Verstappen holds off Hamilton to score vital US win

24/10/2021
NEWS STORY

As you join us for coverage of today's United States Grand Prix, we feel we must begin by offering a heartfelt apology.

Over the past couple of days we have suggested that sections of the media, most notably Sky, have been guilty of hyperbole in terms of the rivalry between certain drivers and teams.

This, of course, follows Max Verstappen's admission that he is not participating in the next series of Netflix' Drive to Survive, fly-on-the-wall documentary, accusing the makers of distorting the relationships between drivers, suggesting that there is bad feeling when there is none.

Unfortunately, in the hours leading up to today's race it became clear that far from exaggerating the situation, Netflix and Sky might have been understating it.

Never before have we seen such open hostility, not only between drivers, but team bosses, engineers and even catering and hospitality staff.

The usually ever present grin of Daniel Ricciardo is now a barely concealed snarl, while at Red Bull there has been intra-team hostility with Jos Verstappen giving Helmut Marko a slapping for a comment made 15 years ago.

While Angela Curren has done a great job in keeping Lewis Hamilton calm, unfortunately Roscoe has escaped the world champion's motorhome and currently has Verstappen trapped at the back of the Paddock Club.

The open air driver parade has been abandoned for fear of someone being pushed under the bus in the inevitable brawl, while Nikita Mazepin has been accused of writing something unmentionable on one of the We Race As One banners.

As Ross Brawn contemplates whether points could be awarded, Kimi Raikkonen surveys the situation from the top of Haas Hill while eating an ice cream.

Never before, in all our years have we seen such open hostility and anger.

Of course, the sceptical among you may not believe this, indeed you may even feel that the hype over the last couple of days, combined with tales of how F1 is experiencing a "boom" - albeit not reflected in the financials - is akin to those people who start baking bread and making fresh coffee ahead of the arrival of a potential purchaser of their house.

"After all," you might suggest, "hasn't Liberty been looking to sell F1? Haven't Netflix and Saudi Arabia been linked with a buy-out?"

Away with you sceptics, we cry, be gone.

The hostility is real, the media never lies or exaggerates. This is real!

While this is, of course, parody, one shudders to think what might happen should the title protagonists come to grief on the opening lap, and with that in mind the orange bumps behind the Turn 1 exit kerb have been removed, which means the infamous corner has been added to that growing list of Turns where track limits are strictly enforced.

Of course, with Verstappen and Hamilton on the front row we have the dream scenario, not to mention the little fact that nobody outside the front row has ever won here.

For once, Max has support in the shape of Sergio Perez - who is having one of his best weekends since joining Red Bull - while a grid penalty sees Valtteri Bottas start ninth.

While the dream scenario for Max is to get ahead and have his teammate hamper Hamilton, Red Bull could also live with the Mexican getting the jump at the start leaving his Dutch teammate to fend off the Briton.

However, and it's a big however, there is a question mark over the reliability of the Mercedes engine, and both teams have suffered ill effects from the circuit's notorious bumps.

Verstappen incurred a cracked rear wing ahead of qualifying, while Mercedes has compromised performance in lieu of the "massacreing" the W12 was suffering on the bumps.

As Toto Wolff keeps saying, and Christian Horner will agree, neither team can afford a DNF at this stage.

As if all this wasn't 'Hollywood Box Office' enough for you, behind this little trio we have Ferrari and McLaren as the battle for 'best of the rest' continues.

This battle alone should be worth the price of admission, and should Max or Lewis do anything silly, who knows, we could be looking at another 'freak' result.

The McLaren/Ferrari battle has further spice in the form of Bottas, one of several drivers starting out of position, the others being Vettel, Alonso and Russell, which should guarantee some fun over the first few laps.

The warmer conditions are playing havoc with the tyres, hence the widespread feeling that this will be a two stopper. However, as if this wasn't enough, we have those bumps and the clampdown on track limits.

Though the hyperbole has been wearying this weekend, we have to admit that this has the potential to be a genuine thriller, but let's all hope that like the best mysteries movies the plot isn't given away in the opening moments.

With the high temperatures and high abrasion, a two-stopper looks optimal.

The exact strategy that each driver selects will also depend on the tyres they have left in their individual allocations, but the fastest way on paper to tackle the race involves one stint on the softs or mediums and two on the hards.

Managing the wear and degradation on the softs is going to be crucial, so those wanting to try a one-stop strategy will only be able to do this using medium and hard, but this appears not to be easy to achieve.

Those drivers starting out of position might be tempted to fit the hard at the start and run a long first stint to gain track position. However, COTA is a circuit with several overtaking opportunities and a reasonably small pit lane time loss, so the advantage of a one-stop strategy could be slightly less than usual.

Of the leading ten, all are on mediums bar Sainz and Tsunoda.

The pitlane opens and one by one the drivers begin to head out.

Air temperature is 27 degrees C, while the track temperature is 35 degrees. Humidity is 66%. There is 0% chance of rain.

Ahead of the start there is drama, with mechanics surrounding Gasly's AlphaTauri.

As they head off on the formation lap, only Sainz and Tsunoda are on softs, the rest are on mediums. Gasly's issue, whatever it was, has clearly been resolved.

The grid forms.

They're away. Verstappen and Hamilton both get away well, the Dutchman moves across the track and as they enter Turn 1 they are side-by side. Max fluffs it and runs wide allowing the Mercedes to take the lead. As he rejoins the track, having lost out to his rival, Verstappen almost loses out to Perez also but the Mexican backs off.

Behind the McLarens and Ferrari are battling, Sainz and Ricciardo almost interlocking wheels. As Leclerc pulls clear, Ricciardo continues to harry Sainz, the McLaren touching the rear of the Ferrari. Suddenly the McLaren are on either side of the Spaniard and as they jostle for position Sainz runs wide.

Rejoining ahead of the McLarens, there is sure to be an investigation if he doesn't hand at least one place back.

Russell has made a brilliant start, while teammate Latifi has spun following a clash with Stroll.

At the end of Lap 1, it's: Hamilton leading Verstappen by 0.7s, then Perez, Leclerc, Ricciardo, Sainz, Norris, Tsunoda, Bottas and Gasly. Russell up to 14th, Vettel 15th and Alonso 16th.

Following that manic opening lap, things begin to settle down. However, Gasly passes Bottas, which is bad news for Mercedes and the Finn.

Check out our Sunday gallery from COTA, here.

Ocon pits at the end of lap 3 and switches to hards. Replay shows that the Frenchman was clouted by an Alfa at the start and incurred wing damage in the process.

As Hamilton posts fastest lap (41.071), Verstappen has his time deleted for exceeding the limits at Turn 19.

At the end of lap 5, Latifi pits for a new front wing following that clash with Stroll, while Verstappen remains 0.8s down on the leader. As he exits the pits, on hards, Latifi is lucky not to collect Ocon.

"He's quicker than me right now," warns Hamilton.

Russell, Vettel and Alonso in a great scrap for 13th. However, the Spaniard pits for hards at the end of lap 7, rejoining in17th.

"He's sliding a lot, and I have a lot more pace, so I'll just..." says Verstappen.

Indeed, suddenly Verstappen is right on the tail of the leading Mercedes.

Sainz is arguing the toss with his team after being told that he is under instruction from the stewards to hand back the place he took from Norris after running wide earlier, however the Spaniard insists that in the melee he handed a place back to Ricciardo.

Russell and Giovinazzi pit.

Verstappen pits at the end of lap 10, after reporting that his tyres were "getting very hot". He rejoins in 5th as Norris and Gasly pit. The Briton rejoins in 11th and the Frenchman 14th.

Even with DRS, Verstappen in only just able to pass Ricciardo's speedy McLaren for 4th.

Advised that rivals are struggling, Bottas is told he's going to go long.

Ricciardo, Sainz and Schumacher pit, as Perez complains of understeer in S1.

As Verstappen tells his team to pit Perez and thereby force Hamilton to go long, the Mexican pits, rejoining in 3rd as Leclerc also stops.

Hamilton pits at the end of lap 13, rejoining in second, 6.3s down on Verstappen and 4.7s ahead of Perez.

The crowd cheers.

Bottas is up to fifth but has yet to stop, as have Vettel (11th) and Stroll (12th).

Gasly clearly has an issue, he slows considerably and loses position after position. He heads back to the pits and retirement.

Bottas pits at the end of lap 15, the Finn rejoining in 11th.

World champions Alonso and Raikkonen bang wheels in Turn 1 as they battle for 13th. Great stuff from these highly experienced veterans.

The incident is to be investigated.

Alonso, who lost some carbonfibre in the clash, demand the position be handed back.

After 18 laps, with but the Aston Martins having pitted, it's: Verstappen, Hamilton, Perez, Leclerc, Ricciardo, Sainz, Norris, Stroll, Tsunoda and Bottas.

Bottas passes Stroll and closes on Tsunoda as the stewards reveal that no investigation is necessary in terms of the Alonso/Raikkonen scrap.

In quick succession the Aston Martin pair pit, Vettel rejoining in 14th and his teammate 15th.

Bottas makes short work of Tsunoda for 8th. The Finn now has a 13s gap to Norris to make up.

Meanwhile, the blue flags are shown as Verstappen closes in on Mazepin.

Verstappen is told he's losing out to Hamilton in Turns 1 and 17.

Another lap for Alonso and another Alfa to pass, as Alonso uses all his guile to out-fox Giovinazzi. "Ah, yes!" declares the two-time champion.

Hamilton remains 5.5s down on Verstappen and 7s ahead of Perez.

The stewards have noted Alonso's move on Giovinazzi.

"Can we just confirm that it's OK to overtake by going around the outside the corner off the track," asks Marci Budkowski of Alpine, referring to the Raikkonen move on Alonso. "No it's not," responds Michael Masi.

As the gaps between the leaders remain static, Sainz closes to within a second of Ricciardo.

To add to Alpine's frustration, Alonso is ordered to hand back the position he won from Giovinazzi... which was won by overtaking on the outside off the track.

Clearly the frustration is getting to both Alonso and Giovinazzi as battle resumes, both drivers pushing it to the absolute limit... and then some.

As Hamilton closes to within 3.3s of Verstappen, the Dutchman warns that his tyres are going off.

Meanwhile, Giovinazzi is told to hand 11th back to Alonso.

Vettel goes around the outside of Russell in Turn 19 to take 13th.

At the end of lap 26, Latifi and Ocon make their second stops of the afternoon.

Incidentally, Perez is on mediums, which means he will go for hards for his final stint. Raikkonen, Giovinazzi and Vettel are also on the yellow-banded rubber, as are Ocon and Mazepin.

The VSC is briefly deployed as a marshal runs on to the track to claim a piece of debris.

"Life for this set of tyres is better than expected," Leclerc is told.

Alonso pits at the end of lap 29, as does Verstappen. The Dutchman rejoins in third, 17s down on Hamilton.

"We're going for target plus 6," Hamilton is told as Sainz pits. As issue with a sticky right-rear means a slow stop for the Ferrari driver.

Perez, understandably, offers no resistance as his teammate passes him.

"Sainz had a slow stop, so push and we can get him," Ricciardo is told, As Perez makes his second stop. Indeed, Ricciardo also pits, the McLaren driver rejoining in 6th, ahead of Sainz.

It's a double-stacker for McLaren as Norris also stops, the Briton rejoining in 8th.

Asked if Red Bull might have brought Verstappen in too early, Christian Horner says the race is going to be about the last five laps.

Leclerc pits at the end of lap 32, the youngster rejoining in 4th.

Now on hards, Perez posts a new fastest lap (39.566).

"Lewis, you're racing for the win," Toto Wolff tells his driver.

The leader is now lapping eleventh-placed Tsunoda.

Bottas pits at the end of lap 34, the Finn rejoining in 7th. Stroll and Schumacher also stop.

"Verstappen is six seconds within our window," Hamilton is advised as the Dutchman closes to within 13s at a track where the pitlane drive through is around 20s.

Check out our Sunday gallery from COTA, here.

Hamilton pits at the end of lap 37, he rejoins in second, 8.9s down on his rival but on tyres that are 8 laps fresher. However, he is 13.7s clear of Perez.

Alonso is hard on the heels of Raikkonen, who is all over Tsunoda as they battle for tenth.

"It's all about the last three laps," Hamilton is told by his engineer Pete Bonnington.

Vettel and Mazepin pit at the end of lap 39.

After 40 laps, with everyone having pitted twice, it's: Verstappen, Hamilton (+ 8.1s), Perez (+ 14.6s), Leclerc (+ 11.7s), Ricciardo (+ 19.1s), Sainz (+ 0.8s), Bottas (+ 2.4s), Norris (+ 4.6s), Tsunoda (+ 35s) and Raikkonen (+ 1s).

Stuck behind Tsunoda - another Honda driver - Verstappen is losing ground to Hamilton who is just 6.1s behind.

"Apologies," we have to retire the car," Ocon is told. When the Frenchman asks what the problem is, he is told he will be informed later.

Verstappen finally passes Tsunoda but has lost around 4s in the process.

Meanwhile Ricciardo and Sainz touch as they battle for fifth, the Ferrari going off track on the process. "That was a bit dirty," says the Spaniard.

Despite "rear overheating", Hamilton is advised that the "metrics are okay".

As Sainz continues to shadow Ricciardo, Bottas closes to within 0.9s of the pair.

Though he's posting PBs, Verstappen is losing around 0.5s a lap to his rival.

The Dutchman is warned that he will be caught and that Hamilton's fresher tyres will be an advantage especially with DRS.

Stroll is shown the black and white flag for continued abuse of the track limits.

After 50 laps (of 56), Hamilton is just 1.669s down on his prey.

Meanwhile, Alonso makes his third stop of the day. Sadly, it's terminal as he has rear wing damage. That's both Alpines out.

Is it the age old issue of dirty air? Suddenly, Verstappen extend his lead. It's minimal but it's in his favour.

However, Hamilton responds by going quickest in S1, though the pair are even-Stevens in S2.

Vettel passes Giovinazzi and sets off after his Alfa teammate.

Lap 53 is a PB for Verstappen as he is 0.2s quicker than Hamilton.

Raikkonen is off at Turn 6 which means Vettel is in the points. The Iceman rejoins in 12th.

Out front, Hamilton is within 1.531s of the leading Red Bull, while Bottas is 0.567s down on Sainz.

As they begin the penultimate lap, the gap is down to 1.137s.

"Tell them to tell him to get out of the way, Michael," says Verstappen referring to Mick Schumacher.

As they begin the final lap, it's 0.963s.

Verstappen is quickest in S1, which means Hamilton doesn't have DRS.

Try as her might, Hamilton cannot do it, and Verstappen takes the flag to extend his championship lead, his rival just 1.333s behind.

Perez is third, ahead of Leclerc, Ricciardo, Bottas, Sainz, Norris, Tsunoda and Vettel.

Giovinazzi is eleventh, ahead of Stroll, Raikkonen, Russell, Latifi, Schumacher and Mazepin.

A vital win for the youngster. "Sheer class," says Christian Horner, and indeed it was. A brave, risky tyre gamble by Red Bull that ultimately paid off, but one has to wonder if it was more 'luck' than judgement.

COTA is supposed to be a Mercedes track and until this weekend it was, but nw there's a new Bull in town and next up is a circuit that traditionally favours the Austrian outfit.

One also has to question the decision to put Perez on mediums at his first stop, the 42s gap to Hamilton at the end almost inexplicable.

A great result for Leclerc, while Ferrari will be disappointed that having failed to pass Ricciardo, Sainz ultimately lost out to Bottas also.

Not the Hollywood Blockbuster we were hoping for, but a riveting thriller nonetheless, and in the best tradition, the perfect cliff-hanger as we head to Mexico.

"Since Lap 1, I had no water," reveals Perez, "I couldn't drink at all. By my second stint I was finding it pretty difficult." So that explains it.

"Firstly congratulations to Max, they did a great job today," says Hamilton.

"What a great crowd," he adds, "to perform in front of you guys in such an honour. I think this is definitely our acceptance into the US!"

"The tyre wear is quite hard at this track," says Verstappen. "We went aggressive, I wasn't sure it was going to work but super happy.

"It's amazing to be here," he adds, "hopefully we can do this for many years to come."

No first lap clashes, no effing and blinding at one another or their engineers, not even any complaints about tyre strategy.

Indeed, looking at the smiles on the faces of the Red Bull boys, and even Hamilton, one has to wonder where all this animosity is that we were told about.

The only bad feeling we witnessed today was that of Megan Thee Stallion's minders.

Check out our Sunday gallery from COTA, here.

Article from Pitpass (http://www.pitpass.com):

Published: 24/10/2021
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