‘The whole race, the pressure was on’ – Verstappen explains how he held off hard-charging Hamilton to win in Austin
Max Verstappen held off Lewis Hamilton by just 1.3s in a titanic title fight at Texas, the two championship protagonists giving it their all under the scorching sun at the Circuit of The Americas. The Red Bull driver explained just how he kept his cool after losing the lead on the opening lap, before retaking it to win the United States Grand Prix for the first time.
Verstappen, who didn’t lead a single practice session at Austin before ending Mercedes’ run of COTA pole positions on Saturday, lost the lead to Hamilton through Turn 1 as the lights went out on Sunday. But he undercut the Mercedes driver, who had newer tyres for the final stint, and only just kept him at bay to the flag.
Asked to rate his own race, he said: “It was exciting. The whole race, the pressure was on, not knowing how quick Lewis was going to get and we went very aggressive on the first stop in the start, and then again in the middle stint Lewis was within that undercut range so we had to respond: we had to go early again.
READ MORE: Verstappen brilliantly holds off Hamilton to seal victory at COTA and extend championship lead
“And then the last stint was very long. And in this heat, especially. But we managed to hang on at the end just enough with the tyres to push with two laps to go. I had the Haas [of Schumacher] in front of me and going into the last sector he was in front.
"With worn tyres it’s not easy to follow. Luckily, in a way, he stayed in front of me and gave me DRS and then whatever I lost, it stabilised a bit because of that DRS and the last lap was all about trying to have a good first sector and beginning of the second sector.
“It wasn’t easy because the tyres were finished – but incredible to win here,” he added.
Those last laps were nailbiting as Hamilton looked to be gaining on the Red Bull until Verstappen used up the last bits of life in his worn hard compounds, getting the advantage of DRS as he encountered Mick Schumacher on his way to the chequered flag. That advantage, as he said, helped him hang on in front of Hamilton.
“I think I have been in this position before when you are in the lead with the [worn] tyres or the other way around when you are hunting. I tried to do the best I could, trying to be consistent and trying to find the grip within the tyre without damaging too much, and yes, it wasn’t easy – but that made it, I think at the end of the day, really exciting,” he explained.
After Hamilton took the lead away from him at the start, it seemed like Verstappen faced the impossible task of retaking it from the seven-time world champion at a venue considered a stronghold for the Briton. But the Dutchman kept his cool.
RACE START REPLAY: Hamilton grabs the lead from pole-sitter Verstappen into Turn 1 at COTA
“I thought I had a really good start; I think Lewis just had a really great start as soon as he was alongside me, that’s more or less it. I went around the outside to avoid trouble from behind because it’s quite a tight hairpin. I just decided to try and go the long way round,” he recalled.
Heading into Mexico, his Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez’s home race, Verstappen holds a 12-point lead as he aims to clinch a maiden World Championship title.