United States GP 2023

OCTOBER 23, 2023

Race Analysis - Verstappen wins in Austin

Podium, United States GP 2023
© Red Bull

By Peter Habicht

Max Verstappen took the win for Red Bull-Honda to claim his 50th career victory in front of a capacity crowd at the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas. Battling from sixth on the grid, he managed to get the best out of a two stop strategy while battling for the lead of the race in the closing laps with McLaren’s Lando Norris and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.

Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari started from pole, but it was Norris who shot to the lead up the hill into the left hander at turn one as the other Ferrari of Carlos Sainz got the better of Hamilton for third with Verstappen beating the Mercedes of George Russell off the line at the start. Norris would go on to build over a two second lead on medium tires in his opening stint as Hamilton and then Verstappen worked their way through the pair of Ferraris.

Farther back at the start, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and Norris’ teammate Oscar Piastri came together and damaged their cars heading up into turn one on the opening lap. Both cars were retired shortly after. Verstappen continued his charge to take third from Leclerc by lap 11 behind Norris and Hamilton while Russell led the Red Bull of Sergio Perez in sixth and seventh.

As teams approached a round of initial pitstops, the potential for offset strategies and undercuts played out as front runners saw Verstappen pit for medium tires from third and re-enter the race in ninth behind the Alpine of Pierre Gasly and the AlphaTauri of Yuki Tsunoda. Norris would pit next for hard tires followed by Carlos Sainz giving Hamilton the lead until he pit on lap 20, losing time on aging tires and a slow pit stop to Verstappen. Meanwhile, Russell continued to manage his tires for two more laps, moving up to second before pitting lap 22 behind Leclerc, making the Ferrari driver the third different race leader until he stopped for new medium tires on lap 24.

Further back, Fernando Alonso continued to move up into the points following a pitlane start both he and fellow Aston Martin driver Lance Stroll took.

With Leclerc emerging from the pitlane in sixth, Norris led again this time from Verstappen, who was closing in on the British driver on faster medium tires. Gaining quickly, Verstappen took the lead on lap 28 as the pair were pursued by Hamilton who was closing the gap on his fresher hard tires when Norris pitted on lap 35 for a new set of hard tires to last him until the end. Verstappen responded the next lap, pitting for fresh hard tires and rejoining the race ahead of Norris as the pair ran fourth and fifth behind Hamilton, Perez and Leclerc.

It would be Hamilton’s turn to pit from the lead on lap 39 for medium tires as Verstappen made his way to the front ahead of Norris and Leclerc, while managing the slower hard tires. Meanwhile, Leclerc’s Ferrari was losing time to Hamilton, who overtook for third with 14 laps left in the race and 6.2s behind Verstappen.

Farther back, AlphaTauri was struggling with a one stop strategy for Daniel Ricciardo, losing position to Haas’s Nico Hulkenberg and Williams’ Logan Sargeant by lap 46.

With ten laps to go, Mercedes felt Hamilton was closing in Norris quickly enough for second place, and possibly the win as Verstappen continued to complain about his brakes. Norris put up a dramatic fight for second place with Hamilton into turns one and two with just 8 laps left, losing position on the slower harder tires to the Mercedes as Hamilton got to work closing down the five seconds he had to Verstappen.

Hamilton wouldn’t get close enough to the Dutchman in the end, but even even as they took the podium with Norris in third in front of a capacity crowd, all had yet to be revealed as Hamilton and Leclerc’s cars were under investigation for breach of FIA regulations.

Nearly two hours after the checkered flag, it was announced that Hamilton along with Leclerc, who finished fourth, were disqualified after the measured ride heights on their cars were determined to be illegal in a post-race inspection. A special material attached to all car floors during the race to measure wear in specific areas underneath can be easily measured to ensure compliance afterwards.

After the decision, Mercedes released a statement about Lewis’ removal from the race classification. Andrew Shovlin, Trackside Engineering Director, highlighted the format of the Sprint weekend and how so little practice ahead of qualifying on Friday affected their result:

“Unfortunately, it is one of the pitfalls of the sprint format where we have a solitary hour of running before parc fermé. Without running at a race fuel load in FP1, combined with a circuit as bumpy as this and the parts of the track where the drivers have to put the car during the Grand Prix, have contributed to the higher than expected wear levels.”

The ruling promoted Norris to second place, Sainz to third, followed by Russell, Alpine’s Pierre Gasly, Aston’s Lance Stroll and AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda. Williams’ Alex Albon received a five second penalty for exceeding track limits but with no change in finishing order for him to take ninth.

With two top ten finishers disqualified from their points paying positions, the final race classification promoted Williams’ Logan Sargeant from 12th to tenth and ended a 30 year drought for American drivers in Formula 1. Michael Andretti’s third place finish at Monza for McLaren in 1993 had been the last race points scored by an American driver.

Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg finished just out of the points in 11th ahead of the Alfa Romeos of Valtteri Bottas and Guanyu Zhou. Haas’ Kevin Magnussen and Daniel Ricciardo finished 14th and 15th.

The Mexico Grand Prix will be next weekend as part of a triple header in the Americas, followed by Brazil with one week off before the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix.