Cowboy Verstappen takes stunning podium in rodeo USGP
Max Verstappen, donned in special cowboy overalls, drove one of the races of his career by turning qualifying disappointment into race day delight to end up on the podium in Sunday's USGP.
The Dutch Red Bull Racing driver broke his suspension during Q1 on Saturday, meaning he would start a lowly 18th for Sunday's race. But after first lap dramas throughout the field, the 21-year-old negotiated a safe path through to be ninth by lap 2.
Scything through the field, benefiting from his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo's seventh retirement of the season - likely a battery failure - Verstappen found himself running in the top four. But starting on the harder tyres, he ran longer than the rest of the pack, and emerged ahead of Valtteri Bottas in third when he pitted. Third became second when leader Lewis Hamilton had to pit again late in the day.
With leader Kimi Raikkonen within striking distance of Verstappen in the closing laps, he also had to watch his mirrors as Hamilton sought a recovery drive to secure his fifth world title, making a bold move in the final sector with two laps to go, but ran wide and had to settle for third, while Verstappen lost ground to Raikkonen in his defence.
However, second spot was still a brilliant result for the Dutchman.
"It is safe to say today went a lot better than expected," he said. "I managed to stay out of trouble on the first lap while progressing up the field as the pace of my car was really strong. This was crucial as it allowed me to settle into my own rhythm and catch the cars ahead.
"The last 10 laps were pretty exciting, especially being the only car on the softer compound fighting at the front. I was trying to get close to Kimi but at the same time keeping an eye on Lewis in my mirror, it was close but we managed to hang on to second. Lewis had a go but we both gave each other plenty of room and thankfully he ran a bit wide and onto a dirty part of the track. I think I started to run out of traction towards the end so attacking Kimi was not on the table.
"The team have certainly earnt a little celebration tonight before we head to Mexico, where we will try to do even better.”
Ricciardo survived an early collision with Sebastian Vettel, which saw the Ferrari driver spinning on the opening lap, and was running fourth before his car cut out at the hairpin, forcing him to pull over.
He said: "It’s incredibly frustrating to retire so early in the race and I just don’t seem to have any luck at the moment. Everything just switched off and it seemed pretty much identical to the issue I had in Bahrain at the beginning of the year. I couldn’t even communicate with anyone on the radio so it looks like a battery failure. Now, seeing how the race played out makes it even harder to take as it could have been pretty interesting and it was a great afternoon for Max."
Ricciardo leaves Red Bull for Renault next season, and with three races left, the Australian says he wants to go out on a high for the Tilbrook team.
"The biggest shame is that I only have a handful of races left with Red Bull," he added. "I want to have more highs than we’ve had. I want to be able to celebrate with the team at least one more time and be on the podium to enjoy that feeling, but we’re running out of races which is pretty tough to take at the moment.”