Verstappen, Red Bull Earn Statement Win in Texas

Max Verstappen and Red Bull held off Lewis Hamilton for a crucial win at a Mercedes stronghold in Texas to both grow his lead and close the gap in the standings as the F1 season enters its final five races.


Throughout the race weekend, over 400,000 people attended the United States Grand Prix, the highest attendance ever in F1 history (courtesy of Twitter).

Last week, the 2021 Formula 1 season visited the land of the free for the US Grand Prix. Coming into it, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen led the drivers’ championship just ahead of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton. Mercedes was ahead of Red Bull by a large margin in the constructors’ championship.                                             

The Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Texas has been a Mercedes stronghold in recent years. Mercedes started the weekend by topping the timesheets for the first practice, with Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas being the fastest, followed by Hamilton and then Verstappen. However, for the second practice, Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez was fastest with Hamilton in third, Bottas in fourth and Verstappen in eighth. The third and final practice session had Perez once again fastest, with Verstappen in third and the Mercedes pair finishing in fifth and sixth.

When it was time for qualifying, once again, Mercedes changed Bottas’ internal combustion engine (ICE), giving him a five-place grid penalty for the race, meaning that he would start five spots lower than wherever he qualified.

Perez was on provisional pole ahead of Verstappen, Bottas and then Hamilton in the first timed laps of the final stage of qualifying. However, in their final laps, Verstappen bettered his time to claim pole position. Hamilton qualified in second ahead of Perez and then Bottas in fourth. Bottas started ninth in the race with his penalty. 

When it was finally time for the race, all signs pointed to a two-stop race, which meant that the strategists were working overtime to figure out when to pit. One crucial part of pitting is to ensure that drivers do not run into any traffic when exiting the pits. If a driver emerges from the pits in a clear track, then they can use the tire advantage to attempt the undercut. If there is traffic, that advantage is essentially canceled out because of the slower cars blocking their progress. Red Bull had the advantage from the start since they had both drivers in the top three while Mercedes only had Hamilton at the top of the grid. Red Bull could pit one driver and force Mercedes to react with Hamilton and ruin his strategy.

When the lights went out, Hamilton got a better start and passed Verstappen going into turn one. Verstappen actually went off the track and reentered right next to Perez, who let Verstappen pass. Perez did this because he is not in the championship battle and Verstappen needs every point possible. Meanwhile, Bottas was still in ninth and fell to tenth after a couple of laps.

Hamilton was leading Verstappen and both were starting to pull away from Perez. On lap 10, Verstappen was complaining about his tires and Red Bull made the call to pit him. Hamilton did not immediately respond and Perez also pitted to switch his tires two laps later. Red Bull tried to force Hamilton into pitting earlier than they would have wanted to do. Perez was now able to push hard and disrupt Hamilton’s pit stop window while Verstappen could look after his tires and play the long game. Hamilton pitted the following lap and was now six seconds behind Verstappen due to the undercut. Hamilton now had the task of catching up to Verstappen. His tires were fresher which meant that he could go longer in the race or use more of the rubber to catch up.

However, on lap 29, Verstappen pitted from the lead for his second stop with Perez pitting the lap after. Red Bull pitted Verstappen early to cover the undercut but now this meant that Verstappen had to make these tires last while also catching up on Hamilton. Once again, Hamilton did not immediately respond and stayed out. 

Mercedes now had an issue over when to pit Hamilton. If they waited until the end, they would have tires that were extremely fresh compared to Verstappen but they would only have a limited amount of laps to overtake. If they pit sooner rather than later, the tires would be slightly fresher but with more laps ahead. Whatever decision Mercedes chose, they had to do it quickly with Verstappen already eating into Hamilton’s lead.

Finally, on lap 37 Hamilton pitted and emerged 7.8 seconds behind Verstappen. Hamilton needed to put on the pressure but after lap 41, the gap actually increased to 8.1 seconds. However that was due to lapping cars and on lap 44, the gap was back down to 4.4 seconds. With five laps to go, the gap was 1.7 seconds. Hamilton’s tires were fresher but were suffering from the dirty air left behind by Verstappen. 

After 56 laps, Verstappen clung onto the win, just eight tenths of a second ahead of Hamilton. Perez finished third to round off the podium while Bottas stumbled in sixth. This was a statement win from Red Bull and Verstappen. Verstappen doubled his lead in the championship with Red Bull reducing the gap to Mercedes from 36 to 23 points.

The next race is this week as F1 has its final tripleheader starting in Mexico. Mexico has usually been a Red Bull stronghold and it will also be Perez’s home race, so expect a strong showing from them. However, with this season, no track is safe as the championship boils down to its final five races.