Leadership from both Mercedes and Red Bull Racing trusted their drivers in today’s United States Grand Prix. When Max Verstappen lost the lead to Lewis Hamilton on the race start, Red Bull pivoted by pitting Verstappen early to put him in position to defend a lead at the end of the race. When Mercedes saw the move, they lengthened their second stint to give Hamilton the opportunity to chase down and pass Verstappen on track. Both strategies worked perfectly, and the resulting race was a classic.
Verstappen made his first stop on lap ten. That change gave him the net lead when Lewis Hamilton stopped three laps later, but it quickly closed back up when Hamilton ran quicker laps on newer tires. Red Bull stopped Verstappen short again, setting up a situation where he would be guaranteed to lead when Hamilton made his final stop and would have to be passed on track to lose the race. Mercedes could have pivoted back to Red Bull’s strategy and tried to mitigate the damage from that short pit, but they left Hamilton out for a long second stint and instead set their driver up to chase down a gap of nine seconds with newer tires on the final stint.
With 20 laps to go, Hamilton knew his mission. He cut it to five seconds quickly, and with fifteen to go his win seemed inevitable. Then, with ten to go and the gap down to just three seconds, the gap started to shrink more slowly. It floated between one and two seconds for the entire rest of the race, and, while Hamilton got within the crucial one second twice in the final two laps, a well-timed lapped car actually gave Verstappen a DRS advantage on the final lap that Hamilton did not have. A particularly masterful final three laps and a little help from dirty air kept the seven-time and reigning champion at bay, leaving Verstappen to complete an ambitious in-race strategy pivot that required nothing short of a perfect race from him. It is one of the signature wins of his young career.
For the full story, check out this article from Road & Track.