Sports writer Zach Sabel details the action of the first North American race of the season.
The Formula One season so far has been an electric race between seven-time world championship driver Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes and the young Max Verstappen of Redbull racing. The first North American race of the calendar in Austin, Texas at the Circuit of the Americas gave us the battle between the two points leaders that every fan wanted right down to the final laps. It would also signal the massive surge in interest F1 has had in America with over 400 thousand spectators visiting the Circuit of the Americas throughout the race weekend.
The race started with Verstappen in the first position and Hamilton in the second. From the start, Hamilton was able to get the jump on Verstappen and gain the lead with Verstappen able to maintain second place while Perez, Verstappen’s teammate, held third. This positioning held steady for a while, but tire degradation seemed to be relatively high compared to other races this season, prompting early pits from many of the drivers. Around lap 11 Verstappen pitted, quite early seeing as he was in second, this move was seen as a way to undercut Hamilton, ensuring he would have the lead whenever Hamilton had to pit and come out of the pits.
This move would in fact see Verstappen take the lead again. A few laps later on lap 29, Verstappen would again risk the undercut against Hamilton, pitting for a new set of hard tires. Hard tires are, as the name would imply, the hardest compound of tires used in Formula One this season; they enable a driver to last longer than one running softs or mediums. This would put him further behind again, but Hamilton would eventually have to pit, handing the lead back to Verstappen on lap 37 on his own set of hard tires, putting a fair distance between the two in the race for the win.
Neither driver would pit again, and this would become a race against time for both drivers, Verstappen trying to hold on for the win with ever degrading tires, and Hamilton, who had only a small window to catch Verstappen on his much fresher tires. The gap held for a bit, but on lap 41 with only 15 laps to go, Verstappen’s tires began to show their age. With five laps remaining and the lead cut down to under two seconds for Verstappen, it seemed inevitable we would see another classic Hamilton victory. One thing was saving Verstappen—Hamilton could not catch him in the DRS zones.
DRS is the Drag Reduction System, which allows the tail wing to open, allowing the drivers to reach greater speeds and overtake the car in front of them. A DRS zone is the detection area on a track, in which a driver in this case Hamilton must be within one second of Verstappen to activate the DRS, which he was never able to do in the final laps. On lap 55 a stroke of luck would help Verstappen hold the lead against Hamilton going into the final lap.
Going into turn 19 which is within the DRS detection zone, Verstappen and Hamilton were both coming up behind lapped driver Mick Schumacher of the American Haas Racing team. Schumacher is supposed to give the racing line up to the drivers lapping him, and Verstappen could be heard on the team radio screaming for Mick to get out of the way. His anger I’m sure dissipated into joy, when Verstappen was able to get DRS off of the lapped Schumacher, while Hamilton was still too far back to get DRS, giving Verstappen just that little extra boost on the most important straightaway of the track, preventing Hamilton from taking advantage of his younger tires. On the last lap, Hamilton would finish 1.3 seconds behind Verstappen in what may go down as a Classic F1 race and possibly one of the deciding moments in this heated championship race.
The final podium ended with Verstappen P1, Hamilton P2, and Perez a very distant P3. This result brought Verstappen to 287.5 points in the Drivers Championship title race, with Hamilton close behind on 275.5 points, with Hamilton’s teammate Valterri Bottas a distant third with 185 points. The Constructors Championship, which is the title for the Team with the most points, currently has Mercedes on top with 460.5 points and Redbull with 437.5.
This season has been one of the most competitive Formula One title races in a while, and will most certainly go down to the wire and throughout the remaining five races on the calendar. The next race in Mexico this upcoming weekend will be a home race for Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez, who will look to take the victory for himself in front of what I’m sure will be a heavily favored crowd for the Redbull team.