If Max Verstappen had taken the lead at the start of the United States Grand Prix, the 140,000 spectators present in Austin (and the millions of fans in front of the television) would have attended a Red Bull number 33 monologue.
With the first set of medium tires the world leader would have stretched thanks to the stint faster than that of the Mercedes, putting himself away from a potential undercut in a few laps and consequently facilitating the life of the strategists.
But Lewis Hamilton did his part and, thanks to the best start of the season, created the conditions to give the fans a very intense race up to the checkered flag. A few hours after the race in the Austin paddock, the question among various insiders was above all one: with a different strategy, could Hamilton and Mercedes have been able to win the Austin GP?
The answer is no, or rather, whatever the decision of his pit wall had been, Lewis would very unlikely have had the chance to take his 101th win.
Shortly before his second and final stop, Toto Wolff opened the radio link with his top driver: “Lewis, you can win!”, The Austrian manager exclaimed firmly.
Normally when Mercedes is fighting for the victory it is not necessary to remind a driver like Hamilton, and Wolff’s message seemed more an encouragement to the whole team than to the driver alone, who immediately silenced his boss by suggesting that he was already doing what he could.
In reality, the only opportunity that could have allowed Mercedes to win the race was related to a smear from Verstappen or Red Bull, but both were not in the mood for giveaways.
Mercedes doesn’t change her plans
The analysis of yesterday’s race begins with a Red Bull confirmed to be much faster with medium tires. Paradoxically, when he used the compound that performed best on the RB16B Verstappen he had to settle for second position, but from the way he managed to stick to Hamilton’s Mercedes in the first ten laps, it was evident that he had more.
Realizing that going on the track would have been very difficult, the Red Bull garage played an aggressive and risky card: anticipating the first pit stop by five laps to switch to the hard bikes and try the undercut.
The Mercedes garage did not react, and there is a reason. According to the pre-race plans, anticipating the stop would have entailed a big problem in the final race due to the degradation, and the difficulties accused by Hamilton with the averages already during the first stint convinced the engineers even more that the risk was too big.
In this scenario, even if Hamilton had stopped the lap after Verstappen, he would still have returned to the track behind the Dutchman, and at that point the Mercedes stayed true to his plans, calling Lewis back to the pit lane on lap 13, a necessary stop. also to cover himself from a potential Sergio Perez undercut.
Some have speculated that Mercedes should have acted in advance, calling Lewis Hamilton back to the pits on lap 9, but in addition to the unknown degradation, such an early pit stop would have seen Hamilton return to the track behind Ricciardo’s McLaren. with the risk of wasting precious time which would have favored a potential overcut by Verstappen.
After the first stop Hamilton found himself more than six seconds behind Red Bull, a margin that he halved taking advantage of a more pronounced degradation of the tire with which Verstappen had to deal, triggered by the need to push to the maximum in the first two laps after being out of the pits.
This information was decisive for the victory of the Dutchman, who was forced to return to the pits after only 19 laps with the tires now at the limit. Max approached the second set of hard in a different way, without pushing a lot in the first laps and increasing the pace progressively, without jolts.
Max exemplary in the management of the second set of hard
Verstappen’s not irresistible pace after the second stop made us believe that Hamilton could do it, a hypothesis also confirmed by the radio team of Toto Wolff. Max knew he would have to do twenty-seven laps with the last hard set, while Hamilton (who stopped on lap 37) could count on a cooler set of eight laps. The difference was seen, especially when Lewis got back on track in pursuit. The eight seconds that separated the two treads on lap 40 were reduced to 2 with seven laps to go, but Red Bull was not caught unprepared.
Verstappen had a second in his pocket, and he confirmed it when Hamilton became visible in his mirrors. After a long lap on the minute and forty second pace, Max dropped to 1 ”39, responding blow for blow to Lewis’ final attempt to get at least one lap to get into the DRS zone, an opportunity that never came.
Verstappen’s merits are many, the management of the margin on Hamilton, keeping in mind the condition of his tires lap after lap, was impeccable, and at the end of the race the whole team recognized him great merits in winning his eighth victory of the season.
Verstappen has been a well-rounded top driver for three years now, even if there are still those who persist in remembering the distant past when the Dutchman (naturally) paid for errors due to lack of experience.
Since 2019, his performance has always been a first driver and if only this year he found himself fighting for the world title for the first time, the reason is exclusively linked to the competitiveness of his car.
When he had a winning package at his disposal, Max confirmed himself as he is, that is, a rider with all the credentials to aim with ever greater determination to win his first and well-deserved world title.
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