Lewis Hamilton refuses to be downbeat after Texas wear and tear
At the Circuit of the Americas, Verstappen was totally beatable.
Lewis Hamilton delivered his and Mercedes’ best display of the season so far in Austin but it all counted for nothing as four hours after crossing the finish line in second place – just two seconds behind winner Max Verstappen – he was disqualified due to excessive wear to the wooden skid block on the underside of his car.
The ride height on the Mercedes had been set too low, and less than the minimum 9mm plank thickness was left, deeming the W14 illegal.
Thoughts of what both men could have achieved on a different strategy are therefore moot – they’d have still been DSQ’d – but had they just copied Verstappen’s tyre choices I think we’d have seen Hamilton (pictured) on the top step of the podium for the first time in 686 days.
Leclerc would have pipped his team-mate too. I can understand why Mercedes and Ferrari did what they did – Verstappen is normally unbeatable on the same strategy, even when starting sixth, so you roll the dice with something else.
Yet at the Circuit of the Americas, he was totally beatable. It was the most vulnerable of his 15 2023 wins.
The Dutchman struggled with his brakes and vented spleen at his engineer each time Gianpiero Lambiase interrupted on the radio when Max was negotiating corner entry. In addition to the surface making the car wallow and buck like a bronco, Verstappen wasn’t getting sufficient feeling through his brakes, which had been changed overnight.
It’s not the first time we’ve heard Max testy this year but it was the first time he’d sounded genuinely rattled – metaphorically and figuratively. He later said the track surface was ‘not F1 standard’.
Aston Martin team principal Mike Krack concurred after Fernando Alonso exited the race with floor damage: ‘The track is brutal here. There was one part of the floor that is just broken off, like half a metre in length. Just gone.’ Hamilton and Leclerc’s skid block wear will have been the result of the same forces. So, it sounds like a resurfacing job needs to be done before next year’s US Grand Prix.
Toto Wolff reflected on Lewis’ one-stop race and noted the pitstop was 1.2 seconds slower than it should have been, which made the Englishman’s chase more difficult still: ‘Maybe we could have gone for a two-stop and the stop was not great.
‘That’s an equipment issue, not a human issue. And then we lost two seconds behind Norris and probably 1.5 seconds behind [backmarker Daniel] Ricciardo. But fair dues, this is how we race and at the end it wasn’t sufficient.’
Lewis described disqualification as ‘disappointing… but that doesn’t take away from the progress we’ve made this weekend’.
Unfortunately for him, he and Leclerc’s striking from the results meant Sergio Perez was elevated to fourth and stretches his lead in the race to be championship runner-up to 39 points with four races left.
Ricciardo returned from injury but hardly set Texas alight, he finished 15th and last, a lap down, while his team-mate Yuki Tsunoda picked up five points, including the one for fastest lap.
The Australian fared better in the sprint race, starting tenth and finishing 12th, but it seems 56 laps took it out of him – it was only his third race of the year.
Ricciardo cites ‘race rust’, which is understandable, but if he wants a shot at Perez’s seat at Red Bull he really needs to score points in Mexico next week.
Marta makes history
The inaugural season of the all-female F1 academy championship was won in Austin by Marta Garcia.
The 23-year-old Spaniard was congratulated by Lewis Hamilton, George Russell and Kick-Ass actress Chloe Grace Moretz after her thrilling Race 1 victory.
Meanwhile, McLaren has been the first F1 team to announce a driver for the 2024 academy.
Eighteen-year-old Filipina Bianca Bustamante, who only started in single-seaters last year, has got the nod. She’s the first female driver to join McLaren’s driver development programme, something Hamilton pioneered at the tender age of 12.