Verstappen competed at the United States Grand Prix on Oct. 24 and utilized track strategy to overcome the four-time defending F1 champion, eventually earning his third win in a row.
By the final turns, however, the team was sweating out the finish.
Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen lost the lead on the first lap and dueled Hamilton until the end
Hamilton opened the United States GP by maneuvering his way past Verstappen, who started on the pole. Entering Turn 1, the duo raced side-by-side. Verstappen attempted to squeeze by Hamilton, but the seven-time F1 champion held his line and created time and space from the left-hand hairpin turn.
Hamilton, Verstappen, and Sergio Perez soon started pulling ahead of the field.
“With Lewis, you know the end of the race, he’s going to be so strong,” said Christian Horner, Red Bull Racing’s team manager.
An undercut tactic worked to help Verstappen regain the lead. In F1 racing, an undercut is a pit strategy that helps teams take advantage of an opponent’s worn tires with a fresh set of rubber.
Horner: ‘I really didn’t think he was going to pull that off’
The familiar late-race duel between Verstappen and Hamilton developed over the final quarter of the 56-lap event at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
Horner’s concern grew after ordering an early pit stop.
Would the tires hold?
Red Bull Racing planned on making two pit stops. Its second pause came eight laps earlier than Hamilton, avoiding a potential situation of Mercedes turning the tables and attempting an undercut move, too.
“We didn’t’ want to give up track position,” Horner admitted to Sky Sports.
Verstappen’s victory smooths out the boss’ concerns
With six laps to go, Verstappen held the lead, but barely.
“We were running out of (tires),” Horner said. “But I think really, (the key was) the way he managed that (tire) through the last stint to make sure he had enough for the last five or six laps.”
After the race, Horner was relieved.
“I really didn’t think he was going to pull that off,” he said. “Lewis, with eight-lap newer tires, and the first set of hards that came off, we were pretty much down to the canvas. And then thinking, ‘Well, we’re not going to have much left at the end here.’
“To lose a race like that in the last two or three laps … (it) would have been really painful. Max just held on. … He drove a great race, really smartly, and had just enough at the end there.”
With the victory, Verstappen improved his lead over Hamilton in the F1 driver standings, 287.5-275.5.