Flustered Verstappen fights off Norris, Hamilton to win US Grand Prix
By Mat Coch
Monday 23rd October, 2023 - 7:41am
A flustered Max Verstappen managed brake issues to see off Lando Norris and Lewis Hamilton to win the United States Grand Prix.
Verstappen took the flag just over two seconds clear of Hamiton with Norris, who’d led the race in the early stages, fending off a late charge from Carlos Sainz to remain third.
Oscar Piastri was an early retirement after he and Esteban Ocon found the same piece of race track off the start, the pair carrying on for a handful of laps before both were forced out.
A better start saw Norris take the lead from Charles Leclerc into Turn 1 with Sainz slotting in third ahead of Hamilton.
Starting sixth, Verstappen gained a place while Ocon made contact with Piastri, the Australian surviving to attack Verstappen at the end of the back straight.
It was an energetic opening, Norris skipping away to more than 1.7s at the end of the opening lap ahead of the two Ferraris, Hamilton, Verstappen, Piastri, and Ocon.
The Alpine was a cork in the bottle and soon came under fire from George Russell, who had Sergio Perez, Pierre Gasly, Yuki Tsunoda, and a host of others queuing up to pass.
Russell made the move at Turn 11 on Lap 3, Perez following him through with DRS down the back straight as Ocon dropped two places in rapid succession.
A lap later, Hamilton eased by Sainz into Turn 12, the Spaniard not defending the move which was repeated by Verstappen a lap later as the Red Bull driver climbed to fourth.
Leclerc offered some vague resistance, though he was still easy pickings for Hamilton as he took second on Lap 6.
That left the Mercedes driver 3.2s behind Norris out front, with Leclerc still third and Verstappen up to fourth ahead of Sainz and Piastri.
Ocon had dropped to last, Alpine advising that he’d lost significant downforce following the impact with Piastri on the opening lap.
That prompted the team to call him in to retire the car after just six laps.
“Esteban retires due to significant damage sustained to the left sidepod/floor during contact with Oscar Piastri on Lap 1,” the team confirmed.
Piastri was the race’s next retirement, forced out after 10 laps with a damaged radiator and a water leak.
As McLaren mechanics pushed him back into the garage, Verstappen attacked Leclerc.
The Dutchman seized the spot at Turn 12 on Lap 12 in a squabble that saw the Ferrari off the track, reluctantly ceding the spot as they rounded the right-hander that followed.
Verstappen there ran third, 7.4s down on race leader Norris who held a nearly 3s advantage over Hamilton.
The lead McLaren was beginning to struggle as Hamilton began chipping away at his advantage.
Verstappen became the first of the front-runners to box at Norris began Lap 17.
He had another set of medium tyres bolted on, necessitating another stop after starting on the yellow-walled rubber.
The champion-elect rejoined among the likes of Yuki Tsunoda at the bottom end of the top 10.
McLaren responded by pitting Norris while Hamilton remained on track to assume the race lead from Leclerc and Russell, Sainz having also taken to the lane.
Norris took a set of hard compound rubber, opening the option for the Englishman to run to the end having used both tyre compounds – his only choice given the available sets left in his tyre bank.
Hamilton finally stopped at the end of Lap 20 in a stop that straddled a one- and two-stop strategy.
He lost track position to Verstappen in the process, leaving Norris the effective race leader from the Red Bull with Hamilton third – though Leclerc and Russell were still to stop.
The latter was called in on Lap 21, taking a set of hard rubber like Hamilton had a lap earlier.
Leclerc completed the pit cycle when he stopped at the end of Lap 23, handing the lead on the road to Norris.
Second was Verstappen, just over 2s back, then Hamilton, Sainz, Perez, Leclerc, Russell, Gasly, Tsunoda, and Alonso to round out the top 10.
Ricciardo lost out during the pit sequence.
The Scuderia AlphaTauri had been running near Tsunoda, but fell to 16th after the stops, more than 15s back from his team-mate.
By the end of Lap 27, Verstappen was in DRS range of Norris ahead.
The Red Bull driver finally claimed the lead on Lap 28, using DRS to close, completing the move as they rounded Turn 12.
Norris battled back but was left on the outside as they rounded Turn 13, which saw him fall in behind Verstappen.
The championship leader did not immediately pull clear of the McLaren who remained in DRS range.
Verstappen’s tyres were beginning to give up while in third Hamilton was beginning to reel in the two ahead.
Hamilton had a two-lap tyre advantage over the similarly hard-shod Norris, while Verstappen boxed three laps earlier for a set of mediums.
That forced the latter to begin pushing to maintain an advantage over the Mercedes in third ahead of his second stop.
In the lead, Verstappen complained about the brakes, suggesting they were “shit” compared with what he’d had in Saturday’s F1 Sprint.
At the end of Lap 34, McLaren pitted Norris for the second time – a 17 lap stint with 21 remaining – to rejoin sixth.
Verstappen responded on Lap 35, a 3.3s stationary time to feed out behind Leclerc as Sainz also took to the lane.
Hamilton ran a little longer, taking service for the final time at the end of Lap 38.
He took on a set of medium tyres for the run to the flag versus the hards of two he was racing, Norris and Verstappen.
The sequence left Verstappen out front by 1.3s over Norris with Hamilton an effective third, though fourth on the road behind Leclerc, 7.7s away from the McLaren ahead.
On Lap 43, Hamilton used DRS to take the inside line into Turn 12 to pass Leclerc and quickly pull clear.
Once clear, the seven-time world champion was 6.2s back from Verstappen in the lead, and 3.7s away from Norris with 13 laps remaining.
He had pace in hand, owing both to the tyre delta he had but also the fact he was on the medium rubber versus the hards for those ahead – the question is how long the yellow rubber would hold up.
Anticipating the threat, Verstappen improved his pace to match his Mercedes rival as the gap between the two stabalised.
Norris was unable to do the same and soon found exposed as Hamilton closed to within DRS range on Lap 48.
The pair went wheel-to-wheel from Turn 12 through the following complex.
It was only a matter of time before Hamilton got the move done.
Better drive out of Turn 1 as they began Lap 49 saw the Mercedes take the place after an aggressive move from Norris on approach to the tight left-hander.
A reported suspension failure for Fernando Alonso saw the Aston Martin driver tour back to the pits and retire.
He’d started from the pit lane after swapping to an older-spec floor ahead of the race, doing well to climb to ninth.
The team subsequently reported a problem with the floor of the Spaniard’s car.
Released from behind Norris, Hamilton was just over 5s back from Verstappen.
His times were better than the race leader, but not by enough to mount a serious challenge for the top step of the podium.
That was despite late traffic and the brake issues Verstappen was battling seemingly worsening in the final laps.
He hemorrhaged time in the final laps, Hamilton just 2s back as they began the final lap.
Time was against him, Verstappen holding on to win with Norris third.
Ferrari swapped Sainz ahead of Leclerc in the latter stages in an attempt to challenge Norris ahead.
He ran out of time and crossed the line fourth, then came Leclerc, Perez, Russell, Gasly, Lance Stroll, and Tsunoda, who picked up the bonus point for fastest lap.