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Verstappen hails ‘incredible’ 50th career victory in Texas

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AUSTIN—Freshly minted triple world champion Max Verstappen completed a hat trick of Texan victories on Sunday when he claimed the 50th win of his career in a tense and strategic United States Grand Prix.

The 26-year-old Dutchman, who started sixth on the grid in his Red Bull car, worked his way through the field to take control before he came home 2.225 seconds ahead of resurgent seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, who was disqualified hours after the race when his Mercedes car failed a technical inspection.

Verstappen, who won his third straight title last time out in the sprint at Qatar, said: “Starting from sixth position made things a little more difficult.

“Fifty wins is incredible and to do it here I am very proud. Now we keep on pushing for more.”

Lando Norris, in his 100th Grand Prix, was promoted to second after Hamilton’s disqualification following a thrilling race in which he had out-started pole-sitter Charles Leclerc, who like Hamilton was disqualified for failing a technical inspection following the race.

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It was Verstappen’s third consecutive victory at the Circuit of the Americas and brought him level with last season’s record tally of 15 wins.

His runaway lead in the drivers’ championship now stands at 228 points ahead of Sergio Perez.

“I think the whole race I was struggling with the brakes,” added Verstappen, who was booed by sections of the crowd.

Norris commented: “Leading the race, we controlled it a lot, but just not enough today. I. just couldn’t hold on.”

George Russell, also in his 100th race, finished seventh but was promoted to fifth following the disqualification of Hamilton and Leclerc.

The race began with 16 cars on the grid and four in the pitlane, Aston Martin and Haas having made overnight set-up changes. The temperature was 29 degrees Celsius with the track at 40; tough for tyres.

Norris, with a perfect start, took the lead from pole-man Leclerc in Turn One and a near-frantic opening lap saw Carlos Sainz pass Hamilton for third and Verstappen rise to fifth from sixth.

Norris was two seconds clear by lap three as Russell, after falling from fifth to eighth, regained seventh from Perez before Hamilton passed Sainz on the back straight to regain third at Turn 12.

He repeated the move to pass Leclerc for second on lap six and began pursuit of Norris, who led by 3.2 seconds as Verstappen, pacing himself conservatively, overtook Sainz for fourth.

On lap 11, Verstappen forced his way inside Leclerc at Turn 12.

‘It’s a big gap’

Verstappen was first to pit after 16 laps, taking mediums to re-join ninth. Norris reacted by pitting for hards, handing the lead to Hamilton as a strategic battle unfolded. Norris re-joined fourth.

Hamilton pitted on lap 21 for hards and re-joined fifth behind Verstappen—a clear signal that Mercedes were risking ceding the initiative by off-setting their stops.

All this left Leclerc in front, 1.2 seconds clear of Norris, but without stopping until lap 24 when he re-joined in sixth on hards.

Norris led again, two seconds clear of Verstappen, but after stalking his friend the Dutchman passed him on lap 28, on the inside of Turn 12 and eased clear by 3.5 seconds on lap 35 when Norris pitted for more hards and fell to sixth.

Verstappen, however, was struggling, complaining to his team about his brakes in a four-letter tirade, before pitting in 3.3 seconds and coming out fourth on hards.

Hamilton led again, by 7.7 seconds clear of Perez and Leclerc, all needing to stop again.

He came in on lap 38 for mediums and re-joined fourth as Verstappen passed Leclerc to lead again, followed by Norris. AFP

Tyres and tyre-wear were clearly key issues for the closing laps as Hamilton took Leclerc for third on lap 44 and, on mediums, chased the hard-shod duo ahead.

On lap 49, after being blocked by Norris, Hamilton swept into second place, 5.2 seconds behind Verstappen with seven remaining—setting up a tense finale.

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