Max Verstappen achieved his 50th victory in Formula 1 by finishing ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Lando Norris at the Circuit of the Americas.
The race was a fascinating strategic battle between the teams but the raw pace from Verstappen was impressive despite brake concern while Ferrari’s challenge disappeared early.
Norris got a better start than Ferrari’s polesitter Charles Leclerc and was quickly alongside the Scuderia before heading to the Turn 1 apex to make certain of the lead.
Behind, Hamilton tried to defend against Carlos Sainz but was jumped when the Spaniard followed Norris through the inside line of the uphill hairpin and Hamilton instead moved wider and saw off Verstappen’s run even further to the right.
The leaders raced through the track’s sector one esses complex with Norris shooting clear of Leclerc, with Sainz, Hamilton and Verstappen trailing.
Norris’s lead was 1.7 seconds at the end of lap one of 56, which he tripled over the early laps – during which Hamilton battled by both Ferraris with DRS runs to Turn 12 at the end of the long back straight on lap four and six, with Verstappen doing likewise to Sainz soon after.
Even as he passed Leclerc, Hamilton was lapping quicker than Norris and he set about trying to close down the McLaren’s three-second advantage as the leaders carefully paced the medium tyres they had all started on.
But over the next stage of the race, Norris and Hamilton were matched in lap times in the low one minute, 42 seconds, while Verstappen remained behind Leclerc even with DRS, the Ferrari dropping back from Hamilton by a few tenths per lap.
After scoring a sprint win in Qatar, the team was forced to retire Oscar Piastri’s car due to radiator damage sustained in a lap one clash with Esteban Ocon, just as Verstappen passed Leclerc with a move to Turn 12’s inside that the Ferrari defended too late and was shoved wide on exit.
Leclerc tried to hang on to the world champion, who faced a 7.0 seconds deficit to Norris at the end of lap 11 when Hamilton had just brought the leader’s gap under three seconds again since the early laps.
Hamilton pressed on and by lap 16 had cut a second out of Norris’s previous advantage, the McLaren driver struggling to stay in the one minute, 42 seconds bracket.
At this stage, Verstappen triggered the race’s first big strategy call when he came into take more new mediums, with McLaren bringing Norris in from the front a lap later at the end of lap 17, but putting him onto new hards.
Mercedes asked new leader Hamilton if he could stay out for an additional five laps, but when he was not certain he could it opted to bring him in at the end of lap 21 – just after he had slipped off track with a big lock-up at Turn 11 leading onto the back straight.
This was too soon for a one-stop strategy, which Ferrari left Leclerc out to attempt back in the lead he had held earlier for only a few seconds, so Hamilton rejoined a net third position behind Verstappen but with a tyre life hard advantage of five laps and the Mercedes also on the hard.
By stopping earlier and with consistent pace in the one minute, 41 seconds, Verstappen had cut his previous seven-second gap to Norris in half and he was soon homing in on the McLaren – which retook the lead when Leclerc finally pitted on lap 23.
Norris gifted Verstappen 1.2 seconds when he locked up and went deep at Turn 11 on lap 25 and two laps later the Red Bull was in DRS range.
Verstappen used the overtaking aid to close in on the back straight on lap 28 and he made a late dive to the inside of Turn 12, where Norris tried to cut back on the exit but was overcome in the following sequence of corners.
But Norris did not immediately fall adrift and indeed behind Hamilton was soon closing in again on the leading pair with his hards, before Verstappen upped his pace into low one minute, 41 seconds and pulled a new three-second lead.
Just after Verstappen became the latest driver to lock up and go deep at Turn 11, McLaren pitted Norris to take a second set of new hards at the end of lap 34, with Verstappen coming in for the same compound at the end of the following lap.
The undercut’s power plus a slightly slow left-rear change meant Norris had Verstappen’s previous gap down to 1.7 seconds, as they ran behind the one-stopping Leclerc.
Hamilton stayed out longer again given his previous off-set approach and so cycled back to the lead, before pitting at the end of lap 38 to go back to the mediums.
As he rejoined, Verstappen passed Leclerc with DRS into Turn 1, with Norris making a late dive by the Ferrari into Turn 12 on the same lap, at the end of which he faced a 1.2 seconds deficit to Verstappen.
From there, Hamilton caught and passed Leclerc and it was he who had the most gripping end to the race, as his pace was either the same or quicker than the leader – who had been 7.6 seconds ahead when the Mercedes rejoined for the second time.
Norris dropped back from Verstappen, who was unhappy with the braking on his Red Bull RB19, and on lap 48 Hamilton was all over him in the final sector – then mounted a DRS attack into Turn 1 where Norris defended hard.
But Hamilton was able to get by on the exit as Norris went deep and that left a 5.2 seconds gap to Verstappen up ahead – the triple champion complaining with his brake issue and annoyed at receiving radio messages while trying to deal with it.
Initially over the final few laps, Hamilton was able to reduce Verstappen’s lead by a few tenths each time, but as the leader continued to struggle with his brake issue it came down more rapidly right at the end.
But it was not enough for Hamilton – with Verstappen benefitting from getting DRS lapping Zhou Guanyu on the back straight on the last lap – and the gap between at the chequered flag was 2.2 seconds, with Norris a further 8.5 seconds back in third.
Sainz ended up fourth after being waved by Leclerc late on – the Monegasque driver frustrated his one-stopper had backfired, as Sergio Perez demoted him to sixth by the flag.
Ferrari and Sainz, on the medium-medium-hard two-stopper, briefly thought Norris might be beatable, but in the end, the McLaren had a 4.4 seconds gap at the finish as Norris upped his pace in response to his former teammate’s late threat.
George Russell looked at one stage as if he was on the one-stopper before he was taken off a shortened middle stint on the hards and he ended up seventh ahead of Pierre Gasly and Lance Stroll.
Stroll rose from the pitlane – where he forgot to return to after the pre-race reconnoitring laps and had to be pushed back off the grid by his mechanics to claim ninth, the Aston Martin driver emerging ahead from a close late battle with Yuki Tsunoda.
The AlphaTauri driver was the only competitor to try the three-stopper, which paid off and he had enough pace on the softs right at the end to seal another point to go with his P10 finish by setting the fastest lap on the last lap.
Fernando Alonso had to retire with floor damage in the closing stages – the double champion also rising from a pitlane start to lead Stroll in the points before his issue occurred – and his former teammate Ocon was the first retirement, also due to damage sustained in the clash with Piastri.
Alex Albon was the only driver to receive a five second penalty for track limits abuse on his way to P11, but several others – including Hamilton – were given black-and-white warning flags for repeatedly going off track.
So an exciting end to the United States Grand Prix but Max Verstappen was able to hold off the chasing Lewis Hamilton despite braking concern. If only there was more laps available for the Mercedes driver as victory was on. Next time.
UPDATE – Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc have been disqualified following post-race checks. Exceeding plank wear.
United States Grand Prix race results:
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:35:21.362
DSQ Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +2.225s
2 Lando Norris McLaren +10.730s
3 Carlos Sainz Ferrari +15.134s
4 Sergio Perez Red Bull +18.460s
DSQ Charles Leclerc Ferrari +24.662s
5 George Russell Mercedes +24.999s
6 Pierre Gasly Alpine +47.996s
7 Lance Stroll Aston Martin +48.696s
8 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri +74.385s
9 Alexander Albon Williams +86.714s
10 Logan Sargeant Williams +87.998s
11 Nico Hulkenberg Haas +89.904s
12 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo +98.601s
13 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo +1 lap
14 Kevin Magnussen Haas +1 lap
15 Daniel Ricciardo AlphaTauri +1 lap
Fernando Alonso Aston Martin DNF
Oscar Piastri McLaren DNF
Esteban Ocon Alpine DNF