HomeSportsMartin Brundle: Reviewing a dramatic United States GP as Max Verstappen hunts...

Martin Brundle: Reviewing a dramatic United States GP as Max Verstappen hunts down Lewis Hamilton for win


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Highlights of the United States Grand Prix from the Circuit of the Americas.

Highlights of the United States Grand Prix from the Circuit of the Americas.

There are some races where I have a natural desire to loudly applaud as the chequered flag drops before quickly remembering that I’m actually still commentating live on TV.

As Sebastian Vettel was charging around the outside of an equally determined Kevin Magnussen on the final lap of a breathless race on Sunday, it was certainly one of those moments.

The sell-out crowd were treated to the best action F1 has to offer right now with outstanding speed and skill, close racing, incidents, scary accidents, safety car restarts, lightning and tardy pit stops, varying race strategies, and plenty of controversy.

The rise and rise of F1 in America is intriguing to observe, not least at this the 62nd US Grand Prix and the 10th at the Circuit of the Americas. Considering that most F1 drivers used to love coming to America because they could move around largely unrecognised, the whole sport is at fever pitch now.

Drama at the start with Russell’s Sainz error

The event, of course, took place under the cloud of the cost cap breach for Red Bull which will hopefully be concluded this week, presumably with some pain for the team to overcome in 2023

Martin Brundle explains why he believes punishments for breaching F1's cost cap should be 'painful'.

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Martin Brundle explains why he believes punishments for breaching F1’s cost cap should be ‘painful’.

Martin Brundle explains why he believes punishments for breaching F1’s cost cap should be ‘painful’.

When the track action began, there was drama right from the start. After frustrating grid penalties, not least for Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari again, Max Verstappen had less wheelspin on the short journey from the front row to the first corner than pole-sitter Carlos Sainz.

Frustratingly for Carlos he wasn’t so disadvantaged that he could tuck in behind Max and then take the inside line, so he swung back to the right hoping to take the normal racing line into the very tight left hand hairpin at the top of the hill hoping to take advantage on the exit.

Over to the left Max’s line was compromised and he was slower through the apex whilst no doubt positioning himself for a clean exit. As Sainz turned the Ferrari hard he had to hesitate on the throttle behind Verstappen just as the two Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell arrived jockeying hard for position. George locked up his front wheels, at which point a car won’t turn properly, and he slammed into the side of the Ferrari.

A dramatic start at the United States Grand Prix sees Mercedes' George Russell send Ferrari's Carlos Sainz spinning.

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A dramatic start at the United States Grand Prix sees Mercedes’ George Russell send Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz spinning.

A dramatic start at the United States Grand Prix sees Mercedes’ George Russell send Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz spinning.

It was entirely his fault, and he fully admitted that and then found Sainz after the race to apologise. George took a five-second penalty and a touch of front wing damage but for the fourth time this season Sainz sadly wouldn’t complete a lap of racing.

Perhaps he should have run wide around the outside leaving more than ample space on the inside and settled for second at that point. What Carlos did was absolutely right in a one-on-one combat but it left him exposed at the start of a race to exactly what happened. To be fair he had actually completed the corner and was right to be disappointed that serious front runners behind him didn’t keep their cars under control.

The ace at spatial awareness is his fellow countryman Fernando Alonso who has a major mirror scan going on at all times and seemingly all radars on full power for the first lap. More about him shortly.

The first lap saw a few stock-car racing tactics and outside passes including a broken front wing for Sergio Perez, a saga which would run for a good while even after the race.

Safety Car energises race… and leads to huge crash

The race settled down with Verstappen building a reasonable gap over Hamilton who had neatly navigated the first corner dramas. Then Valtteri Bottas had a relatively harmless but beached spin into the gravel at the unsighted and high speed turn 19 which necessitated a Safety Car. This came in very handy for a cheap pit stop for the likes of Leclerc to get some fresh tyres and save valuable time while the others were relatively crawling round on track.

Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll collided at the US GP, with Alonso sent airborne as a result

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Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll collided at the US GP, with Alonso sent airborne as a result

Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll collided at the US GP, with Alonso sent airborne as a result

It’s perhaps not quite so prevalent in F1, but there’s a general saying in motor sport that ‘safety cars create safety cars’, in that everybody remaining in the race bunches up and then sets off with likely cool tyres and brakes and yet still eager to grab some opportunity in the melee. And that’s what happened on lap 22.

Down the back straight Alonso’s Alpine was closing in on Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin using as much slipstream as he could muster before going for the overtake. It could be said that Alonso got a little closer to the back of the Aston than necessary or wise, but it can absolutely be said that Stroll moved quickly over at the last moment, for which he’ll take a three place grid drop in Mexico.

He went spinning around in the middle of the pack and Alonso flew skyward and then smashed into the barrier luckily missing a service road opening, and then somehow drove the Alpine back to the pits, received service, and continued for the restart. A massive compliment to both the integrity of the car and the ‘never give up’ attitude of the oldest driver on the grid. Amazing.

Max Verstappen drops down to P5 after a nightmare pit stop, allowing Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc to get ahead.

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Max Verstappen drops down to P5 after a nightmare pit stop, allowing Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc to get ahead.

Max Verstappen drops down to P5 after a nightmare pit stop, allowing Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc to get ahead.

The rest of the race was populated with some stunning out-braking overtakes, side by side action, intense battles, and drivers being warned a total of 30 times about track limits, which were occasionally hit and miss in their accuracy – especially in qualifying. Pressure pads on the exit kerbs with digital feedback to race control would be a better solution, but they’ve got to survive a weekend of F1 grip and torque and that would be a challenge.

Another feature of the race was slow pit stops particularly for Verstappen and Vettel which only served to deliver up a couple of great comeback drives. Max of course would win and Seb would finish 7th. For now anyway.

Was Alonso’s post-race penalty harsh?

In the 158 F1 races I did my rear view mirrors occasionally either came loose and turned, fell off, or the glass cracked, but in pretty much all of them the glass was eventually covered in water, grime, or oil, or a combination of all three. At which point you started using different parts of your gloves to try to clean them, and eventually started listening and looking round for your rivals trying to pass you.

Cars don’t chuck oil out now, and nor can you look around, but after Alonso’s short flight and heavy impact his right mirror, or more accurately his right aerodynamic device which includes a mirror, eventually made a bid for freedom and lay just off the racing line for the duration. His team were informing him of cars behind and he had another remaining mirror, and anyway who dares overtake Alonso when he’s angry?

On a serious note, debris on track is a peril for track personnel, spectators and other drivers of course, but we restarted after the Alonso/Stroll contact with plenty of debris lying around. It is undeniable, though, that a significant piece of carbon fibre fell off the Alpine.

Fernando Alonso overtakes Kevin Magnussen but loses his wing mirror in the process, leaving debris bouncing all over the track!

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Fernando Alonso overtakes Kevin Magnussen but loses his wing mirror in the process, leaving debris bouncing all over the track!

Fernando Alonso overtakes Kevin Magnussen but loses his wing mirror in the process, leaving debris bouncing all over the track!

The front wing upright also fell off Sergio Perez’s Red Bull, but by sending images and details to the FIA scrutineer during the race the team were able to justify that it was safe to continue without this piece intact.

Why is this all relevant? Well Kevin Magnussen has three times this season been forced by race control to pit in Canada, Hungary and Singapore to have the nose changed when his front wing upright was damaged and flailing but stayed on the car. His team Haas were enraged at the time and even more so when they saw Perez’s residual wing and Alonso’s flailing mirror being allowed to continue, and so they protested to the FIA both during and after the race.

They are racers, I don’t really blame them, they wanted consistency and clarification, and also to maximise their championship points for Magnussen. Post race it was decided to uphold the protest against Alonso’s car but not Perez’s car. And so after all of his adventures and bravery Alonso was given a 30-second penalty and dropped from seventh to 15th – which hurts Alpine in their fight with McLaren too.

Martin Brundle, Simon Lazenby and Danica Patrick pay their respects to the owner of Red Bull Dietrich Mateschitz.

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Martin Brundle, Simon Lazenby and Danica Patrick pay their respects to the owner of Red Bull Dietrich Mateschitz.

Martin Brundle, Simon Lazenby and Danica Patrick pay their respects to the owner of Red Bull Dietrich Mateschitz.

This reminds me of when Fernando did an outstanding job with a damaged car after a puncture in qualifying at Monza in 2006. He was very dubiously penalised five grid places for ‘blocking’ Felipe Massa’s distant Ferrari at which point he angrily said he no longer considered F1 a sport. Sixteen years later he obviously still does but the injustice feels about the same to me.

Rules are rules and overall I support that they are being applied more rigidly, but they need some racers’ common sense to go with them. Deciding whose front wing is safe when partly broken and whose isn’t is rather subjective I would have thought, and Felipe Massa for example knows very well what it’s like to be hit by discarded parts.

Alpine are counter-protesting this decision and we will find out if that is admissible on Thursday in Mexico.

Verstappen hunts down Hamilton for emotional win

Through all of this we had an intense finale with Verstappen hunting down Leclerc and then Hamilton for a fine victory to pay utmost respect to team owner Dietrich Mateschitz who sadly passed away on Saturday just before qualifying.

The battle for P1 continues as Max Verstappen battles through to take the lead from Lewis Hamilton at the United States Grand Prix.

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The battle for P1 continues as Max Verstappen battles through to take the lead from Lewis Hamilton at the United States Grand Prix.

The battle for P1 continues as Max Verstappen battles through to take the lead from Lewis Hamilton at the United States Grand Prix.

He lived to see Max win his second title but not to see his team win their fifth Constructors’ title. With no black armbands in the team, blue jeans instead of team trousers in honour of Dietrich’s trademark style, and celebratory applause instead of silence, it was no doubt exactly what he would have wanted. Congratulations to everyone at Red Bull.

It very much looked that after a great drive Lewis Hamilton would win his first GP of the season in the closing stages, but his car on hard compound tyres couldn’t stand the necessary pace and the Red Bull on medium compound tyres and with prolific straight line speed and a very determined Verstappen behind the wheel was just too fast for him in the end.

The latest updates at least give both drivers and the team hope for a glorious and long awaited late season victory.

And so to Mexico.

MB.



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