AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — In a season of easy victories, career win No. 50 finally made Max Verstappen sweat.
Even if it was just a little bit.
Verstappen had to work through the field after starting sixth instead of from pole position, then held off the charging Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton over the final laps in the Texas heat to win the United States Grand Prix on Sunday at the Circuit of the Americas.
Hamilton’s best finish in five months was later wiped out when he and sixth-place finisher Charles Leclerc of Ferrari were disqualified more than three hours after the race for rules violations found with the skid blocks under their cars.
Verstappen’s record-tying 15th win of the season also made the Dutch driver just the fifth Formula One driver in history to reach 50 in a career. Hamilton has the most with 103.
Verstappen has four races left this season to leap over Alain Post (51) and Sebastian Vettel (53) for third. Michael Schumacher has 91.
“It’s a great number,” Verstappen said of 50. “Let’s try to win more.”
The three-time F1 champion had to work much harder than usual in a season of almost complete domination. But the power of his Red Bull and the right pit stop strategy calls by his team navigated Verstappen to the finish line 2.2 seconds ahead of Hamilton.
Hamilton’s Mercedes had been eating up chunks of time while chasing Verstappen over the final laps.
“I think the whole race I was struggling with the brakes. That made the race a bit tougher. It was very close at the end,” Verstappen said.
After splitting the first four races with teammate Sergio Perez, Verstappen has won 13 of the last 14 in a run that would have Red Bull on top of the team standings by himself. Red Bull has already won the constructor’s championship.
Verstappen also earned his third consecutive win in Austin. He started this one in the middle of the grid because of a rare mistake of exceeding track limits in Friday’s qualifying that wiped out his final lap. Race officials then slightly widened the lines at three corners to give the drivers more space on race day.
Every winner at the Circuit of the Americas had started from the front row until Verstappen’s charge Sunday. He now has won three times this season from sixth or lower.
With Hamilton in his rearview mirror and his garage updating his lap times, Verstappen scolded his team to “stop talking” to him while he battled with his brakes in the corners.
“I asked nicely,” Verstappen said. “I said ‘please.’”
Hamilton is chasing Perez for second in the drivers’ standings. He thought he had a delivered an important podium finish as Mercedes brought what it called its last major upgrade of the season to Austin.
Race officials quickly wiped that out once his car was inspected after the race.
Formula One cars have a wooden plank, or skid block, under the floor that is used to test if it is within the rules of how low cars can run to the ground. If the plank is found to found to be worn more than 1 millimeter, the car and driver are disqualified.
A late radio message from the Mercedes garage had expressed hope for second place and “maybe the win” as Hamilton passed McLaren’s Lando Norris and closed the gap to the Verstappen.
“Max has been really flawless,” Hamilton said. “We were catching him toward the end. I was hopeful. We needed more laps.”
The disqualification announcement from race officials noted the team argued the problem stemmed from the bumpy conditions on track, which even Verstappen complained about.
“The Stewards note that the onus is on the competitor to ensure that the car is in compliance with the regulations at all times during an event,” race officials said.
Race officials had also inspected Verstappen’s skid block with no violation found.
Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff said the team would not appeal.
“Others got it right where we got it wrong and there’s no wiggle room in the rules. We need to take it on the chin, do the learning, and come back stronger next weekend,” Wolff said.
Hamilton had said after the race he was proud to have a strong race after his self-inflicted, first-lap crash with teammate George Russell knocked him out of the race two weeks ago in Qatar. The seven-time F1 champion hasn’t won since December 2021 in Saudi Arabia.
“It is of course disappointing to be disqualified post-race but that doesn’t take away from the progress we’ve made this weekend,” Hamilton said.
Norris finished third, but was moved up to second after Hamilton was disqualified. He earned McLaren its fourth consecutive podium finish.
The run of good results has pushed McLaren past Aston Martin into fourth place in the team standings.
“To get into the lead early was a podium maker,” Norris said. “It was a good day for us.”
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz was awarded third after Hamilton was disqualified. Williams driver Logan Sargeant was promoted from 12th to 10th, earning the American rookie his first points of the season.
The top finishers complained about the bumpy conditions at the Circuit of the Americas immediately after the race. It has long been a problem because of the soft soil underneath the pavement.
“At the moment it feels like it’s better suited to a rally car,” Verstappen said, adding it needs to be resurfaced. “Like, I’m jumping and bouncing around … I don’t think it’s F1 level.”
“I like some of the bumps because it adds character to a circuit, but there’s way too many,” Hamilton said, before he was disqualified a few hours later.
Track President Bobby Epstein said about half the track is due to be resurfaced in January. The circuit had a major track resurface in 2022 after MotoGP riders complained about safety.
“We’ll just fix it,” Esptein said. “Part of the track is 12 years old. That’s a pretty good run.”
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