Hamilton cornered? Verstappen strategist Red Bull: thus he gave check to the king

The “calls” of the driver to the Red Bull wall in the Austin pit stops forced Mercedes to make moves that turned out to be losers. And Max’s tire management decided the GP

Giulio Caronia

After insults and insults with the attached middle finger during the FP2 of the F1 US GP, many expected a showdown between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen at the start of the Austin race. There was no real contact, but this does not mean that the two main contenders to the 2021 throne did not give us a show worthy of the electrifying atmosphere that reigned in a Circuit of the Americas with over 400,000 admissions over the weekend. And if the melee only materialized in turn 1 thanks to the excellent start of Lewis, able to take the inside and surprise his rival, the remaining 56 laps of the Texan race were a whirlwind of emotions linked to the two tactics. different adopted by the engineers on the wall. A real chess game that in the end saw the Dutch ace triumph, able to impose himself thanks to the exceptional – and perhaps partly surprising, at least according to the predictions of the eve – performances of his Red Bull, but also due to management of the vehicle as a well-traveled champion.

first pit, verstappen masterpiece

Precisely in the first part of the race, held with the medium-sized Pirellis already used in Q2 of the day before, Max clearly had something more than his rival at Mercedes. Losing the lead in turn 1, the Dutchman began to tail Hamilton closely, reading the difficulties in tackling the lap without flaws. The great speed of the English champion on the straight, however, prevented him, despite the use of the mobile wing that should have facilitated overtaking, from sinking an attack. So, to try to regain the leadership, the Red Bull men had to take a strategic risk. Like? Anticipating, and not a little, the first pit stop. Even knowing that, although the race was clearly on two stops, it would have been difficult to go all the way with the tires still in good condition, given the great heat that accentuated their wear.

mercedes and the tactical trap

Verstappen is called back to the pits at the end of lap 10, clearly ahead of Pirelli forecasts, which assumed an ideal pit-stop window between the twelfth and twentieth lap. At the Red Bull move, Mercedes is at a crossroads: stopping Hamilton in the next lap to challenge the Dutchman on the same strategy and with the aim of maintaining the lead of the race – difficult, given Max’s very fast times in the first two sectors , despite the fight with Ricciardo’s McLaren – or go long to set up an attacking race with fresh tires at the end? Probably it is precisely because of the performances of the opponents, more competitive in the first part, that the Lewis wall will choose the second option: accepted the idea of ​​having temporarily sacrificed the command (and the possibility of driving in “clean air”) the seven times world champion he confides via radio that he will still receive good feedback from the tires. And he prepares to delay the first pit stop as much as possible. As in any self-respecting chess game, however, the wise use of pawns will be decisive …

the precious sacrifice of perez

Things, for Mercedes, could have gone differently, if only Lewis had not been forced to anticipate the stop to cover himself from the possible overtaking of Sergio Perez, the other Red Bull driver, the “pawn” of this intriguing chess game. A situation that Verstappen himself, with a disarming lucidity as he darted at 300 per hour for the ups and downs of Austin, had read perfectly: “We have to use Checo (Perez’s nickname, ed) to force Hamilton not to go too long”. And it is precisely at the end of that lap that the Mexican returns to the pits and sacrifices himself for the cause, returning to the track with a new set of medium tires, certainly not the most suitable to get to the end, but certainly the best to score. some quick laps and attacking the position of the English rival. Which, at that point, is practically forced to stop, only three laps after the Verstappen stop: if Mercedes had insisted on the initial tactic, Lewis would have found himself third, behind a Perez who, with softer tires than his , he would have raised the barricades to protect his teammate.

Mercedes flies with him hard

Back on track in second position, just ahead of Perez, Hamilton has no choice but to push hard to fill the approximately six seconds gap from his rival. Contrary to the softer tires, with the “white” Pirellis, the Mercedes seems even more performing than the Red Bull and the Englishman manages to make up for it in a few laps. Also in this case, of course, Verstappen is recalled earlier than expected, to avoid any eventuality undercut (the early tire change) of the opponent: it is lap 29 and Max will therefore have to manage a new set of hard tires for almost half of the race (27 laps). In the absence of Perez, who in the meantime has accumulated a good delay unable to keep up with the average, this time Hamilton can really delay the stop, which even reaches lap 37, eight laps after Max. The seven-time world champion comes out of the pits with an 8 ”4 gap, but it is a fury and the comeback is inexorable, proving – as often happened in the 2021 F1 World Championship – that Mercedes with hard bikes perform better than any other single-seater.

verstappen master of management

The end of the race seems to be a copy, with reversed parts – in fact, the strategies are also similar – of the Bahrain GP which opened the season last March. However, the epilogue is different: in Sakhir, the pursuer (Verstappen) managed to overtake the fugitive (Hamilton) despite having to return the position by order of the race judges; in Austin, Lewis will arrive up to 8 tenths from Max but never in the sectors of the track where the use of the Drs was allowed, closing at 1 ”3 from the winner. Crucial for the final result, which crowns the Dutchman on a track considered a Mercedes fiefdom, not only the excellent balance of a Red Bull that overall was preferred to the rival car. In fact, it will be Verstappen’s maturity, able to drive like a true seasoned champion, to be decisive in repelling Hamilton’s latest assaults, with the Dutchman very good at managing the tires after the second stop in order to bring them still relatively fresh in the last five laps. It is in that phase that Max has increased the pace making it more difficult for the opponent to recover and the fact that in the final lap (with the help of the Drs provided by the Haas of the dubbed Schumacher) he set the absolute record in the first sector is a further proof of the merits of the World Cup leader.

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Hamilton cornered? Verstappen strategist Red Bull: thus he gave check to the king

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