Race: Max Verstappen clinches benchmark victory on poignant weekend for Red Bull

Jon Wilde
Max Verstappen's Red Bull in front of Lone Star flag at the US GP. Austin October 2022.

Max Verstappen wrapped up the Constructors’ Championship with a record-equalling 13th win of the season in the United States Grand Prix on a poignant weekend for Red Bull.

The back-to-back Drivers’ champion matched the single-year standard held by Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel but more importantly, gave Red Bull their first Constructors’ crown since their fourth on the trot in 2013.

It was exactly the way the Milton Keynes team wanted to end a trip to Austin where on Saturday, they had learned of the death of Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz after a lengthy illness. A pre-race tribute to the Austrian took place on the Circuit of The Americas grid.

But it was far from an easy victory as Verstappen suffered a poor second pit-stop that meant he had to pass his old rival Lewis Hamilton in the closing stages of a race that also featured a frightening collision between Fernando Alonso – who still went on to finish sixth – and Lance Stroll.

The grid had a mixed-up look, not for the first time this season, due to six drivers taking power-unit penalties – but it was Carlos Sainz on a merited pole having outpaced his penalised Ferrari team-mate Charles Leclerc – who started 12th – and Verstappen exactly when it mattered in qualifying.

The Spaniard and his former Toro Rosso team-mate lined up on the front row, but Sainz’s hopes of a second win from pole this season were immediately crushed. Beaten off the line by Verstappen, Sainz was hit in Turn 1 by George Russell’s Mercedes, spinning the Ferrari around and dropping him to the back. The damage, specified as a water leak, was too severe for Sainz to continue and he retired in the pits.

Russell was given a five-second penalty for the incident, running fourth as Stroll, who had started fifth, climbed to third behind Verstappen and Hamilton. Until Russell passed the highflying Aston Martin on lap five.

Nicholas Latifi spun off and had to the visit the pits but Sergio Perez, who had started P9 due to an engine penalty, avoided an unscheduled stop when a loosened front-wing endplate flew off rather than the black-and-orange flag having to make an appearance. The Mexican was going well despite the RB18 being compromised from early contact with Valtteri Bottas, up to fourth as he too got past Stroll.

Verstappen, with a lead of over three seconds from Hamilton, said he was “struggling” with a wind of over 20kmh but got more breathing space when his 2021 title rival stopped for hard tyres on lap 13 – just after the Briton had been told it was “Hammer time”. Red Bull reacted immediately and brought in the World Champion for his first of two stops.

Perez jumped Russell in the stops due to the Briton’s penalty, seemingly putting him on course for the podium – but only until a Safety Car for Bottas spinning out on lap 18 brought out the Safety Car. Leclerc had not yet stopped but obviously then did so – putting him right back in the fight as he emerged from the pits in fourth, ahead of Russell.

It had been the first Safety Car period at COTA since 2015 but the second was only moments away – as Alonso, trying to overtake Stroll, clipped the back of the Aston Martin and the Alpine briefly took off, brushing the barrier side-on. Remarkably, the Spaniard was able to continue but Stroll not, ending his encouraging weekend that had promised points.

A red flag was not deemed necessary and once the racing resumed after the clear-up operation, Leclerc thrust himself into a provisional podium placing by getting past Perez in a forceful move the Red Bull driver was less happy than the stewards with.

But there was worse to come for the team that had won 14 of this year’s first 18 races. Bringing in Verstappen to try and prevent a Hamilton undercut, Red Bull botched an 11-second pit-stop and the World Champion exited the pits behind Leclerc, who had also stopped. “Beautiful, ******* beautiful,” said the Dutchman sarcastically over team radio.

Verstappen despatched Leclerc on lap 39 just after Red Bull had made a better job of Perez’s second stop, pitting from the lead – and leaving Sebastian Vettel in front, giving him one last memory of racing Stateside to take into retirement.

Hamilton passed his German old rival but Verstappen was less than four seconds down the road – setting up a thrilling battle for victory, just as the duo had waged at the same venue last season. Agonisingly for Vettel, his second stop was also a mess, dropping him to 13th when a top-six placing looked assured.

Verstappen was initally dragging Leclerc along with him but then slipped the Ferrari, who instead fell back towards the clutches of Perez for that final podium position. In 2021, Hamilton could not get past Verstappen for the win – this time, it was roles reversed and after a brief duel on lap 50, the two-time World Champion got the move done first time.

There was a brief scare concerning exceeding track limits too often, but Verstappen came home ahead of Hamilton, Leclerc, Perez and Russell, followed by Lando Norris, Alonso – incredibly given earlier events – the recovering Vettel, Kevin Magnussen and Yuki Tsunoda who rounded out the points.

Alonso and Stroll were called to see the stewards after the race in relation to their collision, but the Spaniard importantly had 10 seconds in hand of eighth-placed Vettel.

Race result

1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:40.654
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +5.023
3 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +7.501
4 Sergio Perez Red Bull Racing +8.293
5 George Russell Mercedes +44.815
6 Lando Norris McLaren +53.785
7 Fernando Alonso Alpine +55.078
8 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin +65.354
9 Kevin Magnussen Haas F1 Team +65.834
10 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri +70.919
11 Esteban Ocon Alpine +72.875
12 Guanyu Zhou Alfa Romeo +76.164
13 Alex Albon Williams +80.057
14 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri +81.763
15 Mick Schumacher Haas +84.490
16 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren +90.487
17 Nicholas Latifi Williams +103.588

Did not finish

18 Lance Stroll Aston Martin
19 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo
20 Carlos Sainz Ferrari