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In a mixed-up, chaotic United States Grand Prix, Max Verstappen took his 33rd race victory.
There was a multitude of grid penalties affecting the order going into this weekend, as drivers such as Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez began out of position.
After taking his third pole position yesterday, Carlos Sainz could not have had a worse start to his race. Max Verstappen got the better start of the two, taking the lead as they headed into turn one. It rapidly got worse for the Spaniard as he was tagged from behind by George Russell, spinning out and ending up in last place.
It was a scrappy first lap of the race, with Lance Stroll improving to third place and Sebastian Vettel leaping from 10th to fifth.
By lap two, Sainz had limped into the pits and retired from the race. This makes it his sixth DNF of the season.
Things were going much better for the race leader, who built a gap of around two seconds over his rivals. Meanwhile, Russell was dealt a five-second time penalty; with the field quickly spreading apart, this was far from the worst punishment he could have received.
Perez quietly powered his way through the field and found himself in a battle for fourth place by lap six. It was painfully evident that he damaged his front wing, but his pace seemed unaffected.
As the race began to settle down, numerous racers reported that the windy conditions were becoming more noticeable. In addition, concern about tyre degradation started to rear its head.
Round one of pitstops
Valtteri Bottas and Pierre Gasly were among the first drivers to pit for fresh tyres just 12 laps into the race. Further up the grid, there was an inspiring message over Hamilton’s radio: “It’s hammer time”. The Mercedes driver had a mediocre pit stop and emerged in seventh position.
Both Verstappen and Russell gave up their frontrunner places to change onto new tyres. As we have come to expect, Red Bull produced a rapid pitstop, sending the Dutchman back out in second position. It was a different story for Russell as he had to serve his time penalty, making his stop over eight seconds long.
Yellow flags were thrown out in sector three, where Valtteri Bottas had beached himself in the gravel. To the delight of those who had not yet pitted, the safety car came out to close up the pack.
Ferrari may have resorted to Plan E, but Leclerc was lucky to receive a cheap pitstop. The same can be said for Vettel, Alonso and Ocon, who all benefitted.
Once Bottas’s car was safely recovered, the race got underway once again. Verstappen sped off early, but Hamilton managed to stick with him. Behind, the Aston Martins battled with one another, producing some beautiful racing.
Just as things were getting back to normal. chaos struck. A late defensive move by Stroll caused extreme damage to his car and sent Alonso into the pits, but both drivers were thankfully unscathed. Debris was flung into the air and across the track, but the race was not red-flagged.
⚠️ SAFETY CAR! ⚠️
There's a high-speed collision between Alonso and Stroll, and we have another Safety Car! Stroll is out of the race.
Both drivers are okay. pic.twitter.com/81IgKXe0iR
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) October 23, 2022
The second half
The second restart of the race was dominated by Verstappen, with no one improving. A train began to form, consisting of Gasly, Tsunoda, Norris and Schumacher.
Back at the front, there was a tense moment between Leclerc and Perez. A hint of deja-vu characterised the Ferrari driver’s attempt to pass Perez as he went wide and gave the position back. However, Leclerc’s fortunes quickly changed as he finally improved to third place on lap 30.
Gasly recieved a five-second time penalty for leaving more than 10 car lengths behind the safety car, dropping him down to last place after serving it.
Just as Hamilton gradually started to close up to the race leader, Mercedes elected to try the undercut. He switched to new hard tyres and emerged in sixth. Just as his team had hoped, Verstappen pitted from the lead and had a shocking pit stop that lasted 11.1 seconds.
However, the race was far from over. Verstappen fought with Leclerc for fourth position as Gasly was informed that his penalty was not served correctly. Just as it seemed that the Dutchman got the better of Leclerc, he went deep and the Ferrari snatched the place back.
With 16 laps to go, Verstappen managed to pass Leclerc. Hamilton also managed to pass Vettel to finally take the race lead. Tragically for Vettel, this was followed by a slow pit stop that saw him fall back to 13th place.
Tense closing laps
Norris was on a charge as he passed Alex Albon and Ocon to take eighth position. Meanwhile, Nicholas Latifi received a five-second penalty for forcing Schumacher off the track.
The tension grew as Verstappen closed down on the seven-time world champion. We may not have seen it much this season, but this was a race that went down to the wire. Red Bull secured the constructors’ title, but all eyes were on the 2021-esque battle between Hamilton and Verstappen.
In an incredible fight that lasted for several corners, the Dutchman eventually passed the Brit to retake the race lead. With five laps remaining, Verstappen was shown the black and white flag for track limits.
It was a similar story for Hamilton as both racers could not afford to put a foot wrong. It was a cautious final few laps for him, but Verstappen did everything he needed to do in order to claim victory in Austin.
The race may have been over for him, but a ferocious battle between Vettel and Magnussen lasted until they were over the line, with Vettel getting the better of the Haas. In addition, George Russell secured the fastest lap to gain an extra point for Mercedes.
1st – Max Verstappen
2nd – Lewis Hamilton
3rd – Charles Leclerc
4th – Sergio Perez
5th – George Russell (fastest lap)
6th – Lando Norris
7th – Fernando Alonso
8th – Sebastian Vettel
9th – Kevin Magnussen
10th – Yuki Tsunoda
Featured Image Credit: Getty Images