Max Verstappen’s pace in Saturday’s Sprint at the United States Grand Prix knocked a bit of hope out of his rivals, but Lando Norris and Lewis Hamilton maintain hope of victory in Sunday’s race.
Verstappen was closely followed by Hamilton initially but slowly pulled away as the Sprint went on and was nearly one second quicker per lap during the closing stages.
However, he starts from sixth on the grid on Sunday, after having his best lap deleted for track limits in qualifying on Friday, and the top three of pole-sitter Charles Leclerc, Norris and Hamilton all know how important it is to lead after Turn 1.
In particular for Norris and Hamilton, getting ahead of Leclerc will be key because their pace is quicker than Ferrari over the long runs. The Sprint also showed that the Ferraris are very quick on the straights, so will be tricky to overtake but do not have the outright pace over the 2.3 miles (3.792 km) Circuit of The Americas.
Sky Sports F1‘s Jenson Button told Norris he has to get past Leclerc then he could be gone, to which the McLaren driver responded: “For a while, until Max comes along!
“I think the last five laps of the Sprint, I caught nearly five seconds on the Ferrari. The pace is very good. I think Hamilton’s going to be our competition and Max coming through.
“If I can get into the lead early on at Turn 1, control my pace… I used a lot of tyres to try and get past Carlos (Sainz) at the beginning [of the Sprint] – it’s never a nice thing when you see the tyre temperatures going through the roof, laying 11 seconds on the track, it’s not a perfect situation.
“If I can control the race from the beginning, we can give ourselves a lot of opportunities to finish high up. But I expect some competition.”
History is on Norris’ side because four of the last five United States Grand Prix has seen the driver in second place lead after the hairpin left at Turn 1.
The grip is equal on both sides of the grid and the width at corner entry invites the driver behind to throw it up the inside, which Leclerc tried on Saturday, and it often pays off.
Norris, who is looking for a maiden win in F1, had similar pace to Hamilton once he got past the Ferraris but thinks the slow-speed corners in the final sector could be an issue.
“A lot of weaknesses. We are very, very bad in the slow speed corners and to improve that for [Sunday] is not really easy, or possible. We will see what we can do, the pace is good and I think we can better Mercedes at least,” he added to Sky Sports F1.
United States GP starting grid – Top 10
- Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
- Lando Norris, McLaren
- Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
- Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
- George Russell, Mercedes
- Max Verstappen, Red Bull
- Pierre Gasly, Alpine
- Esteban Ocon, Alpine
- Sergio Perez, Red Bull
- Oscar Piastri, McLaren
What are Hamilton’s chances?
No one from outside of the front row has won at the Circuit of the Americas since the track joined the F1 calendar in 2012, so that stat does not bode well for Hamilton, or Verstappen for that matter.
Hamilton has arguably looked more confident than at any other stage of the 2023 season with Mercedes’ latest upgrades in Austin, and will look to repeat his first-lap move on Leclerc from the Sprint in Sunday’s Grand Prix.
But, he is playing down his chances of a first win since the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in December 2021.
“This is the first weekend where I’ve really felt the car take a step in the right direction, which I’m really grateful for, but it’s not enough ultimately,” Hamilton told Sky Sports F1.
“Saturday was a real good test. Obviously in qualifying we were relatively close but today [Saturday] I really tried to lean on the car and see what it was capable of, and it dropped off big time towards the end and they were half a second a lap ahead of us.
“I’ll make some alterations [on Sunday] to see if I can squeeze a bit more juice out of it but there’s lots of great learnings from.”
He added in the press conference: “Anything is possible. He [Verstappen] has got at least half a second on all the cars ahead of him per lap. That should be enough to get by but there is degradation.
“We will have a job on our hands to hold him back but it’s a track where you can overtake, so it’s likely he will finish high up.”
Verstappen to blitz through the field or find it tough?
Verstappen has produced some memorable drives through the pack in his 49 career F1 wins including Austria 2019, Belgium 2022 and Miami this year.
It would be rather fitting that his 50th victory requires a big push and bold moves, although he knows the pace of his car is strong, so does not need to take too much risk.
“It’s not ideal to start P6 but the pace of the car is still quite strong and hopefully with high fuel we can do something similar. It’s one thing to be fast but another to get by a few cars,” said Verstappen.
“With the degradation around here, it’s not going to be straightforward and trying to follow through the high-speed. We have a race on our hands.”
Speaking of degradation, it should be a two-stop race on Sunday which could give a slight advantage to McLaren as they are the only top team to have two new sets of hard tyres.
If the hard tyre proves to be the best racing tyre, this is another factor which could give Norris a chance to beat Verstappen on merit.
As Sky Sports F1‘s Button alludes to, if one of Norris or Hamilton lead after Lap 1 and Verstappen is not in the top five, it will be game on for the win, and the United States Grand Prix generally delivers entertainment.
“The only thing that saves us for [Sunday] is that Max starts sixth. And we can say, ‘woah, he’s that much quicker than everyone, it’s going to be easy’. It’s not going to be easy,” said Button.
“Overtaking here isn’t easy and they proved that in the Sprint. It wasn’t very exciting because it was difficult to overtake. It’s still going to be a challenge for him. I wouldn’t want to come up behind Lewis. Would you?”
When to watch the US GP and F1 Academy finale live only on Sky Sports F1
Sunday October 22
- 3.30pm: F1 Academy Race Three
- 6.30pm: Grand Prix Sunday: US GP build-up
- 8pm: THE UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX (also on Sky Sports Main Event)
- 10pm: Chequered Flag: US GP reaction
- 11pm: Ted’s Notebook
Watch Formula 1 return to Texas for the United States Grand Prix on Sky Sports F1 this Sunday. Stream F1 on Sky Sports with NOW