Lewis Hamilton may not have claimed the top podium spot in the recent Formula One showdown in Austin, but he considers his race a different kind of victory. Trailing behind Max Verstappen, the seven-time world champion seized the opportunity to study his rival’s car at close quarters.
Saturday’s sprint race in Austin, Texas, surprisingly failed to live up to its usual hype and provided a less-than-thrilling preamble to the 2023 US Grand Prix. Max Verstappen secured an uneventful pole position and led the race from start to finish without any serious challenge, further cementing Red Bull Racing’s dominant season.
Charles Leclerc, who started second on the grid, also had an unremarkable run, maintaining his position throughout the race and finishing without any drama. The Ferraris have been no match for Red Bull this season and Leclerc’s uninspiring performance didn’t give the tifosi much to cheer about.
Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, who started third, also failed to produce any fireworks apart from a decent start with a questionable overtake with all four wheels off the track. It seemed as if the Mercedes team had resigned themselves to a conservative strategy, perhaps saving their energy and resources for Sunday’s main event.
No daring overtakes, no thrilling wheel-to-wheel action; it was, frankly, more of a procession than a race.
That said, from second position, a unique vantage point, Hamilton claims it gave him an invaluable insight into the Red Bull racing machine.
The DRS bubble: A window to watch and learn
The first corner collision between Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc created a surprising but beneficial situation for Hamilton. Not only did he easily move into second place, but he also found himself in the ‘DRS bubble’, less than a second behind Verstappen. This allowed him to observe the Red Bull car’s behaviour over several laps, studying how it handled corners, acceleration and other dynamics.
Speaking at the post-race press conference, Hamilton said: “As soon as I came out of the DRS, he [Verstappen] was gone. But while I was in that bubble, I was able to see how his car behaves. The way it reacts in the corners and so on; it’s obvious that we all have a lot of catching up to do,”
Verstappen’s humorous retort
In response to Hamilton’s revelations, Verstappen offered a light-hearted retort: “He tried to put a USB stick on my car!”
This tongue-in-cheek comment underlines the competitive but relatively friendly rivalry between these top F1 athletes, each knowing that any advantage they gain could make a difference in future races.
When asked to comment on Charles Leclerc’s struggles in the first corner, Hamilton shifted the focus. “I didn’t see it!” he exclaimed. “I was busy watching a McLaren,” he added, alluding to Lando Norris’ car.
Hamilton was clearly referring to an incident at the previous Grand Prix in Qatar, where a collision with his own team-mate had marred his race.
While Hamilton was cryptic about the specific insights he gained, it’s clear that every opportunity to gather information is another arrow in his quiver, at least for Hamilton’s confidence.
As the season progresses, it will be fascinating to see how these insights translate into strategy adjustments, not just for Hamilton, but for the Mercedes team as a whole. Likely they’ll conclude that the RB19 is ‘very fast’.
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