Max Verstappen admitted that he wasn’t convinced his team’s decision to pit him early would pay off, as he tried to pass Lewis Hamilton.
Hamilton passed polesitter Verstappen at the start, and Red Bull pulled their driver into the pits after 10 laps as they undercut the new leader and regained track position.
The Dutchman was able to hold off the Mercedes driver as he came back towards his title rival on fresher tyres in the closing stages, with Red Bull’s decision helping to enable Verstappen to go for the win.
Toto Wolff said Red Bull deserved victory after going “super aggressive” on their strategy call – which the World Championship leader admitted left him uncertain about the outcome as the race progressed.
“We lost out at the start, so we had to try and do something else,” Verstappen said in parc ferme after the chequered flag. “But the tyre wear is quite high around this track, so we did go aggressive.
“I was not sure it was going to work, but yeah, the last few laps were fun. A bit sideways through the high-speed corners, but super happy of course to hang on.”
Max Verstappen WINS the #USGP 🇺🇸 and extends his World Championship lead!
What a finale! What a season! #F1 pic.twitter.com/6kBSsM7JdS
— PlanetF1 (@Planet_F1) October 24, 2021
Mick Schumacher could have been an unwanted distraction heading into the final lap, with the Haas driver needing to get out of the way of the two leaders.
Verstappen said he was wishing for the backmarker to move aside for him, and the moment Schumacher did so actually played into his hands by giving the Red Bull a crucial dose of DRS down the pit straight, stopping Hamilton from getting inside the one-second window to close up even further.
“It was tough…the tyres were not in a great state and I knew how much Lewis [Hamilton] was catching,” Verstappen told Sky F1 in the Austin paddock.
“But we managed to hold on at the end. It is quite difficult to pass around here but, of course, when your tyres are going you can lose a lot of lap time.
“Luckily it was just enough. Also, with two laps to go, I could see the Haas car [Mick Schumacher] in front of me and I was like ‘Oh! Please move out of the way!’ but it was his right, I was only within 1.5 seconds because my tyres were starting to fall away and so when you are following it makes it even difficult.
“Luckily he ended up giving me the DRS, so that helped a little bit. What I lost in the corners [to him] I gained again on the straight.
Asked if he was nervous about pitting so early to force the undercut on Hamilton, Verstappen replied: “I was just happy to be in front because then it was a different story instead of attacking.
“Of course, you have find out at the end how it is going to work out, but I prefer to be in the lead and maybe you get overtaken to the end and you are behind.
“Luckily we gave it our well and it all worked out right.”
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