Max leads F1's battle of the Americas in 2021

With quick-fire races across both the north and south continents, Red Bull still leads the way, but only just after some Hamilton genius in Brazil, says Mark Hughes

Lewis Hamilton follows Max Verstappen on track

Verstappen and Red Bull were firmly shaded by Hamilton and Mercedes in Brazil. With three races left, Max leads by just 14 points

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This three-race run, with just three more to go, put a very different complexion on the championship contest. Coming in, Max Verstappen was just six points clear of Lewis Hamilton whose Mercedes appeared to be in the ascendant. In Austin and Mexico that performance picture was turned on its head as Verstappen extended his lead to 19 points, comfortably beating Hamilton both times. With Mercedes down on performance, carrying an engine reliability concern and now many points down with not many races left, it wasn’t looking good. But a new powerunit for Brazil combined with the particular demands of the Interlagos track completely transformed those prospects and Hamilton delivered one of the most dazzling – and unlikely – victories of his long career. He left Brazil still trailing Verstappen by 14 points but very much back in contention in this remarkable seasonal narrative.

Things started well for Hamilton and Mercedes on the first day of running at Austin when Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were 1-2 in first practice, well clear of Verstappen. But that picture flattered Mercedes and was simply a reflection of the engine mode sweeps the team routinely makes on Friday morning. With the Mercedes and Honda both on representative modes that afternoon, the comparison favoured Red Bull slightly. Further, the Mercedes seemed to be overheating its tyres more.

“Mercedes’ engine issue remains a serious concern for Hamilton”