Lewis Hamilton gears up for final races as Verstappen extends lead
Red Bull driver is 12 points clear of world champion with five races remaining
London — An eighth victory of the season for Red Bull’s Max Verstappen sent the Dutch driver 12 points clear of Lewis Hamilton with five races remaining and the momentum shifting towards him.
Hamilton’s hopes of a record eighth Formula One championship took a hit at the US Grand Prix on Sunday and the Mercedes driver was braced for more tough days ahead.
Hamilton had won five of the previous eight at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas and Sunday’s win was Verstappen’s first in North America.
The next two rounds, at altitude in Mexico City and the Brazilian Grand Prix at Sao Paulo’s Interlagos, have been good to Red Bull. Verstappen won Mexico in 2017 and 2018 and Brazil in 2019 while Hamilton has triumphed twice at each. Neither was held last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I don’t know what we could have done differently,” Hamilton said after seizing the lead at the start on Sunday before losing out to a more aggressive strategy from Red Bull. “I think the team did a great job today and it was what we had. We’re going to at least the next two tracks which are very strong circuits for Red Bull. So it’s going to be tough for sure.”
Asked how concerned he was with the points gap, Hamilton said he just had to be happy with the job he did on Sunday and live in the moment. The Briton, who started the day six points behind, took a bonus point for fastest lap to limit the damage.
“Unfortunately we weren’t quick enough to win the race today but just look forward and take it one race at a time,” he said. “There are two circuits that are strong for Red Bull so we’ll just try to minimise how strong they can be and see if we can do a better job.”
Red Bull’s team were relieved. “I think I’ve aged about 25 years in that race,” said Red Bull team boss Christian Horner. “I really didn’t think we were going to hang on.”
Hamilton was quickest when the lights went out, squeezing through on the inside at turn one with Verstappen forced to run wide and plenty of overtaking going on in their wake. The pair pulled away from the field with Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, who finished third, unable to stay with them.
Verstappen soon started saying over the radio that he had more pace and was first to pit on lap 11, as Red Bull went for the “undercut”, a strategic bid to close the gap and get back in front when Hamilton pitted three laps later.
“Of course we lost out in the start so we had to try to do something else. 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,” said Verstappen. “A bit sideways through the high-speed corners but super happy to hang on.”
The final three races of the season are in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.
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