Max Verstappen clung onto victory in the US Grand Prix on Sunday, battling a brake issue to the line and holding off Lewis Hamilton at the chequered flag.
It was Lando Norris though who claimed P2, as Lewis Hamilton, along with Charles Leclerc, was disqualified post-race after the FIA discovered excessive wear on the skid pads of their respective Mercedes and Ferrari challengers. Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz then inherits the final podium spot.
Verstappen complained of brake issues that hampered his speed in the final stint, with Hamilton rapidly closing in the final laps – but he had enough to hold onto a record-equalling 15th victory of the season, matching his own tally from last year.
Max Verstappen fights back from P6 grid slot to take US Grand Prix victory
After the 19-lap Sprint offered a relatively untroubled path to victory for Verstappen on Saturday, he would have to work his way up from sixth on the grid on Sunday after seeing his quickest time in qualifying deleted on Friday, with Charles Leclerc having started on pole ahead of Lando Norris on the front row.
But only 16 cars were on the grid too, with both Aston Martin and Haas pairings having opted to make setup tweaks to start from the pit lane in the process.
At the start, Norris got the better getaway on the front row, pulling alongside Leclerc and ahead into the opening hairpin, with Carlos Sainz leapfrogging Lewis Hamilton into third.
Oscar Piastri was the biggest mover on the first lap, surging up four places and even challenging Verstappen for fifth, though George Russell dropped from P5 to P8 at the start himself.
Norris scurried into a two-second lead come the end of the first lap as the McLaren driver looked to make hay at the front as others jostled for position behind.
Esteban Ocon reported sidepod and floor damage after contact with Piastri heading towards Turn 3, and fell right back through the field over the opening laps in a disappointing turn of events for the Alpine driver that eventually forced his retirement.
At the front, Hamilton and Verstappen both overtook Sainz on consecutive laps at Turn 12 as Ferrari looked to extend their opening stint, Sainz falling down to fifth by lap 5.
This put Leclerc in Hamilton’s sights next up, and used DRS to good effect on the back straight towards Turn 12 to put himself into second place behind Norris come lap 6.
The after-effects of Piastri’s contact with Ocon also ended the McLaren driver’s race several laps later, McLaren instructing the rookie to pit and save his car as best he could.
Verstappen soon made his way into the podium places with a punchy move on Leclerc into Turn 12, reaching the apex before the Ferrari driver with a strong DRS tow down the back straight. Leclerc tried to fight him back, but was unable to contain the Red Bull driver on his march forward.
In the fight for the lead, Hamilton began reeling in Norris heading towards the first round of stops as he looked to battle his young compatriot for top spot.
But it was Verstappen who was the first of the front-runners to come in from 4.5 seconds behind Hamilton, committing to a two-stop strategy by fitting another set of mediums as he looked to undercut his rivals.
Norris came in the following lap for hard tyres but Hamilton opted to stay out, with Mercedes asking their drivers to extend their opening stints – all the while Verstappen closed in, which would have cost Hamilton track position to the Red Bull driver.
When informed of that news, Hamilton responded bluntly: “No **** man, I’m struggling out here”, prompting him to pit by lap 20, with a 3.6s stop costing him position to both Norris and Verstappen, eventually re-emerging over five seconds behind the Red Bull driver.
Norris and Verstappen established themselves as the new top two in the race, with the guarantee that the reigning World Champion had to stop again and Norris could go to the end if he so chose, with Hamilton falling further behind on his hard tyres and informing race engineer Peter Bonnington “you’ve given me a hell of a gap to close”.
Verstappen used his softer compound to close up behind Norris, putting himself within DRS range of the McLaren at half distance as he looked to challenge for the lead.
And at Turn 12 on lap 28 of 56, he made his move, lunging down the inside of Norris and, while the McLaren driver tried to fight back around the outside of Turn 13, Verstappen was far enough alongside to keep hold of the lead.
From behind, Hamilton was pulling himself back into contention on his hard tyres, getting to within five seconds of the lead and with the strategic option of a new set of medium tyres at his disposal if he chose to stop again, offering a distinct tyre advantage in the final stint over both Verstappen and Norris, with Verstappen only able to use softs or hards, and Norris’ only other new set available being the hard compound.
The Dutchman complained of his brakes too, calling them a “piece of ****” compared to how they felt in Saturday’s Sprint, leaving the possibility that a fight for victory could be on come the final stint at the Circuit of The Americas.
Norris rolled the dice on lap 35, moving onto a final set of hards and prompting Verstappen to pit a lap later for his final stop. While his undercut attempt was unsuccessful, the McLaren driver was significantly closer than he was before and it became a straight fight between the two on equal strategies.
The other unknown was Hamilton, but by lap 38 he was in for his final stop, bolting on fresh medium tyres and even though he had a six-second deficit to Norris in a net second, he appeared to be the driver in the box seat for the final stint on the preferred race tyre.
Hamilton made his way past Leclerc, who had only stopped once, and back into the podium places five laps later, giving him the clear air he needed to chase down Norris in front of him.
The Mercedes driver clawed time in hand over fist compared to Norris, putting him right onto the back of him and after some stern defending by Norris, the McLaren driver ran deep at Turn 1, with Hamilton able to switch back and swoop around the outside into Turn 2, putting him into second with seven laps to challenge for an unlikely victory, with a five-second gap to make up to Verstappen.
Away from the front, having worked his way back into the points from a pit-lane start, Alonso was pulled into the pits for a floor issue – an unfortunate end to his race after making his way back through the field, while Sainz was allowed past Leclerc to push for a potential podium and challenge a slowing Norris.
But while the gap stayed at five seconds, Verstappen’s lead quickly fell down to below two seconds come the start of the final lap, setting up a tense finish to the US Grand Prix, with the Dutchman having complained of brake issues throughout the race.
Verstappen used DRS to lap a backmarking Zhou Guanyu to ease the pressure on him in the closing stages to take victory, with Hamilton and Norris completing the US Grand Prix podium as it stood on Sunday, only for Hamilton to drop out of the order after his disqualification.
US Grand Prix 2023: Race classification
1 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull 1:35:21.362 56 laps
2 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +2.225
3 Lando NORRIS McLaren +10.730
4 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +15.134
5 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull +18.460
6 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +24.662
7 George RUSSELL Mercedes +24.999
8 Pierre GASLY Alpine +47.996
9 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +48.696
10 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +74.385
11 Alexander ALBON Williams +86.714
12 Logan SARGEANT Williams +87.998
13 Nico HULKENBERG Haas +89.904
14 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +98.601
15 ZHOU Guanyu Alfa Romeo + 1 lap
16 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas + 1 lap
17 Daniel RICCIARDO AlphaTauri + 1 lap
Did not finish
Esteban Ocon, lap 6, sidepod damage
Oscar Piastri, lap 10, car damage
Fernando Alonso, lap 50, floor