Max Verstappen has never looked more like a champion

AUSTIN (Texas) -- Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen were in a different league to the 18 other drivers participating in the U.S. Grand Prix.
The title rivals raced to the finish, pushing each other to their limits until the last lap. Verstappen's Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez was 40 seconds ahead of Verstappen and they crossed the line with 1.333 seconds between them.

Despite the fact that either driver could have won, Verstappen had the advantage in the end. With five rounds remaining, it seems increasingly likely that Verstappen will win the championship by a similar margin before the end of this year.

A big win for Verstappen

Max Verstappen is leading the F1 championship with 12 points and five races left. Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Vertappen's win on Sunday was undoubtedly one of his best performances. He displayed a maturity, patience, and class that was sometimes lacking in his previous career. It has become a regular part of his races each weekend.

Verstappen won the eighth race of this year and now leads by 12 points. There are five races left. This was a blow to Hamilton's campaign, as Hamilton heads to Brazil and Mexico, where Red Bull will likely have a significant advantage.

This means that Verstappen could be holding the world championship trophy in his hands when F1 travels to the Middle East for three final races in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Abu Dhabi.

Circuit of the Americas, on the other hand, was intended to favor Mercedes. The reigning champions were on pole position since 2014 in Texas, and had won five of six races during that time.

Between Friday's first practice, where Mercedes seemed to have the better car, and Saturday's qualifying, Red Bull took a lead over its competitors and Hamilton and Mercedes had no response.

After celebrating Sunday's victory, Christian Horner, Red Bull team principal, said that "this is a huge one because it has been such an important hold of Lewis and Mercedes." "To win the pole yesterday was a significant moment for us, and to then convert it into a victory even though we were not leading at the end on the first lap.

"So it was a great team performance. On Friday, we were on the back foot. It looked like it would have been a difficult weekend. But the entire team worked hard to turn it around.

Mercedes knows where the lap times went wrong over the weekend, according to Mercedes. In first practice, it ran in a higher engine mode that its competitors. The combination of heat and high winds in Texas revealed some of its season-long flaws.

Toto Wolff, Mercedes team boss, was determined to keep the situation in perspective after two strong races in Russia and Turkey and before the race in the U.S.A.

Toto Wolff, principal of Mercedes-Benz team, stated that "I believe we need to be careful in our team that we don't always swing between mania or depression but instead eke ahead with our understanding the car."

"There was never any point in my life where I believed we weren't going to do this. But it was also important not to get ahead after Friday.

"Friday's general feedback was that Mercedes were dominating, and Red Bull is going to do something about it. Fast forward 24 hours, and the situation is completely different.

"So, I believe it's about really exploiting the product with the car being the product. How can we tune the product to deliver performance? This is what will make the difference between winning and losing.

Mercedes struggled to get the car on the track, but Verstappen was able to make quick progress with his Red Bull. However, reliability concerns are looming over all teams at this stage in the season. Verstappen is not happy with Sunday's results and believes a focused and steady approach will eventually pay dividends.

He said, "This [result] doesn’t really change much because it’s all about details." "I always say it so a win doesn’t give me more confidence.

"We all believe that the team can do a great job. But we need to perfect the details. We have to start again in Mexico to make the most of our package.

Mercedes missed an Austin win opportunity

In the pits, Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes lost their lead in the race. Mark Thompson/Getty Images

It felt like the race was over with Hamilton chasing Verstappen down in the last 10 laps. Although it's possible to speculate that Hamilton would have won if the race ran a few more laps, that doesn't do justice to Verstappen's method of measuring his tyre life over the 56 laps that comprised the U.S. Grand Prix.

Hamilton won the first corner of the race, beating Verstappen. However, Verstappen struggled to keep clear of his title rival. Red Bull decided to pit Verstappen on lap 10, to reduce the Mercedes' lead. Hamilton would have been in the lead if Verstappen hadn't pitted at the finish of the lap, even though he had fresh tyres.

Red Bull's aggressive move secured the lead for the second stint. It was repeated on lap 29 to secure the win. Verstappen had to drive carefully in order for this plan to work.

His first set of hard-compound tyres performed poorly in the second stint. He pushed hard for the lead on Hamilton's opening laps and lost the advantage. He had the lead and learned that lesson. He was much more cautious in the last stint of the race. By reducing his speed in the fastest corners, he saved enough tyres to keep Hamilton away when it really mattered.

Wolff stated after the race that he could see the differences in the strategies between the teams. "One chose to undercut because of necessity. It was a courageous move. Verstappen was still in the race to pit, so it was early. The second pitting was to their advantage.

"Max's driving was excellent, especially in the last stint. You could see that he had learned from his first stint not too damaging the tyres.

Lewis drove an amazing car. "But Lewis also drove brilliantly. He brought in the tyre, was calm when he returned to the first stop with 8.5s Max, and then he increased the speed. At a certain point there was a huge difference.

"It wasn't enough [to beat Verstappen]" and I believe that we could have done two more laps. It is what it was and Red Bull must be commended for their strategy.

It looked great from the outside but Horner said that the team was questioning the strategy from the pit wall.

Horner was asked if Verstappen had always kept the race under control. Horner replied: "Well...no!

"We considered a three-stop [at one point] and were looking at how that would look and where it would take us at the finish of the race. We would have lost track position so we decided to keep track position and save the tires. Lewis was able to close quickly and was then in the dirt air.

"Max did that extremely well, and that is what it takes to win a race like this."

Mercedes proved to be stronger than Red Bull on the tough compound tyres used by both drivers in the second, and final stints of the race. However, its performance on the medium compound in its first stint meant that it didn't have the confidence or strength to use that strength to challenge Red Bull.

Andrew Shovlin, chief engineer at Mercedes, stated that the only option for winning the race was to retain the lead after Lewis's excellent start by stopping earlier than Max. "That would have required us to pit as early as lap eight. But, considering how much we struggled on the mediums and the short stint, it would have made the race look like we were going down the tubes.

"As it was, it felt like we could have stopped early and made it to the finish. But it would have been a matter of pulling the trigger and hoping for the best to see whether Lewis could keep Max away. This was our only chance."

Verstappen and Advantage Red Bull

Red Bull is expected be the team to beat in the next two races. Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Verstappen has five races left and a 12-point lead at the championship. The U.S. Grand Prix could be the turning point for his championship success.

Except for the Dutch Grand Prix which he won, Mercedes has been leading the charge since August's Hungarian Grand Prix. Verstappen may consider himself fortunate to not have given up more points in the two rounds in Turkey and Russia before Austin. Verstappen emerged the clear winner of the three last rounds after he won the first two races with a net lead and added six more points in Austin.

Furthermore, the Red Bull's next races in Mexico City, Brazil, and Brazil will be held at high elevations. This is expected to favor the Honda engine in Red Bull over Hamilton's Mercedes power unit.

Higher altitudes mean that there is less oxygen in the air for the engine to burn. The turbocharger of the power unit must work harder to compensate. The reason Honda and Renault have seen a lower drop at high altitudes in recent years is thought to be due to the turbo design of Renault and Mercedes. Honda is able to run its compressor at higher speeds than rivals, which forces more air into its combustion chamber, which in turn results in more power.

This advantage has been sufficient to allow Red Bull, which used Renault engines in 2015-2018 and Honda in 2019, to out-qualify Mercedes in Mexico for the past three seasons despite having suffered a performance deficit at all other rounds. In a year where the battle for the front is so tight, such an advantage may be even more significant, as Mercedes expects to be on the backfoot in Mexico.

Red Bull has won back-to-back titles in 2010 and 2013 and Horner isn't afraid to challenge them.

He said, "You have to throw the formbook away." It's tight between the top teams, and I hope Mexico will be a good track. But it has been a good track [in the past].

"There are five races left and 130 more points on the table. We have a 12-point lead in the drivers' standings. It's fantastic to extend it here. With ten laps remaining, it seemed like we might leave here tied or two behind in points. So to have extended the lead was a great result. We have some great races coming up.

"But 12 points are nothing, and it can disappear quickly, as we've seen before. We must continue to attack the race weekends like we have done in the past and make the most of them.

"With five more to go, the pressure only grows."

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