AUSTIN, Texas — Watching Max Verstappen‘s Red Bull disappear into the distance during Saturday’s sprint race at the Circuit of the Americas underlined to Lewis Hamilton just how much work his Mercedes team must do to catch Red Bull next year.
After starting from third place, Hamilton passed Charles Leclerc for second in the second corner of the 19-lap race and then managed to stay within a second of Verstappen for the first six laps.
However, once he dropped more than a second behind Verstappen, Hamilton lost use of his DRS overtaking aid and the Red Bull extended its lead to over nine seconds by the chequered flag.
“Not that I haven’t see it already this year, but it was a good position to be able to watch what Max’s car was doing and how it was behaving,” Hamilton said. “I got to watch for a while and see where they are particularly strong, which we can obviously see in GPS, but still.
“At least we know where we are, if there is anywhere we are stronger and if we are weaker. So I will download that to the team.”
Asked what he could learn from running close to Verstappen, Hamilton added: “I learned that we have a lot of work to do — everyone behind these guys [Red Bull] have a lot of work to do.
“It is no small feat for us to truly catch them for next year. They will be progressing at a steep rate as they have got an amazing development team and that will make it even steeper for us to close that gap, but I am going to put 100% faith in my team that we can do it.”
Verstappen will start Sunday’s U.S. Grand Prix from sixth place after his fastest time in Friday qualifying was deleted for exceeding track limits.
Despite having five competitive cars ahead, Hamilton suspects Verstappen will work his way back into contention for victory over the course of the 56-lap race.
“He’s got at least half a second on all the cars ahead of him, pretty much,” Hamilton said. “So that shouldn’t be enough to get by, but there is degradation and there is also a bit of strategy, so I assume he will be climbing relatively fast.
“I’ll try to hold him back, but it’s a track that you can overtake at so it’s likely he will be finishing higher tomorrow.”