In a season of easy victories, career win No. 50 finally made Max Verstappen sweat, even if it was just a little bit.
Verstappen had to work through the field after starting sixth instead of from pole position, then held off the charging Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton over the final laps in the Texas heat to win the United States Grand Prix on Sunday at the Circuit of the Americas.
Hamilton's best finish in five months was later wiped out when he and sixth-place finisher Charles Leclerc of Ferrari were disqualified more than three hours after the race for rules violations found with the skid blocks under their cars.
Verstappen's record-tying 15th win of the season also made the Dutch driver just the fifth Formula One driver in history to reach 50 in a career. Hamilton has the most with 103.
Verstappen has four races left this season to leap over Alain Post (51) and Sebastian Vettel (53) for third. Michael Schumacher has 91.
“It’s a great number," Verstappen said of 50. “Let's try to win more.”
The three-time F1 champion had to work much harder than usual in a season of almost complete domination. But the power of his Red Bull and the right pit-stop strategy called by his team navigated Verstappen to the finish line 2.2 seconds ahead of Hamilton.
Hamilton's Mercedes had been eating up chunks of time while chasing Verstappen over the final laps.
“I think the whole race I was struggling with the brakes. That made the race a bit tougher. It was very close at the end,” Verstappen said.
Verstappen earned his third consecutive win in Austin. He started this one in the middle of the grid because of a rare mistake of exceeding track limits in Friday's qualifying that wiped out his final lap. Race officials then slightly widened the lines at three corners to give the drivers more space on race day.
Every winner at the Circuit of the Americas had started from the front row until Verstappen's charge Sunday. He now has won three times this season from sixth or lower.
With Hamilton in his rearview mirror and his garage updating his lap times, Verstappen scolded his team to “stop talking” to him while he battled with his brakes in the corners.
“I asked nicely,” Verstappen said. “I said ‘please.’”
Lewis Hamilton's disqualification
Hamilton is chasing Perez for second in the drivers' standings. He thought he had delivered an important podium finish as Mercedes brought what it called its last major upgrade of the season to Austin.
Race officials quickly wiped that out once his car was inspected after the race.
Formula One cars have a wooden plank, or skid block, under the floor that is used to test if it is within the rules of how low cars can run to the ground. If the plank is found to be worn more than 1 millimetre, the car and driver are disqualified.
The disqualification announcement from race officials noted the team argued the problem stemmed from the bumpy conditions on track, which even Verstappen complained about.
Race officials had also inspected Verstappen's skid block with no violation found.
Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff said the team would not appeal.
“Others got it right where we got it wrong and there’s no wiggle room in the rules. We need to take it on the chin, do the learning, and come back stronger next weekend,” Wolff said.