AUSTIN, Texas — Red Bull driver Max Verstappen won the Formula One race at the Circuit of the Americas here Sunday, holding off the charging Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton in the final laps.
“You could see it was very close to the end!” Verstappen said after the race. “I was struggling a lot on the braking.”
It was the 15th Grand Prix win this year for Verstappen, tying his own record from last year, as he chased Formula One history after he clinched his third straight world championship this month. He started in sixth place after a mistake in qualifying that scrambled the usual order.
With his 50th Grand Prix win, Verstappen joins an elite club, with only Hamilton, Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel and Alain Prost having won at least 50 races.
“It’s a great number. I’m very happy with it. Very proud of it,” Verstappen told reporters. “But yeah, let’s try to win a few more.”
At the podium ceremony after the United States Grand Prix, loud boos filled the audience as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, presented the winner’s trophy to Verstappen.
It was an intriguing race of competing strategies and managing tires in scorching heat, with the Red Bull team pulling off another master class by committing early to two pit stops for Verstappen.
McLaren’s Lando Norris, who had a dream start and lunged into the lead in the first corner, tried a one-stop before he switched to a two-stop, which gave Verstappen the edge. Hamilton also gambled on a one-stop race by seeking to make his fresh tires last a long time, before he abandoned the strategy and stopped again. Hamilton overtook Norris for second place in the closing stages.
Scorching heat and big crowdsMcLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown told NBC News that the Circuit of the Americas deserves “a lot of credit” for having brought Formula One back to the U.S. in 2012 after a drought of races.
“It’s just built and built and built, and it’s great to see all the U.S. fans here. They love Formula One,” Brown said on the grid moments before the race began. “It’s only going to grow. We haven’t even had Vegas yet. We have a new television contract. We got the Brad Pitt movie coming. So all these things are going to just continue to accelerate the growth of Formula One.”
McLaren F1 Team principal Zak Brown enters the paddock Sunday before the Formula 1 Lenovo United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas.David Buono / Icon Sportswire via Getty ImagesMassive crowds packed the grandstands during the weekend despite scorching temperatures that topped 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Fans have complained about rising prices as interest in tickets has grown.
Leo Garcia, the Circuit of the Americas’ executive vice president of operations, said his team limited ticket sales to balance the need for a positive fan experience.
“To the community, to the fans — it’s a big, big event for us all,” Garcia said. “To know it’s on TV, to know that there’s millions of fans all over the world watching this race, that’s exciting for us.”
A battle for second in the championshipWhile Verstappen has already clinched the driver’s championship this year, a consequential battle for second place is heating up.
Red Bull’s other driver, Sergio Perez, started the season neck and neck with Verstappen, but after a poor stretch, Hamilton has closed the gap to 19 points, eating eight more out of his lead Sunday.
Perez, who is Mexican and says Austin feels like a second home race, was greeted throughout the weekend by chants of “Checo! Checo! Checo!” — his nickname.
After the race, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said in a brief interview that to finish first and second in the driver’s championship would be “nice to have” and voiced confidence in Perez.
“It’s not like winning the championship, but it’s something we’ve never done before,” Horner said.
Hamilton, a seven-time world champion, said overtaking Perez in the championship would be “a showing of resilience and strength and depth from our team” after a difficult 2022.
“I don’t know whether or not we’ll catch Sergio, but given the difference of our cars throughout the season, I’m really proud of the work that we’ve done,” Hamilton told reporters Friday. “We’ve just got to keep our heads down, keep fighting, keep pushing.”
Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing prepares to drive on the grid Sunday before the F1 Grand Prix of United States at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas.Mark Thompson / Getty ImagesAnd there’s a battle for second in the constructor’s championship with Ferrari seeking to hold off Mercedes. Behind them is a surging McLaren, which just overtook Aston Martin, which started the season strong and has since fallen behind.
F1 stars dish on growing U.S. fan baseOver the weekend, the drivers also reflected on the growing American fan base, on which the sport is making a major bet with a record three U.S. races — in Miami and Austin and in the first-ever Las Vegas street race next month.
“A couple of years ago, you could just drive back to the hotel within 20-25 minutes, no problem. You could go out for dinner, no problem, you could walk around, no problem, whereas now, driving back to the hotel takes you 40-45 minutes,” Verstappen said.
“There are so many fans in the city. They really love it. It’s a massive crowd next to the track,” he said. “So yeah, it has grown a lot, and I think that’s, of course, great to see, of course, here, but, of course, also like Miami, you can see the crowd, and I can only imagine what Vegas will be like, so yeah, it’s good to see that.”
His rivals agreed.
“The change is massive,” said Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, of Monaco. “In Austin, we could go around and nobody would recognize us. Now it’s a bit more difficult to go around. But it’s a good thing. Formula One is growing everywhere. And I think where we felt the most difference is definitely here in the U.S.”
Norris said the atmosphere has “changed a lot,” and he hailed the “good food” and “nice golf courses” that he remembers about Austin, alongside the larger fan base.
“It’s grown massively. And a lot of it’s down to Netflix and things like that,” he said, referring to the popular series “Drive to Survive,” which has brought in new fans. “Even the Netflix event we got in Vegas is going to be cool.”
But none have experienced the transformation more than Hamilton.
“I’ve been here since the beginning in 2012. Already back then we had an amazing crowd. But there’s a different … a different energy, a different excitement, even bigger than before, and it’s growing every year,” he said. “And it’s something that you can really feel.”
Sahil Kapur is a senior national political reporter for NBC News.