norris and despite leading his 250th lap of the Circuit of the Americas early on, couldn’t ever hoist himself into the battle for the lead.
He was able to pass Norris late-on though, after a hair-raising late defensive move from the McLaren driver at turn one failed to deter Hamilton, who’s finished on the podium 10 times in 11 races in Austin.
Norris made the perfect start to slide up the inside of Leclerc into turn one to make it five times in six races that second place on the grid has taken the lead from lights out, while Hamilton held an optimistic Verstappen off on the outside.
The Ferraris quickly dropped out of podium contention aided by Verstappen pushing Leclerc off the track in his overtake, an incident that inexplicably wasn’t investigated by the stewards.
Norris and Hamilton drove strong opening stints and held a healthy margin to Verstappen when the Dutchman dived into the pits on lap 17 for medium tyres, with McLaren following suit a lap later for hards.
But Mercedes kept Hamilton out two crucial laps longer, meaning he left the pits over four seconds behind Verstappen who looked like he had all the time in the world to ease up to Norris‘ rear wing and take the lead.
With both McLaren and Mercedes running the offset, the hard tyres never provided the expected long-run advantage and Verstappen was able to take control of the race in the second stint.
Despite Norris undercutting on his final stop and edging up to just over a second behind the Dutchman, it proved to be just too much and Norris was soon forced to look over his shoulder.
With Hamilton the only one of the top six on medium tyres come the end of the race, he just spent a lap stuck behind his compatriot but couldn’t hunt down Verstappen.
Ferrari fade, Alonso the animator
It wasn’t the most thrilling race behind the leaders, Ferrari were the only team with both drivers in the top four after qualifying, but that didn’t last long with race pace again deserting them compared to Red Bull, McLaren and Mercedes.
Handed an optimistic one-stop strategy by Ferrari, Leclerc was fuming when Carlos Sainz passed him late on for fourth with the Spaniard looking the second-best Scuderia driver for most of the weekend.
And Sergio Perez passed Leclerc late-on too, running a quietly strong race from ninth on the grid which means he only drops eight points to Hamilton in the race for second in the drivers’ championship.
Aston Martin seemed to have clawed some pride back after a double-Q1 elimination, they’d brought an upgrade to the circuit of the Americas but Fernando Alonso reverted to the Qatar spec on his AMR23 and animated the early part of the race.
As if hitting out at the misery of qualifying and the sprint, he scythed up into the top ten with Lance Stroll in toe and the team looked on track for their first double-points finish since before the summer break.
But Alonso retired in the closing stages with a suspension issue, joining Oscar Piastri and Esteban Ocon in the DNF column after the pair clashed on the opening lap.
Stroll did finish ninth at least, behind George Russell who’s been outmatched by his teammate all weekend, and Pierre Gasly. Yuki Tsunoda took the final point, and claimed a surprise fastest lap too.