Max delivered a stunning drive to second from 18th place on the grid at the United States Grand Prix, as Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen took his first win in five years at the Circuit of the Americas. There was heartbreak, though, for Daniel, with the Honey Badger being forced to retire early in the race with an electrical issue.
At the start, Räikkönen got the jump on pole position man Lewis Hamilton and stole the lead as the field made its way through Turn 1. Behind them Daniel held P4 behind Valtteri Bottas but later in the lap was attacked by fifth-on-the-grid Sebastian Vettel. The German got a run on the Honey Badger into Turn 12 and took the position, but his exit was poor and Daniel got a shot at reclaiming fourth as they went into Turn 13. Vettel took a wide line, pushing Daniel towards the outside of the circuit. The Australian tried to remain inside the track limits but they touched wheels and Vettel was sent into a spin. The Ferrari driver dropped to P15, but Daniel was able to hold fourth place.
Further back, Max was on a charge. By the end of the opening lap he had risen from 18th on the grid to 14th, and over the following eight laps he rose imperiously to fifth place, just under seven seconds behind Daniel.
That would become fourth on lap nine, though in hugely disappointing circumstances. As he exited Turn one at the start of the lap, Daniel suddenly slowed. He immediately pulled over at the side of the track and stopped, a suspected battery issue ending his race.
Daniel’s stoppage, at the edge of the track, led to the Virtual Safety Car being deployed and Mercedes took that opportunity to pit second-placed Hamilton on lap 11. The Briton took on soft tyres and emerged just ahead of Max. Hamilton then slotted back into second place when Bottas moved aside. With 14 laps gone, Räikkönen now led by just 5.7s.
Vettel, meanwhile, had clawed his way back into contention and had scythed through the field to lie fifth on lap 15, 21.5s behind his race-leading teammate and 9.0s behind Max.
Armed with new soft tyres, Hamilton began to quickly close on Räikkönen and on lap 17 he was just 2.4s behind the Finn. However, over the next half dozen laps, Räikkönen defended brilliantly to keep Hamilton at bay, holding his fragile lead, but more importantly he was slowing Hamilton’s progress and allowing Vettel to close in. When Räikkönen finally surrendered and dived for the pits to shed his starting ultrasofts, Vettel was 12s off new race leader Hamilton, though he required a pit stop.
Max was next into the pits, taking on soft tyres on lap 23. That put Vettel into second place, but the German was now struggling on his starting supersofts. Räikkönen quickly moved past his teammate to re-take second place and a lap later Max swept past Vettel as the Ferrari man was called into the pits for new tyres. Vettel took on soft tyres in his stop and rejoined in fifth place. Hamilton now led ahead of Räikkönen, with Max in a podium position. Bottas now lay fourth with Vettel in fifth.
Räikkönen now began to edge back towards Hamilton and between lap 30 and 33 he turned a 16.3s deficit to the title leader into a 13.7s gap. Max also began to close in on Räikkönen and on lap 35 he was just 3.9s behind the Finn.
Hamilton’s times continued to drop and at the end of lap 37 he dived towards the pits and took on another set of soft tyres. Räikkönen led again, with Max now in second place ahead of Bottas. Hamilton re-joined in fourth ahead of Vettel.
Hamilton was soon setting fastest laps and on lap 41 Bottas slowed and moved to allow the Briton to sweep past into third place. He was now just under nine seconds behind Max, who was now just 2.3s behind Räikkönen.
With five laps remaining the gaps were tight. Räikkönen was just 1.1s ahead of Max, but the Dutchman was having to keep a close eye on his mirrors, as Hamilton was now inside DRS range. Behind them Vettel was still fifth and could not find a way past Bottas. Hamilton knew that if he passed Verstappen to take second then he would be world champion.
He saw a chance to do that on the penultimate lap. Max went wide into Turn 12 and Hamilton tried to power past. The pair battled furiously through the following corners but Max held firm and when Hamilton ran out of grip in Turn 18 and went wide, Max held second place to the flag. Behind them, on the same lap, Vettel made his move on Bottas, passing the Finn under DRS as the lap started. Bottas tried to fight back by braking late but it only succeeded in sending him wide in Turn one.
Räikkönen duly took his first win in 113 races, his last coming at the 2013 Australian Grand Prix. Max followed with a magnificent second place ahead of Hamilton and Vettel.
United States Grand Prix - Race - Top 10:
- Kimi Räikkönen
- MAX VERSTAPPEN
- Lewis Hamilton
- Sebastian Vettel
- Valtteri Bottas
- Nico Hülkenberg
- Carlos Sainz
- Esteban Ocon
- Kevin Magnussen
- Sergio Perez