Max Verstappen overcame a botched pitstop to hunt down and defeat Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton late on in Formula 1’s 2022 US Grand Prix, sealing Red Bull’s constructors’ championship in the process.
The victory puts Verstappen level with Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel on F1’s single-season win record, with 13 apiece in one campaign for the multiple world champions.
Charles Leclerc recovered from his engine-change grid drop to finish third for Ferrari, salvaging a podium for the Scuderia after polesitter Carlos Sainz was eliminated in a Turn 1 tangle with George Russell that left Verstappen as a dominant leader for much of the contest even through two safety car periods before the picture all changed late-on.
At the start, Verstappen made a much better getaway versus Sainz from the front row, with the Red Bull ahead as they braked at the top of the hill for the left-hand Turn 1.
There, Sainz’s race was ended as Russell, locking up as he steamed into the apex alongside teammate Hamilton, speared into the side of the Ferrari and spun it to the rear of the pack in an incident that the stewards’ deemed was worthy only of a five-second penalty for Russell.
That left Verstappen clear up front, chased by Hamilton as Sainz came into the pits at the end of the opening lap fearing he had a puncture but in fact retired there as Ferrari had spotted the contact had caused a water leak.
Hamilton was initially able to match Verstappen lapping in the 1m42s, but soon the lead was stretching away at the front, noting the challenge of keeping things pointing forwards in the gusts regularly blasting the Circuit of the Americas under sporadically cloudy skies.
Verstappen closed out the opening 10 laps of 56 three seconds clear of Hamilton, before making a big gain towards the end of the first stint, which meant he was nearly five seconds clear by the time the Mercedes stopped for the first time on lap 12.
Red Bull called Verstappen in next time by, with both leaders going from the medium tyres they had started on to take the hards.
Verstappen’s gap was so big he rejoined only behind Perez, who had picked up damage in a lap one clash with Valtteri Bottas but did not have to pit for a new front wing as his right-side endplate later flew off as he made his way by the Aston Martin cars that had trailed Hamilton early-on.
That meant Hamilton followed the yet-to-stop Leclerc, Lance Stroll and Vettel and his gap to Verstappen grew to 6.3s over the first few laps on the hard tyres.
Just as Red Bull and Mercedes were asking their charges for feedback on the white-walled rubber, the safety car changed the complexion of the race after Bottas lost the rear of his Alfa Romeo going through the penultimate corner on Verstappen’s 18th lap and the Finn ended up beached in the gravel.
This meant Leclerc and Vettel could stop for cheap pitstops – Stroll having come in just before Bottas’s off – and they then followed Hamilton and Perez in the snake behind Verstappen.
The Dutchman, his previous lead vanished, led the restart on lap 22 – easily pulling clear of Hamilton again – but the green flag racing did not last long as on the same tour Fernando Alonso and Stroll had a shocking crash running down the back straight.
With Stroll trailing Vettel and Russell after his first pre-safety car stop having run as high as third early on in the aftermath of the Turn 1 incident, Alonso got a rapid run on his soon-to-be Aston teammate heading down the long back straight.
Alonso closed in on Stroll and moved left to overtake as they approached top speed, but the Canadian driver moved a split-second later and the Alpine was launched skywards over the Aston’s left rear.
Stroll was sent spinning and into retirement, but Alonso – minus his front wing – was able to recover to the pits after bouncing down hard but only glancing the wall on the inside of the track.
Although the crash, which will be investigated after the race, sent a cloud of debris into the pack behind and across the track, it took just three laps of safety car race suspension for the incident to be clear.
On lap 26, Verstappen aced another restart and immediately pulled over a second clear, as the attention turned to Leclerc’s attempts to get on the podium as he trailed Perez closely ahead of DRS being enabled again on lap 28.
After a first attempt at passing the Red Bull into Turn 12 at the end of the back straight went wrong when Leclerc went deep and took to the runoff, also avoiding Perez locked up and sliding on the inside, he attacked at the same spot again on lap 30.
With a late dive to the inside, Leclerc shot to the left-hander’s apex and muscled his way ahead, then critically stayed just about within track limits on the exit.
The Ferrari driver was then unable to cruise up behind Hamilton, who was by this point starting to threaten Verstappen’s lead for the first time as the Red Bull racer struggled in the gusts.
Just as Hamilton neared a second adrift from Verstappen again, Mercedes called him in for a second set of hards at the end of lap 34, but it was Verstappen’s second stop on the following tour that changed the race’s story.
When he pitted to go back to the mediums, a delay getting his left-front hard off was compounded by Red Bull having to use a second wheel gun to tighten the nut back up on the replacement medium.
That left Verstappen stuck for 11.s, which not only meant Hamilton easily moved ahead at the end of his out-lap, but Leclerc jumped the long-time leader too.
Although Perez and Vettel ran long, the latter dropping down the order with a long second stop when he eventually pitted, Hamilton suddenly held the net lead with a 5.6s, as Verstappen set about chasing down Leclerc.
He quickly closed in on his former 2022 title rival and made his move into Turn 1 at the start of lap 39 and dived inside Leclerc, but the Ferrari was able to nip back ahead on the exit before Verstappen used DRS to blast by down the back straight later on the same tour.
That left Verstappen with 4.5s gap to close against Hamilton, with a tyre compound difference to factor in too, and Leclerc initially hanging on before fading back and out of contention.
Verstappen ate into Hamilton’s lead over the next few laps and entering the final 10 tours had trimmed that to a 2.0s advantage – reaching DRS range for the first time on lap 49.
The next time by, Verstappen used that tool to close right in on Hamilton running down the back straight and he shot to the inside of Turn 12, with the Mercedes initially jinking left late in defence before moving back right and away from any possible clash.
Hamilton stamped on the gas and got his nose back ahead approaching the next corner, but with Verstappen having the inside line he could not mount a full attack and was then stymied by Verstappen running slow on the apex of the double-apex Turn 15 left.
Verstappen shot ahead, but Hamilton was able to stick close behind – noting Verstappen had run off the track several times before he was given a black-and-white flag warning about track limits transgressions from race control.
Hamilton kept suggesting Verstappen was still running beyond track limits at several points, but as he tried to hang on close behind he himself was handed a black-and-white flag warning for the same infraction.
After Hamilton lost DRS at the end of lap 53, he dropped back quickly and eventually came home 5.0s behind, with Leclerc third and Perez fourth – the top four covered by just 8.2s.
Mercedes pitted Russell late to take softs in a late attempt to take the fastest lap, which he did on the final tour as he came home fifth ahead of Lando Norris.
After all he had gone through, Alonso remarkably charged to finish seventh with a series of late passes, while Vettel’s race ended in thrilling circumstances as he battled Haas’ one-stopping Kevin Magnussen on the final tour.
Vettel recovered from his own very slow service to reach Magnussen’s eighth place right at the end – stealing it with a bold move into the penultimate corner having tried to brave it out around the outside through Turns 16, 17 and 18 just before.
Yuki Tsunoda rounded out the top 10, with Stroll, Bottas and Sainz the only retirements and a host of drivers in the pack getting track limits and collision time penalties.