Formula 1

Formula 1: Verstappen wins tense fight against Hamilton in Austin.

Featured Image Credit: @F1 Official Twitter

Verstappen has increased his lead in the 2021 championship with a slim victory over Hamilton at COTA. Perez took his second consecutive finish in what could be a decisive moment in the championship.

Hamilton Storms The Start

Hamilton had a stunning start and, despite Verstappen’s strong defensive position, was able to take the lead into turn one. Behind, a huge battle between the McLarens and Ferraris took place. Leclerc was the overall winner, but Ricciardo moved up to 5th, behind the Monaqasque, while Norris and Sainz started scrapping for 6th.

The top 3 immediately started to break away, but Verstappen was keeping within touching distance of Hamilton, something that may have not have been predicted at the beginning of the weekend.

It was predicted to be a 2-stop race by Pirelli, and numerous cars took an unusual stance on strategy, with many pitting by lap 10.

On lap 11, Verstappen took the initiative and took an early pitstop, attempting to undercut Hamilton. Verstappen dropped to 5th and only had a small amount of clean air. Verstappen used the DRS to full aggect to overtake Ricciardo on the rear straight. By the time he finished sector 2, his lap was already 0.9s faster than Hamilton’s.

Both Ferraris and McLarens had pitted by lap 12 and were running in the same net positions, the battle for 3rd in the constructors was really beginning to heat up.

Hamilton waited until lap 14 to pit, and the undercut was phenomenal. Verstappen had been gifted a 6.3s lead.

Bottas was having a torrid afternoon by the time he stopped. He was one of the last drivers to visit the pits and dropped to 11th after his stop.

The Empire Strikes back

On lap 24, during the midrace plateau, Hamilton suddenly turned up the heat and started closing rapidly on Verstappen. With 5 laps, the 6s gap had been halved. Hamilton was catching, but how much was the Briton taking out of his tyres?

Right in the middle of the pack, Alonso and Giovinazzi were starting a bitter fight. Alonso inititally forced the Italian off track, but Giovinazzi was able to keep the position. Later, Alonso overtook the Alfa off track and had to concede position. After this, Alonso forced Giovinazzi off track in another incident and this time Giovinazzi had to return the position.

Out of nowhere, a virtual safety car was called on lap 28. A piece of debris was being collected by a marshall, no big changes as a result.

Unexpectedly, Verstappen made a second stop on lap 30. As a result, he was placed behind team-mate Perez, who would offer no issue for switching places. On the radio, Hamilton was told to go 6 laps longer, very different strategies were taking place now.

With 20 laps to go, the race was in a very fine balance. Hamilton still hadn’t stopped and Verstappen was closing, but the younger tyres on Hamilton’s car could change it all. The gap was down to 13s, and a pitstop was predicted to be around 20s overall.

Finally, Hamilton came into the pits 8 laps after Verstappen. This would give him a much later advantage, but was the gap too high? Verstappen had almost a 9s lead with 18 laps to go. Hamilton wasn’t immediately making progress, but he had time on his side.

Tense finale

Both title protagonists were setting consecutive personal fastest laps, both pushing for the win. Hamilton was on a charge and the gap was just under 6s with 10 laps to go.

Tensions were also rising between Ricciardo and Sainz. The Australian was defending hard for 5th and the two drivers made contact through the twisty sector 3. Sainz was unable to get past, but the two drivers were phenomenally close. The contact gave Sainz front wing damage and he started to slip behind.

With 10 laps to go, the gap between the leaders was down to only 3s. Hamilton was starting to catch by around 0.5s a lap, closing every so slightly per lap. with 5 laps to go, the gap was flirting around 1.7s. While Hamilton was catching through sector 2, Verstappen was making small gains in sector 3.

On lap 51, Alonso retired, ending a dreadful weekend for Alpine, in which both cars retired.

Hamilton and Verstappen were almost running head to tail for the entirity of the rest of the race. Despite incredible pressure, Hamilton was just unable to dip into DRS territory, which gave Verstappen an incredibly tense victory, and one that could be crucial in the title fight. Perez took a solid 3rd, especially considering that his drink failed in the first quarter of the race. Leclerc won the best of the rest, followed by Ricciardo who had a strong weekend. Bottas was able to climb back up to 6th, but would have expected a better result. Sainz and Norris lined up in 7th and 8th, while the final points positions fell to Tsunoda and Vettel.

Full Race Results:

  1. Verstappen
  2. Hamilton +1.333s
  3. Perez +42.223
  4. Leclerc +52.246
  5. Ricciardo +76.854
  6. Bottas +80.128
  7. Sainz +83.545
  8. Norris +84.395
  9. Tsunoda +1Lap
  10. Vettel +1Lap
  11. Giovinazzi +1Lap
  12. Stroll +1Lap
  13. Raikkonen +1Lap
  14. Russell +1Lap
  15. Latifi +1Lap
  16. Schumacher +1Lap
  17. Mazepin +1Lap
  18. Alonso RET
  19. Ocon RET
  20. Gasly RET

Unexpectedly, Verstappen was able to extend his championship lead. With 5 races to go and 2 of them being Red Bull strongholds, the title fight has now become incredibly tight. This season is setting up for the grandstand finish it deserves.

Featured Image Credit: @F1 Official Twitter



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