Max Verstappen dominated the sprint race at the Circuit of the Americas with a lights to flag victory in the Red Bull. Lewis Hamilton finished in second for Mercedes while Charles Leclerc was third in the Ferrari.
At the start, Verstappen and Leclerc moved away seemingly in unison, but the Ferrari gained during the launch’s second phase. As Leclerc tried to move alongside the Red Bull, Verstappen edged his rival right across the track and close to the grass by the pitlane exit.
That left Leclerc pinched very tightly on the inside of the uphill left-hand hairpin at Turn 1, with Hamilton swinging around on the outside line, Lewis was able to get a run on the Ferrari – coming by on the exit off the track in a move that was not called out by race control.
By the end of the first lap of 19, Verstappen and Hamilton were well clear of Leclerc and they continued to pull away across the race’s opening half, as they were able to lap in the mid one minute, 39 seconds with the Ferrari back in the one minute, 40 seconds.
Hamilton made inroads into Verstappen’s lead early and had DRS on him for a few laps, but by the sixth lap Verstappen was over a second ahead – the world champion only fear that the drivability issue that impacted his sprint qualifying performance was then put down to sliding in the wind by Red Bull.
From there, Verstappen remained the only one of the leaders able to regularly stay in the one minute, 39 seconds, which meant his lead quickly rose over Hamilton and was 3.3 seconds by the end of lap 10.
There was little action in the second half of the sprint, with Verstappen continuing to pull away from Hamilton to an eventual winning margin of 9.4 seconds, with Leclerc a further 8.5 seconds back in third.
There was at one stage big gap back to Lando Norris in fourth as the leaders had been able to run clear thanks to Carlos Sainz – the only soft tyres runner with the rest on mediums – using his softer rubber to gain places from the McLarens of Norris and Oscar Piastri at the start.
But the Singapore Grand Prix winner was soon under massive pressure as his rubber’s less durable nature unfolded.
Sainz was getting most attention from Norris early on as Piastri went backwards fast, with Sergio Perez soon joining the two good friends and former teammates in a battle for fourth at the mid-point in the race.
On lap 10, Norris finally got by Sainz at Turn 12 at the end of the track’s long back straight and so was facing a 6.7 seconds gap to Leclerc, which he reduced over the rest of the race – finishing just 0.8 seconds behind the race polesitter, who Norris will start alongside on Sunday.
Perez passed Sainz on the lap after Norris and held onto fifth to the end, albeit 4 seconds adrift of Norris, with Leclerc just ahead.
Sainz held onto sixth way ahead of Alpines’s Pierre Gasly, who was promoted into seventh thanks to George Russell’s five-second time penalty being applied at the finish – following an off-the-track pass on Piastri exiting Turn 15 on lap three.
Russell felt he was pushed off, but the race stewards decided his move was illegal, with Alex Albon putting the Mercedes under huge pressure for the final point with a late charge of personal best laps in ninth, which put him just 0.3 seconds behind Russell once the penalty had been applied.
That meant Russell held onto the final point in a race where Piasti dropped down to P10 behind Albon – an investigation into their battle early being given as no further action – and the Qatar sprint winner picked up a warning for track limits abuse.
The race’s only retirement was Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll, who was retired in the pits after the team picked up another brake problem on his AMR23.
So not the most thrilling sprint and yet the pace of Max Verstappen looks very promising so it should be significant come the main event on Sunday. As for Charles Leclerc, third in the sprint but will start on pole position for the United States Grand Prix. Hopefully a better and entertaining race in store at COTA.
United States Grand Prix, sprint race results:
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 31:30.849
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +9.465s
3 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +17.987s
4 Lando Norris McLaren +18.863s
5 Sergio Pérez Red Bull +22.928s
6 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari +28.307s
7 Pierre Gasly Alpine +32.403s
8 George Russell Mercedes +34.250s
9 Alexander Albon Williams +34.567s
10 Oscar Piastri McLaren +42.403s
11 Esteban Ocon Alpine +44.986s
12 Daniel Ricciardo AlphaTauri +45.509s
13 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin +49.086s
14 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri +49.733s
15 Nico Hülkenberg Haas +56.650s
16 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo +64.401s
17 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo +67.972s
18 Kevin Magnussen Haas +71.122s
19 Logan Sargeant Williams +71.449s
20 Lance Stroll Aston Martin DNF