Red Bull’s Max Verstappen took victory in the sprint race at the United States Grand Prix ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc.
The world champion robustly defended the lead from Leclerc’s Ferrari off the line and held off a brief threat from Hamilton in the early laps before cruising into the distance.
Hamilton crossed the line nine seconds behind his 2021 title rival.
Leclerc just held off McLaren’s Lando Norris at the flag.
The Ferrari driver’s determination to challenge Verstappen for the lead at the start ended up costing him.
Verstappen forced Leclerc tight to the inside, with a move on the margins of acceptability, and that compromised the Ferrari’s entry to Turn One and allowed Hamilton to pass as they exited the corner down the hill towards Turn Two and the high-speed Esses.
Hamilton – encouraged by the performance of the upgraded Mercedes – appeared initially as if he might be able to mount a challenge to Verstappen as he stayed within a second of the Red Bull for the first couple of laps, but on the third lap Verstappen upped his pace, extending his lead by nearly two seconds, a sign that the race was lost for the seven-time champion.
Verstappen said: “It was quite tight [at Turn One] but luckily there is a lot of space so that helps. After that, we could do our own pace and I had a bit of fun at the end pushing a bit more.”
Leclerc said: “There was a gap and I tried. It was tight and I lost the position to Lewis, but in the end they were a bit stronger today in race pace so we need to work to understand what’ve can do a little bit better tomorrow.”
Verstappen has qualified only sixth for Sunday’s grand prix after having a pole position lap deleted for exceeding track limits but said on Friday that his lower starting position might make the race more fun.
The same could be said for the spectators, because there was little thrill to be had from the battle for the lead in the sprint race as Verstappen motored around unchallenged throughout.
Verstappen said: “Starting P6 is a bit different to today but it makes it more interesting and hopefully we can make a few overtakes and get the win.”
Hamilton said: “It was a fun race. Good start down to Turn One and a good battle with Charles and I was trying to get closer to Max but their pace is undeniable at the moment.
“But I’m happy with being a little bit closer. Still got a long way to eke the pace he was doing through the race but I am happy to be on the podium.”
Hamilton was much faster than Leclerc, who in turn had for much of the race a comfortable advantage over his pursuers.
Norris slipped behind Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz on the first lap as the Spaniard benefited from the soft tyres he had uniquely chosen while the rest of the field went for the more robust mediums.
But it soon became clear that Sainz’s choice of the more fragile rubber was a mistake. Even with the extra grip in the first couple of laps, he was no match for team-mate Leclerc, and he soon came under attack from Norris and Perez.
After a few laps of defence, Norris finally made it through at Turn 12 on lap 10, just past half distance, and Perez followed the Briton through down the long back straight next time around. The Mexican, lacking anything like the pace of team-mate Verstappen, was unable to threaten Norris ahead.
Instead, Norris began to close in on Leclerc and was less than a second behind as they crossed the line.
“We struggled a little bit with tyres, mostly with the rears before the end of the race,” Leclerc said. “We will look into that.”
Sainz came under pressure from Mercedes’ George Russell, racing under a five-second penalty for passing Oscar Piastri’s McLaren off track at Turn 15 on lap three.
Russell, who has been off Hamilton’s pace all weekend so far, trailed Sainz for the entire final third of the race but was unable to get close enough to try a pass, despite the Ferrari’s fading tyres.
Failing to pass Sainz meant Russell was unable to make up enough ground to offset his five-second penalty and he was demoted behind Alpine’s Pierre Gasly, who took the final point for eighth place.
Source : bbc