The Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, has called for calm after Lewis Hamilton’s title ambitions were dented by Max Verstappen’s victory in the US Grand Prix. The seven-times world champion held a two-point advantage over Verstappen heading into the previous race in Turkey on 10 October. Now the Dutchman has a 12-point lead with five races remaining, and the next two, in Mexico and Brazil, are at tracks where Red Bull is widely expected to have a competitive advantage over Mercedes.
“I think we need to be careful in the team that we are not swinging too much between mania and depression,” Wolff said. Hamilton said of Red Bull following the race in Austin on Sunday: “I think they were quicker all weekend, on all tyres today. They were just too quick.” The Briton has won five times at the Circuit of the Americas while this victory was Verstappen’s first at the Texan track.
Not only did Hamilton lose ground in the title race at one of his favourite circuits; his rival’s pace and control were ominous. Verstappen’s flash of temper during practice last Friday, when he called Hamilton a “stupid idiot” and gave him the finger, implied that the 24-year-old’s volcanic nature, which has cost him in the past, might erupt again under the strain of challenging for what would be his first world title.
But there were no rash moves in Austin as he delivered a mature performance from pole, keeping his cool even after Hamilton superbly passed him on the first corner. In a close race where, as Wolff remarked, both drivers were at their best, the outcome came down to tyre strategy, with Hamilton taking his two pit stops a few laps after Verstappen. That left the British driver playing catch-up on fresher tyres as the contest reached its climax.
But as Hamilton bore down on his opponent, Verstappen drove impeccably to hold on to first place. “I have to say maybe they performed a bit better than we expected,” said Hamilton’s teammate, Valtteri Bottas, who finished sixth after a five-place grid penalty for an engine change. Hamilton and Verstappen each have two victories in Mexico City’s thin air. “It’s going to be tough, no doubt, I think Red Bull is always good there,” Bottas said.
Mercedes will undertake a period of reflection before looking ahead. “We need to retrace the weekend from Friday to Sunday, where did we misjudge, where did we get it wrong, what did we do well? And there will be plenty of discussion, positive discussions, about what to learn from this weekend,” Wolff said. “I don’t believe there is a particular pattern going forward, who suits which track.
We just need to push and push and push and hopefully be in a situation to fight for the championship in the very last race.” … we have a small favour to ask. Millions are turning to the Guardian for open, independent, quality news every day, and readers in 180 countries around the world now