Max Verstappen held off Lewis Hamilton in a pulsating end to the United States Grand Prix on Sunday to extend his World Drivers’ Championship six-point lead to 12 points with just five races remaining.
Having lost the advantage of starting on pole before even reaching the first corner, the Red Bull driver went for an early pit-stop strategy to get the better of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and it worked to perfection as he managed to stay ahead of the fast approaching seven-time world champion over the compelling final three laps.
Hamilton got off to a flyer, catapulting himself past pole-sitter Verstappen ahead of turn one despite the Dutchman doing his best to cut off the Mercedes. After the Brit had gained a lead of almost a second it was Verstappen who started to show the more consistent pace, and when he headed in for an early first pit stop the title leader had given himself enough of a buffer to retain the advantage once Hamilton came in for his first tyre change.
After seeing Hamilton narrow his lead to around three seconds, Verstappen was brought in for a second stop on lap 30 as Red Bull hoped to make the most of track position and hold off the fresher tyres of Hamilton’s Mercedes on a longer third stint.
When Hamilton returned to the track after his own stop on lap 38, Verstappen had a nine-second lead and was running at his fastest pace of the Grand Prix but it didn’t take long for Lewis to begin eating into the gap on his fresher set of tyres.
As the final five laps approached Hamilton looked set to make it a wheel-to-wheel finale, but Verstappen somehow found the reserves to pull away from Hamilton and buy himself further precious time. With the seven-time world champion battling dirty air it appeared that he wouldn’t be able to get into DRS distance, but a poor exit at turn 11 on the penultimate lap undermined his chances and he couldn’t get close enough to force an error from Verstappen.
And when Verstappen crossed the line in first place it was a huge victory for Red Bull’s decision to bring Max in early and back him to defend his track position in the closing stages. Such a win will also come as a huge psychological boost for both the driver and the team with the knowledge that they can beat Hamilton and Mercedes in the pit lane if needed.
Hamilton recorded the fastest lap during the latter stages, meaning he at least clawed back one of the seven points he lost on Verstappen but the Dutchman’s 12-point advantage is a fairly considerable one going into the Mexican Grand Prix in two weeks’ time.