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SportUS Grand Prix: Max Verstappen extends lead with a riveting win

US Grand Prix: Max Verstappen extends lead with a riveting win

Published: 25th Oct 2021 10:19 pm

Austin: If there ever was a time for Max Verstappen to flinch in this riveting Formula One championship battle with Lewis Hamilton, it would have been in the closing laps of the US Grand Prix.

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The young Dutchman seeking his first world championship was being chased by the seven-time champion, and Hamilton was rapidly closing in on the lead under the hot Texas sun at the Circuit of the Americas.

The intensity of the tightest championship race in years might have derailed a different driver — especially when Hamilton pulled within 1 second on the final lap — but Verstappen thrived under pressure and won his eighth race of the season.

“It was exciting, the pressure was on, not knowing how quick Lewis was going to get you,” Verstappen said. “We managed to hang on at the end.”
The victory doubled Verstappen’s lead over Hamilton to 12 points in the standings with five races remaining and could prove to be a pivotal win in this classic championship battle.

Verstappen and Red Bull won on a track where Hamilton and Mercedes have been dominant for years — Hamilton is a five-time winner at COTA — and he made Verstappen work for the win.

Hamilton chased Verstappen over the final 18 laps and maybe if there had been one more lap, he might have caught Verstappen and reclaimed the points lead.
The 24-year-old now has some breathing room heading into Mexico City, a high-altitude stronghold for Red Bull. Hamilton is seeking a record eighth F1 title, and fifth in a row.
“Congratulations to Max, he did a great job today. It was such a tough race,” Hamilton said. “Got a good start and gave it absolutely everything, but in the end of the day, they just had the upper hand this weekend.”

As the popularity of Formula One explodes in the U.S., the championship rivals delivered a dramatic finish in front of an estimated crowd of 140,000. It was one of the largest sporting events since the start of the pandemic and drew the rich and famous to the Austin circuit.

Among the celebrities in attendance were actor Ben Stiller, rapper Meghan Thee Stallion, golfer Rory McIlroy and tennis champion Serena Williams, who all participated in the pre-race grid walk. Shaquille O’Neal hosted a post-race DJ dance party and delivered the winner’s trophy to the podium, where the 7-footer loomed large over Verstappen and Hamilton.

Sunday was the final race in the Circuit’s original 10-year contract, but the U.S. Grand Prix is on the 2022 race calendar. Track President Bobby Epstein has said he expects to get a new long-term deal from F1.

“It’s amazing to be here, but also to see so many (fans) around the track,” Verstappen said before stepping to the podium as fans rushed onto the track for the celebration.
“Hopefully we can do this for many years to come.”

Hamilton and Verstappen kept the temperature rising all weekend. First, Verstappen called Hamilton a “stupid idiot” and flipped him the middle finger after an aggressive driving move in Friday practice. Hamilton later dismissed it as “fun and games.”
Verstappen then edged him for pole position on the final lap of qualifying Sunday.

All of it set up a fierce fight for the lead into Sunday’s first turn because the winner at COTA has always come from the front row. Hamilton quickly jumped past Verstappen and the two traded the lead four times over 56 laps.

It was a breathless start as Verstappen and Hamilton have collided twice this season and the risk of another one was high. This time Verstappen backed off the first corner and let Hamilton take the lead “to avoid any trouble.”

After Sunday’s checkered flag, Hamilton and Verstappen exchanged fist bumps in pit lane, then clinked champagne bottles on the podium.

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