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Formula 1 United States GP

10 things we learned from the 2023 F1 United States Grand Prix

The 2023 Formula 1 United States Grand Prix dished up a landmark Max Verstappen victory, but his Sunday race wasn't a straightforward affair - nor was it a quiet one in the stewards room. As Ferrari again showed it has work to do to eliminate strategic blunders, and an under pressure driver ended an unwanted streak, here's what we learned from Circuit of the Americas

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG, 2nd position, the Red Bull trophy delegate, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, 1st position, Lando Norris, McLaren, 3rd position, on the podium

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Everything's bigger in Texas, according to popular belief and brass-plated belt buckles. While the on-track spectacle across Formula 1's sprint and grand prix races at the Circuit of the Americas largely did not deliver on such hyperbole, the post-race ramifications certainly did as the theatre ensued in the stewards' room.

PLUS: Why Mercedes could have won the US GP

A pair of disqualifications headlined the United States Grand Prix to overshadow the increased competition Max Verstappen faced for victory, even if it was somewhat inevitable that the champion-elect would eventually creep through to the front from sixth on the grid after losing pole to track limits.

There were more threads to unpick from the Austin fallout, with strategic blunders and overambitious upgrades creating their own problems in certain corners of the F1 circus. Here's 10 of the biggest topics that emerged from the US of A.

1. Stewards' room drama thick, as two short planks prompt disqualification

Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc were disqualified for plank infringements

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc were disqualified for plank infringements

F1 is about cutting-edge technology as it is about entertainment and, amid all of the innovations and gizmos that festoon a modern-day car, there's something poetic about a humble plank of wood derailing the best-laid plans. That both Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc fell foul of the minimum plank thickness regulations and lost points-scoring finishes as a result was unfortunate, and certainly not of their own making.

The increasing bumpiness of the Circuit of the Americas, which becomes an increasingly spine-chattering experience year on year, combined with the low-slung cars on high fuel seemed to cause enough tail dragging to wear the rear part of the planks down.

The single practice session, the FIA stewards noted, presented further opportunity to mask the level of wear on both cars. Regardless, the stewards felt that it was the teams' prerogative to ensure that the car was within legal tolerances, and that the other checked cars (Norris and Verstappen) were found to have their skidblocks within limits.

Insight: The can of worms opened by Hamilton and Leclerc’s F1 US GP disqualifications

This was the first instance of illegal plank wear since Olivier Panis fell foul of the rule at the 1994 Portuguese Grand Prix, as the rule was introduced that season amid the raft of quick-fire safety changes in the wake of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger's deaths at Imola. Jordan successfully appealed Jarno Trulli's disqualification from the 2001 US Grand Prix for the same offence, reinstating the Italian in fourth. 

2. Mercedes and McLaren demonstrate their progress

Lando Norris led for some of the US GP before finishing third on the road

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Lando Norris led for some of the US GP before finishing third on the road

Hamilton's disqualification aside, he produced a committed drive that gave Max Verstappen and Red Bull at least something to think about in the dying stages. Mercedes reneged on initial plans to conduct a one-stop strategy that left it in something of a halfway house between the two; it was less problematic than sticking to the one-stop plan, but nonetheless cost it relative to a 'proper' two-stop.

PLUS: United States Grand Prix Driver Ratings 2023

Lando Norris was equally impressive and his quick reactions off the line were converted into a first-half lead as the orange-tinged McLaren wheeled away from the Ferraris in the opening laps. It seemed inevitable that, with Verstappen bearing down on him, Norris would be kept waiting for his maiden win a little longer. A minor fumble at Turn 11 on lap 25 cut a 2.2s lead into a 1.5s advantage in the space of a few hundred metres, and was eroded away further in the following three tours as the three-time champion collected a 15th win of the year.

Tyre degradation eventually did for Norris, who was later overcome by Hamilton as the elder Briton sought to mount a last-gasp challenge on Verstappen for honours. The clock ran out, and it was just as well; a victor's disqualification would have been far more deleterious for the championship's image compared to the real outcome. Regardless, Hamilton and Norris proved that Mercedes and McLaren have come a long way; to finish the race in the same postcode as a Red Bull was an encouraging feat for those hoping for an ounce more competition next year.

3. Ferrari remains a one-stop shop for strategic gaffes

Ferrari's strategy for poleman Charles Leclerc's kept him out of the podium fight

Ferrari's strategy for poleman Charles Leclerc's kept him out of the podium fight

Photo by: Ferrari

Charles Leclerc was already unhappy following the US Grand Prix. Despite starting from pole, he was asked to move aside for team-mate Carlos Sainz as Ferrari elected to diverge its strategies with the two drivers, and Leclerc's one-stop efforts could not prevent Sainz and Sergio Perez from moving past in the latter stages of the race. It was the wrong strategy, and other teams who had committed to it made U-turns during the race.

The disqualification that Leclerc was slapped with after a barely conciliatory sixth-place finish will have smarted even more, but he had already revealed his displeasure at having been lumped with a one-stop strategy.

"There was something wrong in our numbers today, because we were far off the ideal race strategy," was the Monegasque's assessment, as he explained that Ferrari had felt that the one- and two-stop plans were initially similar in their data.

With Leclerc on pole, it does raise the question why Ferrari felt it needed to apply the riskier strategy to the driver higher up on the grid. Team principal Frederic Vasseur suggested that there was "hesitation" on both sides, and a failure from either to fully commit to the one-stop made the situation worse. Under the Frenchman's leadership, Ferrari has shown operational improvements - but it's evident that the work is not yet done.

4. Perez gifted with step towards second in drivers' standings

Perez moved further ahead of Hamilton in the battle for runner-up spot

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Perez moved further ahead of Hamilton in the battle for runner-up spot

After being stripped of second, Hamilton left Austin with a second consecutive point-less race to blot his copybook. This promoted Perez into fourth and extended his runner-up lead over Hamilton in the drivers' championship to 39 points. With four rounds left, the Mercedes driver needs to outscore the Mexican racer by at least 10 points over each weekend; while doable given Perez's indifferent form in recent races, it will be a much more difficult task to complete.

It's a bit of a gift for Perez, who has laboured in his pursuit of the "vice-champion" trophy. Given the advantage that Red Bull's package has demonstrated over 2023, the expectation on Perez is to pick up the pieces when Verstappen falters. The Dutchman did just that in qualifying, losing a provisional pole through track limits; that Perez still qualified behind him simply won't do.

Progress through the race from ninth on the grid was largely earned through other drivers' misfortune; both Oscar Piastri and Esteban Ocon retired, Leclerc's one-stop made him easy prey, and the route to fourth was greased significantly through disqualifications. After early promise, Perez's status as the incumbent champion's tailgunner looks to be notional at best - and it's probably the limpest performance for a champion's "number two" since Benetton's revolving door #6 car in 1994.

5. Sprint race experiments once again hit or miss

The sprint format remains hit and miss after tepid Austin affair

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

The sprint format remains hit and miss after tepid Austin affair

If Qatar's sprint race was a hit, largely thanks to Oscar Piastri's victory and a series of close racing made possible by the Qatar circuit, then Austin was a considerable miss. Beyond the first lap, there was little to report as a tepid encounter quickly fizzled out; Verstappen won at a canter, Hamilton and Leclerc followed, and Norris' pressure on the Ferrari driver ahead came too late into the race.

The success of sprints are proving to be increasingly track specific and, while Brazil marked itself as an early producer of good, shortened races, it has been a case of trial and error to determine further permanent sprint weekends. Silverstone and Monza had been the weaker options during the 2021 trials, the Red Bull Ring had given a good account in 2022 and 2023, and the expansion to six sprint events for 2023 offered opportunities to new circuits.

Baku was expected to produce a scintillating sprint thanks to its usual reputation for madcap affairs, but it yielded a surprisingly lifeless affair. Spa-Francorchamps' changeable conditions helped to deliver an unusual sprint result, and Qatar's series of switchback corners promoted close racing, but Austin was the most drab sprint so far across the three years. It was dull to the point where it almost undid Qatar's good work; if the Losail race showed why sprints had their place in F1, then Austin talked itself out of hosting shorter races again.

This writer admittedly believes that the Circuit of the Americas is the most over-heralded circuit on the calendar, and thus one shall be upfront with one's bias, but anyone who enjoyed last weekend's sprint can consider themselves very easily pleased.

6. Accidental Stroll to the grid can't undo Aston Martin turnaround

Stroll reached the top 10 despite a pitlane start

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

Stroll reached the top 10 despite a pitlane start

Following dissatisfaction with the car set-up after parc ferme conditions were applied, Aston Martin opted for a pitlane start to tune the new updates on Lance Stroll's AMR23 and roll Fernando Alonso back to the previous spec in efforts to get something out of the race. Although both cars were at the back on the opening lap having left the pitlane last, the pair worked their way into the points. Alonso was forced to retire with floor damage, but Stroll showed tenacity in his rise through the order that eventually yielded seventh.

This came despite a faux pas on his reconnaissance laps, where he missed the pitlane entry and made the usual stop before the grid with the other drivers, waiting to be wheeled into position. Instead, Aston Martin had to hoist his car onto skates and wheel him through the gap in the pit wall, getting Stroll back into the garage. The FIA noted that "although the established process was not followed, no breach of any regulation was evident," allowing the Canadian to get on with his day.

Strong tyre management and a strategy to stop later in each stint gave Stroll a tyre offset to use, which he employed to get past Yuki Tsunoda in the final stint to break into the top 10. It became ninth when Alonso retired, and Stroll ended the 56 laps at the Circuit of the Americas through putting pressure on Pierre Gasly. Given the pace difference, Stroll would likely have needed just one more lap to clear the Frenchman, but time constraints nixed those hopes.

Amid the pressure on Stroll, particularly through his Singapore Q1 crash and Qatar controversy - where he became the most high-profile trainer thrower since Muntadhar al-Zaidi hurled his footwear at George W. Bush - it was a strong weekend despite Aston very clearly starting on the back foot.

7. Haas upgrades "not a transformation", but parc ferme break a help

Haas' major upgrade package wasn't the major step forward it hoped for

Haas' major upgrade package wasn't the major step forward it hoped for

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Like Aston Martin, Haas decided to ring the changes in Texas with a distinct new bodywork package that it hoped would cure its tyre degradation issues. The VF-23 has an insatiable appetite for Pirelli's P Zero rubber and likes to tear through them early on in the race. This instigates sliding, which the drivers find makes managing tyre wear nigh-on impossible as the lateral movement only exacerbates the car's rubber-chewing antics.

The changes included a defined downwash sidepod, falling in line with the rest of the grid; it's not a B-spec car by any stretch, but it's a clear visual change. The risk was always that, within the single hour of practice allotted during a sprint weekend, Haas would struggle to get to grips with the change in car behaviour.

It proved as such and, despite flashes of pace in qualifying, it never quite came together. Nico Hulkenberg's initial assessment was that the updates were "not a transformation" - and an anonymous sprint race prompted Haas to recall its cars from parc ferme and change the set-up.

Per the drivers, the changes had a small positive impact. Although the results were middling at best, Hulkenberg was pleased that he was able to fight with the cars around him, rather than have to back out simply to keep the tyres alive.

"We helped the problem," added Kevin Magnussen. "I think we had a better race than we would have if we hadn't changed. I'm still curious to see how it evolves when we get to play with the set-up a little more and optimise things better."

8. Second homecoming underlines Sargeant's progress

Sargeant became the first American to score points in F1 since 1993

Photo by: Williams

Sargeant became the first American to score points in F1 since 1993

In light of the Hamilton and Leclerc disqualifications, Logan Sargeant was granted his first F1 world championship point after being promoted to 10th. The Floridian became the first American to notch up a point since Michael Andretti took a podium in 1993's Italian Grand Prix, and was a just reward for a weekend of solid progress following months of toil.

PLUS: The lost F1 drivers who only got one shot at glory

Williams' intention has always been to keep Sargeant for 2024, but needless mistakes have put his seat in doubt as mounting repair bills and old-spec components on his car have set him back relative to team-mate Alex Albon. Despite qualifying last in Austin, Sargeant's race pace was markedly improved from a difficult sprint race, and he managed to stick with Albon throughout the race to sit 12th at the flag. A few hours later, 12th became a point - strengthening Williams' constructors' championship position of seventh.

Albon, who was initially classified 11th, was promoted to ninth to add two further points to Williams' tally. His track limits penalty of five seconds was negated by the 6.5s gap he had over Sargeant at the flag, but he was nonetheless lucky to chalk up points given his frequent track limits transgressions over the course of the grand prix.

9. Dennis set for long-time-coming F1 weekend debut

Formula E champion Jake Dennis will get a Red Bull FP1 outing in Abu Dhabi

Photo by: Andreas Beil

Formula E champion Jake Dennis will get a Red Bull FP1 outing in Abu Dhabi

The bias of sprint weekends towards the end of the season has forced teams to load their mandatory rookie appearances in practice into the Mexico City and Abu Dhabi FP1 sessions. Well, not quite forced, but their low-stakes nature have rendered them as popular venues for the younger and less-experienced drivers to get a go.

Among them, Formula E champion Jake Dennis is expected to get a go in Red Bull's RB19 at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend. A long-time simulator driver for the Milton Keynes squad, the Nuneaton-born racer has tested the team's cars before in 2018, having largely given up racing in single-seaters after switching to GT racing. A chance test with BMW led to a shootout with Sheldon van der Linde for an Andretti Formula E drive in 2020, which developed into his title-winning run with the American team this season.

Dennis is likely to partner Franco-Algerian F2 driver Isack Hadjar in Abu Dhabi FP1 as Red Bull does its rookie obligations in one fell swoop, while Alpine has confirmed that reserve Jack Doohan will drive its A523 in both Mexico and Abu Dhabi in place of Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon respectively.

Oliver Bearman will conduct FP1 rookie-running duties for Haas in both rounds, Frederik Vesti will drive George Russell's Mercedes in Mexico, and Pato O'Ward will replace Lando Norris in Abu Dhabi first practice.

10. Maximum fines hiked up to €1m

The FIA has increased the maximum fine punishable to €1m - which wasn't received well by some

Photo by: Alfa Romeo

The FIA has increased the maximum fine punishable to €1m - which wasn't received well by some

Having not noticed for 12 years that the maximum fine that it could levy on an F1 competitor was €250k, the FIA has revised the International Sporting Code to increase that maximum by 400%. This maximum fine does not only include teams and drivers, but extends to events and organisers as well, should the FIA feel that any major rules have been transgressed.

With his GPDA hat on, Mercedes' George Russell felt that the notion that drivers could be fined €1m was "obscene" - noting that he was "on a five-figure salary" in his first year with Williams, "and actually lost over six figures in that first year from paying for my trainer, paying for flights, paying for an assistant".

"And that's probably the case for 25% of the grid," he added. "We just want transparency and understanding.

"I think already the fines are getting out of control - [Max] Verstappen being fined 50,000 for touching a car. Lewis [Hamilton] being fined 50,000 [for crossing a live track in Qatar]. It feels like these numbers are being plucked out the air. When there's a lot of great global issues going on and so much poverty around the world, how a federation can just make up these six figure, seven figure fines?"

Russell was vocal in his discontent with the FIA's plans to hike driver fines

Russell was vocal in his discontent with the FIA's plans to hike driver fines

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

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