Former double Formula 1 World Champion Mika Hakkinen relished the race-long fight between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen at the 2021 United States Grand Prix, insisting the title race is far from over.
Hakkinen gave his thoughts on Sunday’s race in his Unibet column, as he reflected on the thrilling combat this year’s title protagonists had on American soil. Despite Verstappen losing the lead on lap one, the Dutchman kept his head down and went on to win the race after an epic battle that included bold strategies and some meticulous driving.
According to the Finn, the US crowds were given a proper idea about this year’s title fight, and the two top drivers contending it, he wrote in his column: “They were given a demonstration of why Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are the title contenders at the moment.
“Both guys pushing incredibly hard all race, running different two-stop strategies which meant that tyre usage was critical. Austin is hard on tyres, even the hard compound tyres need to be looked after, so the sensitivity of the driver is all-important,” he explained.
Verstappen’s mature drive was the talk of the town, with Red Bull boss Christian Horner saying that his driver “managed the race superbly” and even rival team boss Toto Wolff acknowledging the Dutchman’s impressive race management saying: “You could see that [Verstappen] had learned from the second stint not to damage the tyres too early because he had something left at the end.”
Hakkinen’s opinion was aligned with the Austrian’s and said: “If Max had pushed too hard after his second stop I think Lewis would have had no problem at all in catching him in the final laps, but the Red Bull driver has matured a lot and paced himself perfectly.
“It’s not easy to back off when you know the guy behind is catching you, but saving the tyres was critical,” he claimed.
“After lap 50, when Lewis closed the gap to almost one second, Max managed to push it back open for two or three laps,” he went on. “That was a key moment, and although Lewis kept pushing until the chequered flag he realised Max had timed his strategy perfectly.”
In his previous column, the Flying Finn, who will be contesting the 2022 Race of Champions for the first time, declared that Mercedes have moved ahead of Red Bull in terms of performance, and was surprised to see how the performance swayed across the US race weekend.
“It was so interesting to watch how the weekend developed,” Hakkinen admitted. “After first practice it looked like Mercedes had a good advantage over the Red Bull-Hondas, although the World Champions admitted their engines were turned up.
“As the track evolved and the effects of the bumpy circuit demanded some set-up changes the picture really changed.
“Max’s pole lap was a sign that he and his car really did have the pace needed to beat Mercedes, but Lewis made such a great start that the pole advantage was lost into Turn 1,” the ex-McLaren racer observed.
“It’s just brilliant to see these two guys fighting wheel to wheel with incredibly tight margins involved.”
Although Verstappen has doubled his advantage over Hamilton at the top of the standings, the winner of 20 grands prix insists that this advantage is volatile, meaning the fight is very much still on.
“Max now has a 12.5 point lead over Lewis with five races remaining,” noted Hakkinen. “While that’s important, a single non-finish caused by an accident or mechanical failure could swing the World Championship one way or the other.
“This is far from over, and both teams and drivers know that,” he concluded.
Max and Lewis wrote yet another thrilling chapter in this year’s title race before a packed house at @COTA 🇺🇸🙌
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 26, 2021