Max Verstappen withstood a late Lewis Hamilton lunge for victory to record a nail-biting victory at the United States Grand Prix.
The two title contenders were running different tire strategies that brought them together on track for the final two laps of the race, with Verstappen defending on eight-lap-older tires.
Hamilton clung to the back of the Red Bull Racing car but struggled to break through the DRS threshold ahead of the straights, Verstappen nailing his launches to keep himself just far enough ahead to maintain a gap, taking the flag by 1.3s.
“We went aggressive and I’m not sure it was going to work,” Verstappen said of his early-stopping strategy that left with old rubber in defense. “But the last laps were fun. Super happy of course to hang on.”
Red Bull Racing had the faster car in the first stint, but a slow launch had cost Verstappen the lead into Turn 1, with Hamilton slicing down his inside to claim the apex and feed his rival over the curbs.
Verstappen rejoined to take Turn 2 alongside teammate Sergio Perez — who, alive to the team, ceded the position back almost immediately — and together the top three began pulling away from the midfield for their exclusive podium battle.
But Verstappen was clearly faster. He was never more than a second adrift of Hamilton and eventually the Briton radioed his team to admit that he was the slower driver at that stage of the race.
The Dutchman pushed his team for an early stop to get off the medium compound and onto the hards, protesting that his tires were starting to overheat following Hamilton so closely, and the pit wall relented, bringing him in earlier than anticipated, on lap 10.
He was immediately quicker, with purple times in the last two sectors. But Hamilton stayed out and tried to build a tire buffer.
“Force Hamilton not to go long with Checo,” Verstappen told his team, though it’s unlikely the strategists needed the encouragement. Perez, now second, was brought in on lap 12 for another set of medium tires.
Though Perez’s stop was slow, it was enough to force Mercedes to cover the undercut on lap 13, and as he rejoined the effect of Red Bull Racing’s strategy was made clear: Verstappen was 6.5s up the road and in a position to manage his stint.
But Hamilton chipped away at the deficit, slowly at first and then more substantially, until on lap 29 he was within 3s of the leader and within undercut range.
Verstappen, beginning to slow, was pre-emptively brought in on lap 30. Perez, now out of touch with the leaders, did likewise. But Hamilton stayed out to give himself an aggressive final-stint chase. He came in at the end of lap 37 for a fresh set of hards, giving himself 18 laps to close the 8.7s gap to Verstappen.
This is INTENSE 🤯
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With seven laps to go Hamilton broke through the two-second barrier, but his rate of progress was slowing. Verstappen was setting personal-best times, having reserved some rubber for the fight, while the Briton was struggling with dirty air.
Unable to get to the DRS threshold, the gap stabilized at 1.7s with five laps to run, with Hamilton charging his battery for a final two-lap assault. But try as he might, the best of his tires now gone, he couldn’t get close enough to launch a move and crossed the line in second place with the consolation of a point for fastest lap.
“Congratulations to Max, he did a great job today,” Hamilton said. “It was such a tough race.
“I gave it absolutely everything, but at the end of the day they just had the upper hand this weekend. We couldn’t have asked for more.”
Already six points behind Verstappen, Hamilton’s deficit rises to 12 points (taking one back by setting the fastest lap of the race) with five races remaining.
Sergio Perez completed the podium, albeit 42s off the lead, but the Mexican said a broken drinks bottle left him without the energy to keep up the pace.
“I think by the middle of my second stint it was starting to get pretty difficult, I was losing strength,” he said in the 86 degrees Austin sunshine. “I think it was my toughest race ever physically.”
Red Bull Racing gained 13 points on Mercedes, closing the championship gap to 23 points.
Charles Leclerc finished a comfortable fourth. The Ferrari car proved well suited to Circuit of The Americas and the Monegasque held his position off the line to build himself a buffer over the rest, delivering himself a lonely race.
But the battle behind him was action packed. Daniel Ricciardo battled hard with Carlos Sainz on the opening laps to take fifth, but the Australian had to fight throughout the race to keep the Spaniard behind.
Ferrari had a chance to jump the McLaren at the second stops with an undercut, but a slow stop with trouble at the right-rear put paid to the jump, and in the final 15 laps they sparred for position, even making contact through Turn 18 as Sainz attempted an outside pass costing the Spaniard some minor front wing damage.
Their duel brought Valtteri Bottas into the fray. The Finn had started ninth with an engine penalty, but gains on Yuki Tsunoda and Lando Norris at the stops brought him up to seventh for the final stint, albeit with a car that was struggling to follow and pass. But with tires five laps younger, Bottas was able to make a move stick with two laps remaining.
Lando Norris finished a quiet eighth behind Sainz, while Yuki Tsunoda and Sebastian Vettel completed the top 10, the German recovering from 18th to score the final point of the race.