Max Verstappen defied Lewis Hamilton to win a cat-and-mouse United States Grand Prix at a sizzling Circuit of the Americas in Austin.
Verstappen has been on easy street this season, but the triple world champion was made to fight for the 50th win of his career – becoming only the fifth driver to reach a half-century.
Indeed, at one stage, Hamilton dared to dream of ending a losing streak which stands at 686 days and counting.
A half century of wins 🤩
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 22, 2023
Yet, as so often been the case this year, Verstappen’s speed in his all-conquering Red Bull machine came to the fore.
Verstappen joins Hamilton (103 wins), Michael Schumacher (91), Sebastian Vettel (53) and Alain Prost (51) in the half-century club.
“To win my 50th career win makes me very proud and we will try to push for me,” said Verstappen.
He moved ahead of Lando Norris on lap 28 of 56 to all but seal the win. Hamilton might bemoan a questionable strategy decision which saw him lose 10 seconds to Verstappen in the opening round of pit stops. But in reality, he probably did not have the pace to stop the Dutchman from claiming his 15th win from the 18 rounds so far.
He crossed the line an agonising 2.2 sec behind Verstappen with Norris hanging on to the final spot on the podium.
Hamilton 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 Sainz to sneak through. Norris had seen off pole-sitter Leclerc with a lunge at the first bend to assume top spot.
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) October 22, 2023
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.
On the following lap, Verstappen, who started in sixth after his pole lap in qualifying was chalked off for exceeding track limits, relegated Sainz another place when he made his move at the same corner.
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 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.
In the Mercedes garage, Prince Harry cut a pensive figure as he gnawed at his fingernails. The Duke of Sussex has been something of lucky charm for Hamilton.
He was a guest of Mercedes when Hamilton secured his second title in the 2014 season decider in Abu Dhabi, leading the congratulations to his fellow Briton on the radio.
Verstappen was the first in for new rubber at the end of lap 16 with Norris stopping the next time round.
But Hamilton stayed out. Were Mercedes attempting a one-stopper? Hamilton did not seem convinced.
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 Hamilton 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. “I am struggling out here.”
On lap 20, in came Hamilton, and a slow front-right tyre change added to his woes by costing him a needless second. When Hamilton emerged from the pits, he had dropped to third, five seconds adrift of Verstappen.
“I came out so far behind,” he said with a hint of dejection.
When the opening stops were completed, Norris led Verstappen by 2.4 sec with Hamilton 7.5 off the lead.
By virtue of taking on another set of mediums, Verstappen had to stop again, but Norris and Hamilton – now both on the hards – could, if their rubber allowed, go all the way to the end.
Hamilton, failing to make any inroads and sensing his best chance of ending a 22-month winning streak had faded, expressed his frustrations.
“You have given me a hell of a gap to close,” he said.
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.
The question now was whether Norris, and indeed Hamilton – now less than five seconds off the lead – could make their tyres last.
ANOTHER PODIUM! Great job on your 100th race, @LandoNorris! 🧡
The answer arrived on lap 34 when Norris dived in for a fresh set of boots. Verstappen followed in on lap 35, and despite, a slow left-rear tyre change, retained his position ahead of Norris.
Three laps later and Hamilton was in, 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 corner to slingshot by in his Mercedes.
Verstappen was five seconds ahead and Hamilton started to reel his old nemesis in only to run out of laps. Sainz took fourth ahead of Sergio Perez with Leclerc sixth and George Russell seventh for Mercedes.