Max Verstappen beat Lewis Hamilton to victory at the United States Grand Prix despite a slow pit stop costing him the lead just after half-distance.
Victory meant Red Bull Racing also secured the constructors’ championship over Ferrari for the first time since 2013.
Verstappen had snatched first place from pole sitter Carlos Sainz off the line with a great start from second on the grid to claim the Turn 1 apex. Sainz was set to follow him out of the corner, but George Russell, starting from fourth, was attempting to slice down the inside of teammate Hamilton and went in too hot.
A front-left lock-up sent the younger Briton spearing into Sainz’s left rear, spinning him around and causing terminal radiator damage that put the Ferrari out of the race.
This left Verstappen leading Hamilton, and the Mercedes driver didn’t have the pace to keep up. The gap extended to 5s, and an attempted undercut by the following car did nothing to reduce the margin.
Further back, Sergio Perez was building from a penalized ninth on the grid — a recovery that put him into competition with Russell after the Briton copped a 5s penalty for his crash with Sainz — and Charles Leclerc, who had started a penalized 12th.
The battle became significantly more fraught on lap 18, when Valtteri Bottas’s beached car at Turn 6 deployed the safety car.
Racing resumed on lap 22 but was almost immediately under yellow again when Fernando Alonso was launched into the air as he rear-ended a late-defending Lance Stroll in a collision the stewards will investigate after the race.
Stroll’s car was written off, but Alonso was able to crawl back to pit lane for repairs and rejoin at the back.
The resumption on lap 26 had Leclerc pinch third from Perez, while Hamilton was able to cling to around 2s off the lead, with Verstappen complaining of drivability problems preventing him from building more of a gap.
Mercedes took that as a cue to strike, and on lap 35 Hamilton was brought in for a fresh set of hard tires in an undercut attempt.
Verstappen responded on the following lap, but the stop was very slow.
A problem with the left-front wheel gun delayed the tire change by 11.1 seconds, enough to not only lose the lead but to concede second place to Leclerc, who had pitted on the same lap but emerged ahead.
The battling pair rejoined with the faster medium tire around 7s behind Hamilton, but their battle for position gave the leading Briton some precious breathing space.
It took Verstappen until lap 39 and a sweet late-braking move at Turn 11 to move into second place and begin his siege on the lead, the gap down to 6.5s.
Verstappen’s progress was strong. With 10 laps to go it was down to within 2s, and on lap 49 he broke into DRS range of the Mercedes.
A slipstream pass into Turn 11 got him the lead, and though Hamilton attempted to fight back immediately, the Red Bull Racing car’s traction through the final sector was too great for him to be vulnerable.
Hamilton did admirably to keep himself within DRS range, but a lock-up on lap 53, as his rear tires fell away, broke his fightback, and Verstappen was able to finally build a gap to secure his 13th victory of the season, equaling the record held by Michael Schumacher.
Speaking after the race, the champion-elect dedicated the victory to Red Bull co-founder Dietrich Mateschitz, who died this weekend.
“It’s a very difficult weekend for us,” he said. “So this one is definitely dedicated to Dietrich himself, for what he has done for everyone. “The only thing we could do today was win, and even though after the pit stop it wasn’t looking great, I gave it everything out there and I pushed to the limit to come back. It definitely means a lot to me, to the team, because he was so important for the whole team; he was so instrumental.
“We really wanted to have a good result today,” he said.
Hamilton paid tribute to his team’s latest round of upgrades for putting the W13 in the frame for its first victory of the season despite falling short.
“I want to give a bit shout out to my team,” he said. “We came here with upgrades; we closed the gap a little bit. It was so close. I did everything I could to stay ahead, but they were a bit too quick today. Great race by Red Bull. My condolences to the team.”
Leclerc held third despite a late charge by Perez, who wanted badly to hit back against the Monegasque for stealing the place from him at Turn 11 with a perfectly judged late-braking move down the inside.
His margin was 0.7s at the flag for his 10th podium of the season.
“We had the pace but had a bit too much deg towards the end of the race,” Leclerc said. “We’ll have a look, but in the end, P12 to P3 isn’t that bad.”
Perez finished fourth, well clear of Russell in fifth at the back of the front-running pack.
Lando Norris secured sixth place ahead of remarkably-recovered Alonso, who avoided a last stop to gain back places, reducing McLaren’s deficit to Alpine to 12 points.
Sebastian Vettel was a remarkable eighth for Aston Martin despite being dumped from second to 13th by a slow pit stop.
The German had just clocked up his 3500th and 3501st laps led after the safety car resumption when his tire change ejected him from the points, but he put in a spirited fightback, including a superb move around the outside of Alex Albon at Turns 17 and 18 and a brilliant last-lap battle in the final sector to deprive Kevin Magnussen of eighth.
Magnussen scored two points for Haas in the team’s home race in ninth — up from 13th on the grid — and Yuki Tsunoda scored the final point of the race for AlphaTauri after his teammate, Pierre Gasly, was penalized for falling more than 10 car lengths behind the car ahead during the safety car.
Esteban Ocon was 11th ahead of Alex Albon, Zhou Guanyu and the penalized Gasly.
Mick Schumacher was on track for points before his final pit stop, which dropped him into the pack ahead of fellow late-stopper Daniel Ricciardo and Nicholas Latifi.