Max Verstappen angry at Lewis Hamilton after clash over practice positioning at COTA

Max Verstappen angry Lewis Hamilton
Mark Thompson/Getty Images
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AUSTIN, Texas — The red-hot F1 rivalry between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton returned to the race track with Verstappen angry enough to hurl an obscene gesture and an insult.

It was only practice, but Friday’s exchange between the Formula One title contenders made for a spirited opening day of the U.S. Grand Prix and showed this championship duel between the Red Bull and Mercedes drivers is just hitting its peak heading into the final six races of the season.

Welcome back to Texas, y’all.

It was mere minutes into Friday’s second practice when Verstappen and Hamilton found themselves side-by-side entering the long straight at the starting grid.

Verstappen said he was first to the spot, but Hamilton sprinted with him all the way to the end and took the inside line into the corner. It was the sort of risky, wheel-to-wheel move drivers seldom make in practice, especially these two given their history of collisions this season.

Max Verstappen backed off but still was angry enough to flip Lewis Hamilton his middle right finger and called Hamilton a “stupid idiot” in a radio message to the Red Bull garage.

“Ignore it,” was the answer from Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner.

It’s impossible to ignore what’s to come between those two in Sunday’s race and beyond. Verstappen clings to a minuscule six-point lead over Hamilton for the season championship as the 24-year-old Dutchman chases his first championship. The generational battle has prompted Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton to get angry at each other multiple times this year.

Hamilton, 36, has won seven championships and an eighth would break his tie with Michael Schumacher for most in F1 history.

The Texas race is the first of a two-part swing in North America as the series heads next to Mexico City. Both races were canceled amidst the COVID-19 pandemic last season.

Mercedes has been dominant the Austin track, winning five times since it opened in 2012. Hamilton has won four of those races and teammate Valtteri Bottas won in 2019. Bottas and Hamilton went 1-2 in Friday morning’s first practice.

Verstappen was third behind the Mercedes drivers in the first session, and the incident with Hamilton in second practice was another frustration for the Dutchman. Verstappen was well off the pace in the afternoon of Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez, who was fastest.

But it wasn’t smooth sailing in the Mercedes garage. Bottas’ car needed an internal combustion unit change and he’ll have a grid penalty Sunday. Hamilton had the same issue two weeks ago, and another engine issue at this stage of the season could have a huge impact on the championship.

“I think you see that we are suffering with reliability this year,” said Mercedes boss Toto Wolff. “We are trying to really get on top of the problems. Points lost can be decisive.”

Formula 1 hasn’t seen such a tight championship battle since Hamilton lost out to teammate Nico Rosberg in 2016. The series hasn’t had two teams fighting it out so late in the season since 2012, when Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel rallied late to beat Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.

The race weekend is expected to draw massive crowds with Sunday’s race expecting a capacity 140,000. Although the entire series is experiencing increased attention and energy in the U.S., at COTA it is Perez who is the star of the show.

The native of Guadalajara, Mexico brought huge cheers when his car was the first one on the track in the morning, and again when he paced the second practice. He drew at least 10,000 spectators to a demonstration in downtown Dallas last weekend, and it’s all just a preview of what’s to come for him next week in Mexico City, where he is adored.

“I don’t feel so far away from my people, and the support I receive in the United States is incredible,” Perez said “Without a doubt, I will be the driver with the most support on Sunday.”

The drivers Friday were able to get a look at the bumps in the track surface that MotoGP riders complained about while racing here three weeks ago. Slow motion replay and the view from driver helmet cameras showed just how much bounce the cars will be put through over the race weekend.

COTA is a home race Haas F1, the only American-led team in the series but the worst on the grid. Haas opened with another round of struggles as both cars were slowest in both sessions.

Haas in previous years contended for points in Austin as a mid-pack team, but performance has plummeted with a pair of rookie drivers and an outdated car.

“I think we knew this year was always going to be tough,” Haas rookie driver Mick Schumacher said. “We went into the season knowing there were going to be no improvements on the car. What we have is what we’ve got.”

Off the track, reports of Michael Andretti’s bid to take over Alfa Romeo continued to flow through the paddock. The American owner of Andretti Autosport and son of former F1 champion Mario Andretti has been vocal in his bid to expand his reach into F1.

Zak Brown, the American head of McLaren and a friend and business associate of Andretti’s, wouldn’t disclose how close Andretti may be on a deal.

“What I can say is he’s very serious about Formula One. He loves Formula One,” Brown said. “Obviously he’s got a lot of history, including his father being a world champion. I think it would be great if Michael and the Andretti name was involved in Formula One. We’ll see what happens.”

There’s been rampant speculation that Andretti will attempt to move 21-year-old American IndyCar driver Colton Herta to F1 if he can get Herta the license required to compete. But even without Herta there still may be an American driver on the way.

Williams on Friday said it signed Logan Sargeant, 20, to its driver development academy after three seasons in Formula 3. F1 hasn’t had an American driver since Alexander Rossi’s brief stint with Sauber at the end of 2015.

“We expect him to move up fast,” Williams Chief Executive Jost Capito said. “We will have a good program for him.”

Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing
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Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.