The second half of the 2022 United States Grand Prix gave us a throwback to 2021, no, not the incidents or the controversy on and off the track, but two drivers racing like their lives depended on it.
Max Verstappen came out on top with a stunning drive which Dietrich Mateschitz will surely have looked down on with great pride.
It looked like the two-time world champion was going to cruise to victory after he took the lead from Carlos Sainz off the start line.
But, a slow second pit stop put Lewis Hamilton in the net led with Verstappen also dropping behind Charles Leclerc.
At that point, Hamilton had every chance to keep his streak of winning a race in every F1 season he’s competed in alive. However, Verstappen had other answers.
The key to Verstappen’s fightback
Verstappen had it all to do behind Leclerc with Hamilton seven seconds up the road and just 21 laps remaining.
He was furious, stating on the team radio: “Beautiful f***ing beautiful.”
“Max just got his head down and I just thought there was only going to be one outcome of that race,” said Christian Horner post-race.
“There’s a hunger within him I’ve never seen from another driver.”
Verstappen came charging back and was on the attack to try to overtake Leclerc.
We haven’t had enough of this in 2022 and it was a beautiful fight as the pair passed and re-passed each other, reminiscent of the Bahrain and Saudi Arabian GP at the start of the season.
Verstappen got the job done on Lap 39 and somehow still had enough life left in his medium tyres to slowly close the gap on Hamilton.
He proved numerous times last year that he is every bit as good as Hamilton with his tyre management and that was crucial on Sunday because few drivers can race another driver very hard and still have some rubber to go in pursuit for the lead.
Hamilton at his best too
With the possibility of a race win, we saw the very best of Hamilton as he tried to get every ounce of performance from his hard tyres.
He was punching in personal and occasional fastest sector times in a bid to keep Verstappen at bay.
The straight line speed of the Red Bull meant Verstappen was taking a couple tenths from Hamilton on the long back straight each time, but there was very little to separate them in the corners.
Both drivers were pushing the limits in tricky, gusty conditions, using everything they had from their respective cars and tyres. There was a real intensity to the Grand Prix. The combination of Verstappen in the RB18 though prevailed.
Even a late jiggle to the left from Hamilton in the braking zone at Turn 12 didn’t put off the Dutchman.
After that, the seven-time world champion tried to stay with his rival and his only opportunity to get back was a divebomb at Turn 1 on the lap after he was overtaken.
Verstappen resisted the pressure and took a stunning win. He’s had many of them over the last two years.
Huge credit to Hamilton as well because if he was against any other driver, he may have just held on.
It would be a magical moment in F1 history if he were to win in either Mexico, Brazil or Abu Dhabi to keep his streak alive.
The United States GP showed exactly why 2021 was so good, for the right reasons. Two of the best F1 drivers ever, at the top of their game, fighting for the win. It doesn’t get better than that.