When the fireworks went off at the Circuit of the Americas as Max Verstappen crossed the finish line, they ushered in Red Bull’s first constructors’ championship since 2013, and Verstappen broke the record for most race wins in a single Formula 1 season.
But despite the historic nature of the result, there was much more to it when Formula 1 finally had the race fans have been waiting for since the new formula car’s introduction early this year.
Battles flourished on the pitch throughout the day, tires bumped into each other and while the sport’s current top star remained on the podium, a few heroes from previous years were able to show that this isn’t just a young man’s thing. game.
However, Ferrari fans were not over the moon, despite the fact that the team had the two best qualifying sessions on Saturday. Charles LeClerc was dropped to 12th place on the grid with an engine change penalty.
And when pole-sitter Carlos Sainz was knocked out of the line by Verstappen at the start, he set the tone for the day when, instead of taking the safe route to second, he tried to cut behind the Red Bull to take the lead, only to be impaled by George Russell looking at the same stretch of road.
Although Russell was eventually handed a five-second penalty (forcing Sainz to withdraw from the race), the denouement was hardly a surprise as the drivers pulled out all the stops from the first corner.
With Verstappen first and it looks like he will stay there for the rest of the day, immediate fan interest went to Aston Martin, who had had a strong qualifying session with a great race start, joining the two Mercedes drivers and Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, who quickly overturned his own five-place grid penalty to rise to fourth on lap 5.
Leclerc was sixth by the time the second pending Lewis Hamilton tire changes started on lap 12, and it was beginning to look like another race was about to take place with the leaders largely failing to engage in meaningful battles on the track after the start. to go.
The first hint that this day would be different was on lap 18 when Valtteri Bottas, who has seen a fine first half of the season dissolve to dust in the last 10 races, ended up in the gravel after being unable to going with a strong gust of wind.
This gave an advantage to hard tire starters Fernando Alonso, Kevin Magnussen and Esteban Ocon, and an even bigger gift to Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel, the only drivers to have stretched the medium tires from the start, all of whom were able to get behind the safety car. which was necessary to disable the Alfa.
Fortune of this type is the most natural thing in the world, as each team is constantly considering the effects of the appearance of yellow flags, be it well-timed or ill-timed. However, what happened four laps later was one of those events where everything the quarterbacks have done up to that point is immediately dumped in the trash.
What exactly led Alonso to launch his Alpine from the back of Lance Stroll’s car is unclear – usually in these kinds of incidents one driver takes responsibility, or both blame the other. Perhaps the fact that the two will be teammates in just over four months (with Stroll’s father being their boss) had something to do with their mutually calm response.
Nevertheless, the Aston Martin lay like a misshapen heap on the track, while the Alpine, despite doing a wheelie of about two hundred yards (barely avoiding tipping over) and then hitting a track barrier, continued remarkably without noticeable loss of speed. Alonso was forced into the pits under the safety car to replace his damaged nose cone and took the opportunity to pick up a new set of hard tires, although 34 more laps was not the ideal time to grab his last rubber.
Things would settle down a bit until it was time for the leaders to make their second scheduled pit stop. Hamilton had managed to stay within Verstappen’s reach for most of the day, and when the Mercedes entered the pits on lap 34 to attempt an undercut for the lead, the Red Bull dutifully followed a lap later.
Expecting to show up with a gap of a second or two, the story was changed by a faulty tire gun in the possession of the Red Bull crew, which left Verstappen stranded in the pits for another 9 seconds and then emerged behind not only Hamilton but also Leclerc.
Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel, who had seemingly dropped everything perfectly into place, now led the race, although he didn’t have a chance to stretch his tires much further before having to pit and give up a few positions. Still, his two laps up front took his career total above 3,500, currently third all-time behind Hamilton and Michael Schumacher.
Now Verstappen got his marching orders – fix this mess the team made in the pits. Be the best driver, take the best car and go back to the front.
Meanwhile, the midfield continued to experience its own day. Alonso, driving a vehicle that appeared to be made of some kind of space-age metal unavailable to most Earthlings, returned onto the field, followed by Lando Norris, another beneficiary of the day’s special events.
With Alpine narrow for fourth in the standings over McLaren, and Daniel Ricciardo and Ocon not playing a part on the day, the pressure was on Norris and his better tires to pass his old mentor Alonso, a feat he finally achieved. would reach in the final round.
And they weren’t the only participants adding to the excitement. Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly had the speed to run in the points all day, but not the discipline. The driver who will be Alonso’s replacement at Alpine in 2023 was given a penalty for failing to maintain proper position during a safety car, then a second penalty for failing to serve the first correctly.
He managed to avoid an additional penalty for exceeding the limits for longer than allowed – a common occurrence on a day when drivers push the limits as far as they could.
And then there was Vettel’s day. While reaching the podium may have been too much to ask, the car’s performance and time up front certainly looked like it would be a mid-point finish for the former champion’s final race in Austin.
And then, in what appeared to be an immediate repeat of Verstappen’s saga, the team couldn’t get the front left tire on during his stop. After an excruciating 16.8 seconds of waiting for the hardware to work, he was finally able to take off, now all the way back to P13.
While that would be the end of the day for the former champion in many races in recent years, the Aston drove hard this Sunday and Vettel looked like his old self, back to eighth place and screaming across the finish line like a driver who wins his first race.
Meanwhile, Verstappen did what he has done all year. After battling Leclerc first to regain second place, he couldn’t be stopped by the underpowered Hamilton, who passed him on lap 50 and claimed the lead and then the win.
Indeed, the champion had sorted out the team’s mess on this day, leaving for the rest of the season only the seemingly easy-to-answer question of whether and when he would break the record for most race wins in a year. Hamilton pulled out all the stops to try and finally take the win that would continue his streak of wins every year since 2007, but the pedal couldn’t be pushed any lower.
If ever there was a way to enthuse a crowd with a seventh and eighth place finish, it would be former world champions Alonso and Vettel, both of whom had seemingly been spat on by fate before coming back to score big points for their soon-to-be former teams.
But in Formula 1 of 2022, as much as the fans prove to be supportive of their series, it seems they can never leave completely satisfied.
The problem was strangely enough with Magnussen, where he had been called into the pits twice by race control because he had loose end plates on his front wing that were determined to be a potential hazard. Haas has argued adamantly against the need to change the wings, going so far as to present a scientific analysis of the situation, but to no avail.
So when they saw a video of Alonso racing with a loose side mirror after his launch over Stroll, who eventually fell off (ironically when the Alpine driver passed Magnussen), Haas filed a protest which was accepted and Alonso got 30 seconds and dropped outside of the points.
through the field
It cannot be a happy office for the Alfa Romeo team, which has scored 51 points in its first nine races and only one extra point in the last 10 events. They now lead the up-and-coming Aston Martin team by just one point for seventh in the standings.
F1 is making its regular cross-border trip from Texas to the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez for the Mexico City Grand Prix this weekend. And with the championships wrapped up, Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc are just two points apart for second in the drivers’ championship, while Alpine and McLaren will continue to battle it out for fourth in the constructors’ battle.