GRR

2023 US Grand Prix | 7 talking points

22nd October 2023
Damien Smith

Sweary radio rants and frustrating disqualifications. Yes, but the United States Grand Prix was more than this. The race at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas was a cracker that has raised hopes that both McLaren and Mercedes are edging closer to dominant Red Bull. Neither could quite stop Max Verstappen scoring his 50th Formula 1 victory, but the triple world champion sure had to work harder for it than he’s been used to in 2023.

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1. Mercedes’ F1 strategy blunder in Austin

The initial question after the race – before the sting in the tail that followed – was, could Lewis Hamilton have won this race with a better strategy? His subsequent disqualification for a technical infringement made it a moot point anyway, but the Verstappen vs Norris vs Hamilton battle was a fascinating scrap that bodes well for the rest of the season.

Norris looked comfortable as he led the early stages, with both Hamilton and Verstappen – who only started sixth – having to work their way past the Ferraris before they could get to the McLaren. Verstappen was the first to pit, on lap 16, and Norris reacted to avoid an undercut the following time around, coming in for a set of hard Pirellis. But Mercedes kept Hamilton out until lap 20 as it weighed up a one-stop strategy. This having been a sprint race weekend (another Verstappen win), the teams had only one free practice session which limited their data gathering on tyre wear. Had Mercedes been armed with more knowledge perhaps it would have made a different call, because as it turned out and with the benefit of hindsight the one-stop was never really on at Austin (as Charles Leclerc found out).

The Mercedes delay lost Hamilton about 10 seconds to Verstappen in five laps before he finally stopped, which left him with a mountain to climb – as he said on the radio. Now Norris led Verstappen by 2.5 seconds, with Hamilton just over seven seconds off the Red Bull. A methodical Verstappen finally made a successful move for the lead, passing Norris on lap 28, although the McLaren remained a threat – and Hamilton’s strategic offset kept him in contention too. He stopped three laps later than the Red Bull for his final set of medium tyres, successfully hunted down and passed Norris for second on the road, but was left with just too much to do to catch the hard-tyred Verstappen to challenge for the win. Still, it had been a tense and gripping chase nonetheless.

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2. Disqualification turns 2023 US GP upside down

But the later news that both Hamilton and Leclerc’s Ferrari had been disqualified for excessive wear to the skid blocks in the underfloor ‘plank’ was an anti-climax. Mercedes had been encouraged by its form following a major performance upgrade brought to the car for this race – but clearly, Hamilton’s had been running too low over what is one of the bumpiest tracks on the calendar. So had it made as much progress as first appeared? We’ll find out more next weekend in Mexico. At least the seven-time champion doesn’t have long to wait to shake off this bitter blow.

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3. Sweary Verstappen was a rattled F1 champion

Before we look at the consequences of those disqualifications, a word first on Verstappen. His petulant side once again rose to the surface as he faced the pressure of the Mercedes and McLaren challenge. The Dutchman complained about a braking problem and snapped several times at his put-upon engineer Gianpiero Lambiase, triggering plenty of bleeps to avoid the broadcast of some choice language. You had to smile when he branded his dominant car “a piece of ****” at one point. Really, Max? Are you sure about that, after one of the most dominant seasons in F1 history? It’s just the way he operates, we guess. But it’s not the most attractive character trait in one of the sport’s greatest racing drivers.

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4. The Austin F1 DSQ consequences

Once both Hamilton and Leclerc were dumped from the results, everyone else of course moved up the order. Norris went from an already fine third to second, with Carlos Sainz inheriting a podium. He’d already passed Leclerc following a team order from the pit wall, which upset the pole position starter who’d been hung out to dry on his one-stop strategy, Ferrari reverting to type and getting its crucial tyre call horribly wrong.

Perez was shifted up to fourth after another extremely average performance in the second Red Bull, George Russell was now fifth and Pierre Gasly sixth for Alpine. Good news for the team’s new coterie of celebrity stakeholders…

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5. McLaren overtakes Aston Martin in F1 2023

Norris’s performance lifted McLaren above Aston Martin into fourth in the constructors’ standings, despite Oscar Piastri’s early retirement. The orange team is now six points ahead of the green one which suffered a disastrous day in Austin, Fernando Alonso also notching up a non-finish after retiring to the pits with floor damage. Lance Stroll at least added points in what became seventh, having finished ninth on the road. But it’s hard to see Aston Martin hitting back against the flying McLarens given how the form has swung.

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6. Tsunoda’s AlphaTauri F1 points haul

On a weekend when Daniel Ricciardo returned to AlphaTauri, Yuki Tsunoda stepped up and deservedly took the team limelight. He drove a fine grand prix to finish 10th on the road, which then became eighth – and a late call to fit a set of soft tyres in the closing stages netted him the extra point for fastest lap. AlphaTauri is still 10th and last in the teams’ standings, but Tsunoda’s haul leaves it only two points behind Haas with four races to play.

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7. Sargeant makes his mark

The final consequence of the disqualification was a big bonus for Williams. Alex Albon, penalised for track limits violations, suddenly found himself on the scoreboard in ninth. Better still, his team-mate Logan Sargeant – who hasn’t had much to smile about in his rookie season – finally got off the mark by inheriting the final point in 10th. Remarkably, that makes him the first American driver to score an F1 world championship point since Michael Andretti’s unhappy year with McLaren in 1993.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images

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