AUSTIN, Texas (AP)Max Verstappen and Red Bull started the United States Grand Prix determined to honor the memory of founder and team owner Dietrich Mateschitz and the racing powerhouse he built.
Driver and team both delivered, overcoming self-inflicted race drama to chase down Mercedes’s Lewis Hamilton to win Sunday.
”I think this is a race he would have loved to see,” Verstappen said of the victory that came a day after the team announced Mateschitz , the Austrian billionaire co-founder of the Red Bull energy drinks global empire, had died at age 78.
The Red Bull team was told shortly before Saturday qualifying that Mateschitz had died, and Verstappen vowed he’d give everything to get the win to honor him.
”The only thing we could do today,” Verstappen said, ”was win.”
Still, seeing the checkered flag was a relief.
Verstappen’s race was nearly undone when a rare slow pit stop – 11 seconds lost to a tricky change of the front left tire – dropped him out of the lead and well behind Hamilton.
”Beautiful,” Verstappen said over team radio.
He then chased down last season’s championship rival and passed him on lap 50 of 56. Verstappen had to hold off the pestering Hamilton through the final laps, and both drivers were warned not to exceed track limits that would draw a penalty.
”This one is definitely dedicated to Dietrich,” Verstappen said. ”I pushed it to the limit to come back.”
Hamilton said he simply couldn’t hold off the charging Red Bull.
”It felt amazing to even just be within shooting distance of Max at some points in the race,” Hamilton said. ”For a second, I thought we just might be able to hold onto it … He came from a long, long way back.”
The win continued Verstappen’s run of dominance in 2022.
He had already clinched his second consecutive season championship in Japan two weeks earlier. The Texas win was No. 13 this year, tying Michael Schumacher (2004) and Sebastian Vettel (2013) for most in a season with three races still to go.
Since its founding, Red Bull has won six driver championships and five constructors’ titles. Verstappen’s win also clinched this season’s team championship. His Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez finished fourth.
”We wanted to do that in style and I think we did that today,” Verstappen said.
Mateschitz bought the Jaguar team in 2004 and rebranded it as Red Bull in 2005. He added a second team to the Red Bull stable and named it Toro Rosso in 2006 to be a program for training younger drivers. That team is now Alpha Tauri.
The Red Bull racing program promoted Verstappen to F1 in 2015 when he was just 17 with the hopes he could become the youngest champion in series history. Mercedes’ dominance over 2014-2020 prevented that.
But Mateschitz, who had been reportedly ailing for months, lived long enough to see Verstappen win two championships and start what could be another dominant era for the team he founded.
F1 held a brief tribute to honor Mateschitz before the race. Large signs of ”Danke Didi” (Thank you, Didi) were posted on the video screens. Vettel, who won four championships with Red Bull and now races with Aston Martin, appeared to be fighting back tears.
Verstappen also appeared to wipe away tears as he stood on the victory podium and the team gathered below him.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was the championship leader when he won two of the first three races this season. He finished third Sunday and was asked if Verstappen is starting new era of Red Bull dominance.
”I hope not,” Leclerc said. ”I’ll do everything I can to not let that happen .. I’m confident we can do that.”
Leclerc’s podium was a bright spot for Ferrari has he fought back from 12th at the start. He was second-fastest in qualifying but drew a 10-place grid penalty after taking a new engine.
Teammate Carlos Sainz’ day was much worse. He started on pole position only to see Verstappen zip past him with an explosive bolt off the line. Then Sainz was bashed by Mercedes’ George Russell in the elevated switchback first turn, and his race was effectively over. The damage forced him out of the race at the end of the first lap.
Hamilton is drawing ever closer to a winless season, which would be a first in his 16-year career. The seven-time champion has 103 career victories but has reached the podium just seven times this season as Mercedes has struggled. He has finished behind teammate George Russell eight times in races they both finished.
Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll and Alpine’s Fernando Alonso were involved in the scariest crash of the day. The cars were in the fastest sector of the track on the long straight and hitting top speed when Stroll moved his car ever so slightly left as Alonso was passing.
Their tires clip and Alonso’s car did a wheelie and nearly went airborne as Stroll spun and two cars zipped through the gap between them. Neither driver was hurt but Stroll’s car was knocked out of the race. Amazingly, Also got his car with a shredded from end back to his garage and was still able to finish seventh.
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