Lewis Hamilton said Mercedes’ strategy cost him his first victory in nearly two years at Sunday’s United States Grand Prix.
Hamilton conceded a 10-second swing to Max Verstappen when Mercedes left their star driver in no man’s land as they attempted a one-stop strategy at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin.
Hamilton was less than two seconds behind early leader Lando Norris and five seconds clear of Verstappen, who started only sixth, as they approached the opening round of pit stops.
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) October 22, 2023
But when Verstappen and Norris stopped for fresh rubber on lap 16 and 17 respectively, Hamilton was told to stay out – with an alternative strategy to Verstappen viewed as the only way to topple the all-conquering Dutchman. It quickly proved the wrong decision.
Asked if he could complete another five laps on his current set of tyres, Hamilton replied: “I am not sure, man. It is pretty tough.”
Hamilton then locked up before his race engineer Peter Bonnington was back on the intercom to inform his driver that Verstappen – who on new tyres had just lapped three seconds faster than the Briton – was now likely to gazump him when he eventually stopped.
“No s***, man,” yelled Hamilton, with his tyres falling off the cliff. “I am struggling out here.”
Hamilton came in four laps later than Verstappen with a slow front-right tyre change adding to his woes. When he emerged from the pits, he had dropped to third, five seconds adrift of Verstappen and 7.5 sec back from Norris.
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 22, 2023
Hamilton saw off Norris with a dozen laps to go, but he could not reel Verstappen in – taking the chequered flag an agonising 2.2 sec behind.
Asked if he felt he should have claimed his first win since the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix 686 days ago, had it not been for Mercedes’ offset strategy, Hamilton was defiant.
“Yes,” he said without hesitation. “I do think we would have been in a position to fight with Max.
“We made our life a lot harder today than it needed to be. There are lots of areas where we could have been better.”
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff added: “At the moment, we have mixed feelings because there is the pain of just having lost a race that we could have won.”
Hamilton was later facing the prospect of being disqualified from the race after the floor of his Mercedes was found not to be compliant with the regulations.
Leclerc’s Ferrari also failed the post-race check. Hamilton and a Mercedes team representative will meet with the stewards at 1800 local time (00:00 BST).
Hamilton, in his revamped Mercedes machine, could count himself unfortunate to drop from third to fourth at the start.
The seven-time world champion enjoyed a decent getaway, but he was blocked by Norris under braking allowing Carlos Sainz to sneak through. Norris had seen off pole-sitter Charles Leclerc with a lunge at the first bend to assume top spot.
As Norris set about building a lead – already two seconds clear of Leclerc at the end of the second lap – Hamilton set about passing both scarlet cars.
First up was Sainz. Hamilton used the tow to latch on to the back of Ferrari on the 210mph drag to Turn 12, and, assisted by DRS, drew alongside Sainz before sliding underneath the Spaniard.
Great battling between the two Brits! ⚔️
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 22, 2023
Hamilton has won six times across the Pond, with five of those victories here in Austin, and the 38-year-old required only two laps to swat Leclerc aside for second.
Deeper on the brakes at Turn 12, Hamilton sailed round the outside of the Monegasque at the left-hander, with Norris now three seconds up the road.
Behind, and Verstappen, struggling with his brakes, was not finding it as easy to make progress.
He was stuck behind Leclerc for an additional five laps before finally making his move on the Monegasque.
He trailed Norris by seven seconds and Hamilton by four. Hamilton was now 1.9 sec behind Norris and would have taken the lead had Mercedes used the undercut. But, on the day, Mercedes got it wrong, and Hamilton knew it.
“You have given me a hell of a gap to close,” he said after his first stop.
On lap 28, Verstappen dived underneath Norris for the lead at Turn 12. Norris had a nibble back at the Red Bull heading into the ensuing right hander, but he failed to make it stick.
Hamilton was back into the pits for a second time on lap 37 of 56, changing to the faster medium compound.
Hamilton had the bit between his teeth and within 10 laps he was crawling all over the back of Norris’ McLaren.
Norris slung his McLaren to the inside on the entry to the first corner in a move to stop Hamilton, but the older Brit gained better traction out of the bend to slingshot by in his Mercedes.
Verstappen was five seconds ahead and Hamilton started to catch his old nemesis only to run out of laps.
Verstappen joined Hamilton (103 wins), Michael Schumacher (91), Sebastian Vettel (53) and Alain Prost (51) in the half-century club with his 15th win from the 18 rounds so far.
The Dutchman, jeered on the podium – possibly by supporters of his Mexican team-mate Sergio Perez – said: “To take my 50th career win makes me very proud and we will try to push for more.”
Sainz took fourth ahead of Perez with Leclerc sixth and George Russell seventh for Mercedes.