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“We were very aggressive,” says Max Verstappen, who still managed to hang on from Lewis Hamilton despite Red Bull’s early stops; Mercedes admit they were sniffing an unlikely win – but Verstappen extends title lead to 12 points with five races to go
By Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 25/10/21 11:34am
Max Verstappen and Red Bull have admitted that they feared losing an invaluable United States GP win after their “aggressive” early strategy call led to a late Lewis Hamilton charge and an epic head-to-head duel.
Verstappen appeared to have a pace advantage over Hamilton in Texas but the title rivals, after going wheel-to-wheel at the start, were battling into the very last laps as Red Bull’s early pit-stops seemingly gave Mercedes a significant tyre edge in the thrilling closing stages.
“It was tough – we were very aggressive,” Verstappen told Sky F1 after one of the drives of his career, staying composed and, crucially, fast under immense pressure, somehow keeping Hamilton out of DRS range.
“I of course knew how much Lewis was catching… but we managed to hang on.”
After being passed into Turn 1 at the start, Verstappen first stopped just 13 laps into the race, while his last stop was then eight laps before Hamilton’s to put the out-of-sync pair on a collision course at the end – the Dutchman struggling on his old tyres and the seven-time world champion much faster with his fresh rubber.
But Hamilton could not get past and Verstappen took the chequered flag by a second to extend his title lead to 12 points.
“Of course we lost out in the start so we had to try and do something else,” said Verstappen.
“The tyre wear is quite high around this track, we went aggressive and I was not sure it was going to work but the last few laps were fun. A bit sideways through the high-speed corners but super happy to hang on.
“It was exciting. The whole race the pressure was on, not knowing how quick Lewis was going to get you. It’s incredible to win here.”
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said he had “aged about 25 years” due to the late tension and expanded: “I really didn’t think he was going to pull that off.
“Lewis had eight laps newer tyres, and the first set of hard tyres that came off were pretty much down to the canvas. We were thinking we’re not going to have much at the end here but Max managed that tyre in the last stint.
“You know Lewis at the end of the race is so strong and he had gone long and got himself an advantage. I think to lose in the last few laps would have been really painful but Max held on, he did a great job, managed the job really smartly and had just about enough at the end there.”
Mercedes, Hamilton sniffed victory chance
Red Bull were not alone in thinking that strategy was not going to pay off – as Mercedes were also sensing what would have been a surprise victory given the title challengers’ apparent car buffer.
“We gave it everything we had and they were just quicker than us this weekend, for whatever reason,” said Hamilton. “I thought for a second that we might be able to win the race.”
Team boss Toto Wolff added: “I think it was some interesting strategy games and great racing. At the end, we thought we had a sniff at it but it wasn’t enough, the moment you get close to the other car is difficult.
“They went for a super aggressive first stop. That was bold. They then covered it in the second stint and we thought that was enough to get them but they deserved to win today.
“For me personally, P2 was better than I expected.”
That pessimism from Wolff heading into the race sums up Mercedes’ surprise underdog tag, with Red Bull turning the tables on their rivals at the Circuit of the Americas.
“It looked like they had better rear end, a little less sliding than we had,” continued Hamilton. “I had a great start – I gave it absolutely everything today, I just unfortunately couldn’t convert it in the end.”
What did the Sky F1 pundits say?
“That’s the thing about this year, if there hasn’t been overtaking on track, there has been the strategy plays from both teams.
“It was a very, very aggressive strategy from Red Bull by pitting early and Lewis either had to pit the next lap or stay out a very long time and do a very different strategy so he had fresher tyres to challenge Max.
“I thought it was too early for Max – but he made it work.
“But this still isn’t a bad race for Mercedes. Lewis is very calm and I think it’s because he knows they did nothing wrong this weekend, they did everything right, it is what it is. Whereas in Turkey they obviously made mistakes, lost points, and he was quite angry on team radio.”
“It was really amazing to see how much pace Max had at the end. With a dozen laps to go and a three-and-half-second gap, it looked like Lewis would be right there – but he couldn’t get there.”