Crowds behaving badly, Mercedes finds pace: what we learned from the US F1 GP

Picture: Chris Graythen / Getty Images via Red Bull Content Pool.

Picture: Chris Graythen / Getty Images via Red Bull Content Pool.

Published Oct 24, 2023


Max Verstappen secured his 50th career victory at the United States Grand Prix but only after a battling drive to survive at the Circuit of the Americas in Texas.

The triple world champion was booed on the podium on Sunday while a revitalised Lewis Hamilton was disqualified nearly four hours later.

Verstappen was unflustered by his reception, but it was an unwelcome issue on a day when seven-time champion Hamilton, who finished second for Mercedes, and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who was sixth, were excluded long after a big crowd had left the track.

AFP Sport looks at three things we learned from a dramatic day:

Crowd behaviour mars landmark win for Verstappen

Verstappen may have brushed aside the booing and jeering from sections of the spectators, claiming he was "happy to be the one leaving with the silverware", but it confirmed a worrying trend among the 'Netflix generation' of modern F1 fans.

Crowd behaviour at several European venues has caused concern with fireworks and social media abuse attracting attention - resulting in the International Motoring Federation (FIA) introducing a ban on fireworks at last week's meeting of the International Motor Sports Council.

The 26-year-old Dutchman was unmoved. He said he was not annoyed. "No, In the end, I’m the one who takes the silverware home so it’s all fine by me."

Team boss Christian Horner suggested that many of the Austin crowd were supporters of his Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez - adding "I don’t think Max is going to get the warmest reception in Mexico, but it's water off a duck's back to him."

Of greater concern to Verstappen than the rising spectre of unruly crowds was the sight of his rivals from Mercedes, McLaren and Ferrari closing the gap.

Mercedes makes leap in performance despite mistakes

Hamilton's drive to second place, within two seconds of Verstappen, demonstrated a leap in performance by Mercedes that was ultimately not rewarded because of their own blunders.

Their mistakes effectively wrecked their best race of the season - poor strategy decisions and the disqualification for excessive wear of their underfloor 'skid blocks' - and left them reflecting on what might have been.

For Hamilton, the upgraded new floor was key to his performance.

"It gave me a lot more confidence in the car to throw it into corners," he said. "I really enjoyed driving the car here."

Had he and team-mate George Russell been given a clearer and smarter strategy, instead of delaying, they may have beaten Red Bull.

Leclerc struggling to keep Ferrari in podium fight

Charles Leclerc's bad day at Austin saw him driving while on heavy painkillers for a tooth infection and then disqualified - also for a worn skid block - as Ferrari again failed to find the pace to fight for a podium finish.

It was another setback and very disappointing for the team as the Monegasque extended his unwanted sequence to 10 pole position starts without a win, this time on a day when his main rival Verstappen started from sixth on the grid.

The upcoming races in Mexico and Brazil, in the final part of an exhausting American triple-header for the F1 circus, are unlikely to see any real performance changes, leaving Ferrari struggling to match their ambitions again.

Agence France-Presse

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