The weekend in Austin started with two Mercedes in front of everyone and Max Verstappen, third, a full second. That had been the verdicts of the FP1 session, but twenty-four hours later Max took a surprising pole position, trimming Lewis Hamilton two tenths.
What happened? “They (Red Bull) have made some progress – commented James Allison – while as far as we are concerned we ended up off the road yesterday afternoon and then returned to the initial steps. So overall Red Bull had a better weekend in terms of setup work ”.
Allison’s analysis was confirmed shortly after by Christian Horner: “Yesterday our basic setup proved to be problematic, we started the weekend in a less than optimal way”.
Then, while Horner himself fueled controversy over the Mercedes’ top speed, Red Bull engineers began a long evening of work connected to the Milton Keynes headquarters, where Sebastian Buemi made dawn behind the wheel of the simulator.
“We managed to get the balance right – continued Horner – and the traction also benefited. Both Max and Checo found the right feeling to manage the bumps in a better way, their confidence grew in FP3 and the result was the qualifying we saw ”.
In the last qualifying lap at the end of the first two sectors, Verstappen’s advantage over Hamilton was only 24 thousandths of a second, a trifle, but in the third and final stretch of the Austin circuit Red Bull made the difference.
The key was tire management, which remained in the ‘window’ until the finish line, while the two Mercedes had to face the last sector with overheated rear tires, and consequently less efficient.
Verstappen’s return to pole position (the Dutchman was missing the fastest lap from Zandvoort) is a huge result for Max and Red Bull.
There are many reasons, starting with the psychological ‘blow’ given to the Mercedes-Hamilton tandem up to the possibility of starting tomorrow’s race from the best possible position. Lewis gave his all, managing to lower his previous time by three tenths on the last lap, but today against the Red Bull-Verstappen tandem there was little to do.
Hamilton will find himself fighting for the race tomorrow (and a slice of world chance) in the 240 meters that separate the starting line from the braking of the first corner. If he manages to take the lead, the prospects will become excellent, but at the same time at the start he starts with the fear that the other Red Bull, brought today by a brilliant Sergio Perez in third position, could trip him. A nightmare scenario for Lewis, who with two Red Bulls in front would see the chances of winning the United States Grand Prix drastically reduced.
“I think that tomorrow the spectators who are outside turn 1 will enjoy a great start – commented Horner – but at least this time we have two cars up front, so we are not in bad shape. If we manage to parade in first position it will be crucial to be able to have a safety margin to be able to defend at the braking point of 11, from then on for those who follow it will become more difficult to stay in dirty air. Sergio will be at Max’s disposal, to try to give him a hand ”.
The 2021 World Cup continues to deny any attempt to predict, and this seems to be one of the added values of an extraordinary season. What was supposed to be a pro-Mercedes trip could become the stage of the pro-Red Bull turning point, but the race is tomorrow, fifty-six laps in which we will have to keep an eye on the rear tires, a much feared variable. Also in this case, it is better not to overreact too much, and in the end it is beautiful as well.
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