Max Verstappen holds off Lewis Hamilton to win the US Grand Prix

Max Verstappen holds off Lewis Hamilton to win the US Grand Prix as world champion secures 15th win of the season despite brake issues

  • Max Verstappen edged to victory over Lewis Hamilton and Lando Norris
  • Norris was the early leader but couldn’t hold off the world champion
  • Hamilton was one or two laps away from passing Verstappen at the end  

There was a point early on in the US Grand Prix when Lewis Hamilton dared to dream he might finally win after a wait of 686 days.

He was riding high, dander up, matching the then leader Lando Norris on a track he has bossed over the years, but two things happened. First, his Mercedes team tied a hand behind his back by extending his first stint too long.

Second, came Max The Machine.

And, for the 15th time in 18 races and 50th time in his career, Red Bull’s Verstappen took victory. No matter the Dutchman started sixth, he and his Red Bull boffins made all the right calls. They invariably do. If others are trying a different strategy, you can assume they have got it wrong.

Verstappen won by 2.2 second, going into the half-century club with Hamilton (103), Michael Schumacher (91), Sebastian Vettel (53) and Alain Prost (51).

Hamilton was a never-say-die runner-up after passing third-placed Norris with brio late on, neither of them able to make it home on the one-stop strategy that represented their only hope of triumph. Both Brits acquitted themselves well, but they were taking part in the Vase match.

Max Verstappen secured his 15th win of the season a the US Grand Prix on Sunday

Norris, starting his 100th grand prix, was very briskly away, his launch more effective than Ferrari’s pole-sitter Charles Leclerc’s, allowing the McLaren man to take the first corner, the tightening left-hander, in front.

That steep climb, with crowds packed on the wide grassy verge, is a dramatic one and yesterday a hot sun baked the thousands as they watched. In previous years it has been a place of perdition but this time everyone slipped through cleanly after the lights went out.

Hamilton was quickly away but was slightly crowded out and fell back a place from fourth to third. Still, you could detect a restless energy in his driving, and clearly he was in possession of a fast car helped by a remodelled floor. Finally, a Mercedes upgrade was living up to the name after myriad false dawns.

Hamilton was all over the back of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and, as soon as DRS was enabled, he adroitly passed the red car at Turn 12 to move into third. Two laps later, same spot, he passed Leclerc for second. He was now four seconds off Norris. There was plenty of work to do, mind.

Prince Harry, minus his Duchess, watched on from the Mercedes garage. He followed proceedings pensively, headphones clamped on.

Even now, we all knew the one man who can ever be ruled out was Verstappen, even if he did have his best time in qualifying deleted for exceeding track limits – a rare error and perhaps a sign that sustaining near-perfection is pretty much impossible (though he is giving it a good shot) when the title is won and the high-tension relieved.

He was boxed in at the start but still up to fifth. The thrice world champion passed Sainz on lap five and, taking longer than he would have liked, Leclerc on lap 11 to run in third.

But, for now, back to the front. Norris, of Glastonbury, Somerset, against Hamilton, of Stevenage, Hertfordshire. Prior to the first set of stops, the two of them, now domiciled in Monaco, matched each other lap for lap.

This is the point at which they both dreamed of standing on the top step.

The younger man’s margin hovered at around two seconds over his elder. Norris came in after 17 laps to be reshod and re-emerged in fourth. Hamilton was now leading. Would he try a one-stopper?

‘Can you handle another five laps? asked Peter Bonnington, his race engineer. ‘I’m not sure man, it’s pretty tough,’ came the reply.

It was soon apparent he couldn’t. Told Verstappen was within his pit-stop window, Hamilton said: ‘No s***, I’m struggling.’ He was forced to pit after 20 laps, having run wide on his threadbare rubber. The belated call was possibly costly. A sticky front-right change delayed him fractionally, and he came out behind… Verstappen. Oh dear.

The Dutchman had just banged in the fastest lap – a gargantuan 2.7sec quicker than the rest. With Hamilton hampered, Verstappen now only had Norris in front of him. That changed on lap 28, Verstappen making the pass for the lead. Norris nibbled back but there was no staunching the incoming tide.

Hamilton, meanwhile, was closing on the two of them. He and Norris were on hard tyres and hoping to make them last, but at this point there was no way of knowing if they would. Verstappen, on mediums, knew he had to stop again. The dichotomy was now the crux of the race.

As it played out, the top three all needed to pit again. As we were saying, trust in Red Bull, trust in Verstappen. That is the hard truth of 2023.

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