Red Bull’s triple Formula One world champion Max Verstappen won a U.S. Grand Prix sprint race from pole position on Saturday after an early challenge from Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.
The Dutch 26-year-old finished 9.465 seconds ahead of Hamilton, who seized second at the start and gave chase before dropping back, in the 19-lap stand-alone race at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc took third after being passed by Hamilton at the start of a race that paid points to the top eight finishers.
The main event at the Texas track is on Sunday with Leclerc starting on pole position and Verstappen chasing his 50th grand prix win from sixth on the grid.
A front row starter has always won in Austin but there would be no great surprise if Verstappen proves an exception to the rule.
“Starting P6 is going to be a bit different than today,” said Verstappen, who controlled the race from start to finish and extended his unassailable lead in the championship to 213 points.
“But it makes it interesting and hopefully we can have a bit of fun out there tomorrow.”
Dominant Red Bull and Verstappen have already secured both the constructors’ and drivers’ world championships with a fistful of races to spare.
Red Bull have also won 16 of 17 races this year.
Verstappen chopped Leclerc aggressively towards the pitlane exit on the opening uphill run to turn one, with Hamilton then forced wide over the kerbs but passing the Ferrari around the outside.
In the early laps Verstappen and 2021 title rival Hamilton ran close enough for the Briton to have a drag reduction benefit, and perhaps dream of a first win of any sort in two years.
Then the Red Bull pulled away and it was game over.
“It was quite tight but luckily there is a lot of space going into Turn One, so that definitely helps,” said Verstappen, the first driver to win three sprints in a single season.
“After that we could do our own race, control the pace a bit. I had a bit of fun at the end, pushing a bit more.”
McLaren’s Lando Norris finished fourth, just running out of time to pass Leclerc but with the points leaving his team only six behind fourth-placed Aston Martin and looking likely to overtake them on Sunday.
Red Bull’s Sergio Perez finished fifth, losing more ground to Hamilton in the fight for second overall in the championship, and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz — the only driver starting on the faster but less durable soft tyres — sixth.
Sainz passed both McLarens on the opening lap but then his tyres faded.
Pierre Gasly was seventh for Renault-owned Alpine after Mercedes’ George Russell was handed a five second penalty and demoted to eighth for leaving the track and gaining an advantage.
Williams Alex Albon finished ninth, just missing a point, with McLaren’s Australian rookie Oscar Piastri — winner of the previous sprint in Qatar — 10th.
Daniel Ricciardo returned after missing five races with a broken hand and was 12th for AlphaTauri.
“The hand hasn’t affected me this weekend so it’s been good,” said the Australian.”