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Verstappen seeks Texan triumph to extend advantage over Hamilton

Max Verstappen will seek to beat Lewis Hamilton in one of the defending champion’s favourite backyards this weekend to realise his own American dream and consolidate his lead in the Formula One drivers’ world championship.

Having finished fourth, third and second, but never won at the Circuit of the Americas, the Dutchman is aiming to claim a maiden Texan triumph to extend his six-point advantage with six races to go.

“We have always been competitive in the US and have got close to some good results – so it’s about converting that into a win now,” he said.

“We go to every track knowing we can fight for a podium at least, but also a win — and that is different to past years.

“We are focused on doing the best we can and always trying to win and it will be no different in Austin. It’ll be another close battle and I am looking forward to it.”

Verstappen and his Red Bull team know, however, that Mercedes have enjoyed a dominant run of results since the inaugural race in 2012, when Hamilton recorded the first of his five wins in the eight races to date.

Of the remaining three, his team-mate Valtteri Bottas was victorious once, in the last event held in 2019, while Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel won in 2013 and Kimi Raikkonen in 2018.

That statistical evidence, added to the way Mercedes bounced back in the last two contests in Russia and Turkey, with one win apiece for Hamilton and Bottas, suggests the Honda-powered team will have their work cut out this weekend.

“It was encouraging to see our momentum continue last time out in Turkey,” said the Silver Arrows’ team chief Toto Wolff.

“We haven’t scored back-to-back race wins in a little while so naturally spirits have been high in the factories.

“It was a dominant performance from Valtteri in tricky conditions, taking his first win of the season—a faultless drive. He was in control from the start and it’s a great boost to him and the team.”

Improved Mercedes

Mercedes’ recent return to form has in part been due to improved power and pace, albeit that Hamilton’s grid penalty for taking a new engine in Turkey restricted him to finishing only fifth.

“For Lewis, the absolute view of Turkey is that he lost one point more than Max did in the previous race in Russia with a similar engine change—which we can live with,” said Wolff, adding that he expects more dramatic twists and turns before this year’s compelling title race is run.

As Wolff voiced his own upbeat views, Red Bull boss Christian Horner sought to raise the stakes and add pressure on his Austrian counterpart.

“Toto’s done a tremendous job operating that team and maintaining their performance, but he’s never experienced anything other than winning,” said Horner.  

“So for him now, it’s a different type of pressure. It’s tough… He came in in 2013 when the structure was already there, in place, built by Ross Brawn. Lewis was there, already signed…”

Horner’s comments may suggest he also has been feeling the heat as the phoney war intensified and Mercedes pulled clear in the constructors’ championship by 36 points.

He will hope, however, that whatever damage they may suffer in Texas they can repair in Mexico where Mercedes’ power units have often struggled for breath in the tempestuous conditions.

And just as Bottas rose to win again in Turkey, Horner will hope that Sergio Perez will rise in Texas and then on home soil to play a prominent role in the championship run-in.

On the bumpy, but fast Austin track, Mercedes are expected to enjoy a power advantage, notably on the long straight, but it may not be easy if Red Bull find a set-up that permits them to gain in other sectors.

Behind them, an equally tight scrap between Ferrari and McLaren is expected following the Italians’ improved pace in Turkey.

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