(Reuters) -Red Bull’s Max Verstappen won the U.S.Grand Prix and doubled his Formula One championship lead to 12 points after holding off title rival Lewis Hamilton by little more than a second at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas on Sunday.
Mercedes’ seven-times world champion Hamilton staged a late charge on fresher tyres but ended up 1.333 seconds behind, with a bonus point for fastest lap.
Red Bull’s Mexican Sergio Perez finished a parched third, due to a malfunctioning water bottle, in front of a crowd of 140,000.
“I think I’ve aged about 25 years in that race,” said relieved Red Bull team boss Christian Horner. “I really didn’t think we were going to hang on.”
The Dutchman used pit-stops to get back out in front and now leads the seven-times champion by 12 points with five races remaining this season. It was his eighth win of the year and 18th overall in F1.
“We did go aggressive and I was not sure it was going to work, but the last few laps were fun. Super happy of course to hang on,” said Verstappen, who had Mercedes’ Hamilton very much on his tail in the final lap.
Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez was third in front of packed stands in sunny Texas, including many Mexicans cheering him on.
Defending champion Hamilton overtook polesitter Verstappen at the start, with the 24-year-old going off the track momentarily in an epic opening to the latest enthralling instalment in one of the best F1 title battles for years.
Verstappen responded with a fastest lap but the British veteran initially kept the lead on the bumpy and undulating Circuit of the Americas.
Overtaking is relatively common at Austin compared to many other F1 tracks but Verstappen, yet to win a world title, was not getting close enough despite being quickest in qualifying.
The Dutchman was pushing so much he again went outside tracks limits, but was not penalized.
He then decided to pit after 11 laps to try to undercut Hamilton, who waited to pit until lap 14.
Despite a decent stop, the Briton emerged over six seconds behind new leader Verstappen with Red Bull’s gamble having paid off.
Hamilton closed in slightly but a short virtual safety car period was not long enough to profit from.
Young pretender Verstappen then boxed for his second stop after lap 30 of 56, with Hamilton again staying out to try to build a lead.
The Mercedes man eventually pitted again after lap 37 with his tyres done and he came out with Verstappen clearly in the lead.
Hamilton still thought he could catch his rival given his fresher tyres and he almost hunted him down, with Verstappen seeing the Briton close in his mirrors as he crossed the line.
“Firstly congratulations to Max, he did a great job today,” Hamilton said.
“It was such a tough race. I got a good start and gave it absolutely everything but at the end of the day they just had the upper hand this weekend.”
Valtteri Bottas, winner here the last time F1 visited in 2019, started ninth on the grid for Mercedes after an engine change penalty and finished sixth behind Daniel Ricciardo.
There was a fun battle for fourth between the Ferraris and McLarens with Charles Leclerc prevailing.
Further down the field veterans Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen clipped each other in an exciting tussle, with former double world champion Alonso also in a ding-dong battle with Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo team-mate Antonio Giovanazzi.
Alonso was forced to retire late on.
Photo Dutch Formula One driver Max Verstappen (L) of Red Bull Racing and British Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes-AMG Petronas fight for position at the start of the Formula One Grand Prix of the US at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, USA, 24 October 2021. EPA-EFE/SHAWN THEW