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F1 at COTA: Verstappen holds off a determined Hamilton, extends his points lead

Austin, TX, Oct 24/21 (GRW): Max Verstappen started on the pole but Hamilton beat him into the first corner. After that the race was a pit stop strategy battle and it looked like Hamilton was set to reel Verstappen in during the final few laps – but Verstappen dug deep and maintained a one-second margin during those final few laps. This was enough to give him the race win and extend his championship points lead by another six points to give him a 12-point lead over Hamilton. What an exciting finish.

Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez qualified third fastest behind Verstappen and Hamilton and he drove a solid race to finish in third place, albeit 42 seconds down on his teammate. Charles Leclerc was fourth, Daniel Ricciardo fifth, and Valtteri Bottas was sixth. As for the Canadians, Lance Stroll came home 12th place while Nicholas Latifi finished 15th.

Last year, the USGP was cancelled due to COVID. This year, with the restrictions relaxed, the race saw a monster crowd, claimed to be 400,000 by the organizers. For sure, as the owner of the F1series are hoping for the popularity of F1 to grow in the United States and with a second USGP coming to Miami next spring, this show of support for F1 here at Austin was a very encouraging sign.

At the start of the race, Hamilton got a fractionally better start than Verstappen and he passed him in the first turn. After that, Hamilton continued to lead the race. Verstappen stopped first and took on hard tires hoping to be able to undercut Hamilton. And, indeed he did. When Hamilton pitted on lap13 of the 56-lap race, he came out about seven seconds behind.

Now Verstappen was on older tires and Hamilton was closing the gap. Verstappen continued to lead but the gap had shrunk to three seconds by the time he made his second stop – again for hard tires – on lap 29. Hamilton waited until lap 37 before he pitted out of the lead. He came out nine seconds behind Verstappen.

With 18 laps remaining, and Hamilton lapping faster than Verstappen who had older tires now, it looked as if, as the laps counted down, Hamilton would catch him in the closing laps and that – with the help of DRS -- he would be able to get past into the lead and win the race.

This scenario seemed to be playing out as lap-after-lap Hamilton was closer and closer. With five laps remaining, Hamilton was just under two seconds behind. With two laps to go, he had closed to just over the one-second gap needed to activate his DRS assist.

But now Verstappen, somehow urged his car to gain pace and he was able to maintain that one second plus gap through the remaining laps. No DRS for Hamilton and hanging on to the lead for Verstappen. On the final lap he took the checker over Hamilton by a 1.33-second margin – good enough for the win.

Commenting on his race, Verstappen said, “It was exciting. The whole race, the pressure was on, not knowing how quick Lewis was going to get and we went very aggressive on the first stop in the start, and then again in the middle stint Lewis was within that undercut range so we had to respond: we had to go early again.

“And then the last stint was very long. And in this heat, especially. But we managed to hang on at the end just enough with the tires to push with two laps to go. I had the HAAS [of Schumacher] in front of me and going into the last sector he was in front.

"With worn tires it’s not easy to follow. Luckily, in a way, he stayed in front of me and gave me DRS and then whatever I lost, it stabilized a bit because of that DRS and the last lap was all about trying to have a good first sector and beginning of the second sector. It wasn’t easy because the tires were finished – but incredible to win here.”

Had Hamilton won over Verstappen, he would have gained the 25 points for the win while Verstappen would have received only 18 points. Compared to the actual result, Verstappen ended up 12 points further ahead of Hamilton instead of the other way around. In fact, Hamilton got the single point for fastest lap – but you get the picture. Indeed, with five more Grands Prix to be run and with such a close battle between the two protagonists, this championship fight may well go down to a matter of a few points difference – so Verstappen’s win today may prove to be a crucial turning point on his way to his first championship.

• Click HERE for the Race Results

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