Verstappen takes second F1 win in Malaysia, Hamilton extends points lead

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Max Verstappen celebrated his 20th birthday weekend in style by taking his second Formula 1 victory with a dominant performance in Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix.

Verstappen, who turned 20 on Saturday, qualified third at Sepang, but was able to fight his way past Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton early on before storming clear en route to victory for Red Bull.

Hamilton emerged from a difficult race with his championship lead extended to 34 points, with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel able to limit the damage by charging from last on the grid to P4 at the checkered flag.

After seeing Ferrari rival Kimi Raikkonen be wheeled back to the garage from second on the grid after an engine issue, pole-sitter Hamilton was able to make a hassle-free start and retain his lead into the first corner, with Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas piling pressure on Verstappen for second place.

Verstappen was able to hold position with some solid defensive moves before setting his sights on Hamilton at the front, moving onto the championship leader’s tail at the end of the third lap.

Heading into the first corner, Verstappen got a tow and pulled to the inside before sailing past Hamilton, who was left without answer as the Red Bull man moved into the lead of the race.

Verstappen wasted little time in creating a gap, easily moving out of DRS range to stamp his authority on proceedings early on.

Further back, Sebastian Vettel was able to make a flying start as Ferrari’s sole driver in the race, rising from 20th to 13th on the first lap alone. Another couple of positions were gained early on, but the German’s rapid rise in the first 10 laps ended with him sitting P11 as he started to toil behind Fernando Alonso.

Red Bull’s strong start was not solely down to Verstappen, with teammate Daniel Ricciardo able to seize third place off Bottas after a wheel-to-wheel fight through the opening complex of corners on Lap 9.

Up front, Verstappen was able to easily extend his lead through the first stint as Hamilton struggled on the super-soft tires, with the Mercedes driver even being warned that Vettel – who was lapping faster than his title rival in P6 – could be a threat come the end of the race.

Vettel continued to make up ground be easing past Sergio Perez for fifth, and was soon lapping one second per lap faster than Hamilton’s teammate Bottas who was next on his hit list.

The Finn managed to make life difficult for Vettel, though, slowing him to ensure that Hamilton could come out ahead of both drivers after pitting at the end of Lap 26.

Verstappen moved to cover Hamilton by pitting from the lead just one lap later, moving onto the soft tire, while Ferrari also decided to bring Vettel in and fit a set of super-softs to take him to the end of the race.

The pit stop phase saw Vettel get the jump on Bottas for P4, but now facing a 30-second deficit to Hamilton in P2, the Briton having extended his advantage over Ricciardo to 12 seconds through the tire switches.

Despite looking in better shape on the soft tires, Hamilton was unable to make any inroads on Verstappen at the front, with his focus instead being on the catching pair of Ricciardo and Vettel behind.

A series of new lap records from Vettel on the super-softs saw him close up on Ricciardo with 10 laps to go, only for some canny defensive work from the Red Bull driver to cut the Ferrari man’s charge.

At the head of the field, Verstappen was able to ease home to his second grand prix win almost 18 months after his maiden success on debut for Red Bull, finishing 12 seconds clear of Hamilton in P2.

Ricciardo took third ahead of Vettel in P4, who faded to more than 10 seconds behind the Red Bull driver as his tires dropped off in the closing stages.

Valtteri Bottas ended a disappointing weekend down in fifth for Mercedes, while Sergio Perez finished as the leading midfield driver in P6 for Force India.

Stoffel Vandoorne matched the best result of his F1 career scored two weeks ago in Singapore by crossing the line seventh for McLaren ahead of Williams drivers Lance Stroll and Felipe Massa, while Esteban Ocon took the final point for P10 in the second Force India.

Stroll got caught up in a strange incident with Vettel after the checkered flag as the two drivers made contact, leaving the Ferrari driver with a damaged left-rear wheel. Vettel fumed over the radio before hopping out of his car, eventually getting back to the pits riding on Pascal Wehrlein’s Sauber.

Despite a good start, Fernando Alonso could not add to McLaren’s points haul after slipping to P11 at the checkered flag, having enjoyed a brief spat with Haas’ Kevin Magnussen. Magnussen ultimately finished two seconds behind Alonso in 12th, with teammate Romain Grosjean following in 13th.

Pierre Gasly’s first grand prix weekend ended with him taking P14 for Toro Rosso as teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. retired due to an engine issue. Sainz’s future team, Renault, had a miserable weekend with Jolyon Palmer and Nico Hulkenberg taking 15th and 16th thanks to two spins and a car issue respectively.

Wehrlein finished a lap down on race winner Verstappen in 17th, with Sauber teammate Marcus Ericsson being the last classified finisher in P18.

F1 returns next week with the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

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Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

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Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.