The USGP was probably the best race you’re ever likely to see without an overtaking manoeuvre for the lead.
It’s certainly the best Grand Prix that I’ve seen in a while regardless of that omission – the start line swap and first corner muscle from Hamilton doesn’t count – and that includes a plethora of hugely entertaining races this season which benefited from countless moments of drama and incident.
While it wasn’t the race that had everything it certainly was the race that had everything you needed to be entertained. It was a gripping match race between the two title protagonists trading tenths of a second here and there, all the while managing their equipment to near perfection.
If Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes came up short it wasn’t for the want of trying. And in the combination of Max Verstappen and Red Bull he and they have found worthy and relentless adversaries.
This battle is truly compelling and will surely rage all the way to the end of the season even if the next two tracks look tailor-made for Red Bull. The 12-point gap which Verstappen has forced open between himself and Hamilton must look like a yawning chasm to the Englishman right now but I’d be surprised if they don’t find a way to stay in the fight.
But Austin will surely be a source of frustration for Mercedes just as it will swell the chests of everyone at Red Bull. The Milton Keynes outfit were left floundering in Friday practice but managed to turn that deficit into pole position on Saturday and that one-lap pace was extrapolated into consistent race pace from start to finish on Sunday.
Verstappen got pretty much the most out of it to produce a drive of compelling maturity. There was no question of a robust retaliation at the first corner to Hamilton’s faster getaway, the Dutchman happy to slot in and comfortably track his rival until his tyres started to wilt in the dirty air wake of the Mercedes.
By then he had noted on a radio transmission just how much Hamilton was sliding around. It was a happy observation and his confidence was far from misplaced. When he dived into pit lane after 10 laps he was ready to show just how comfortable he had been.
In opting not to defend against the ‘undercut’ at the first round of pitstops and instead choosing to pit later in order to have fresher tyres for the final stint Mercedes made a tactical play which didn’t pay dividends, but then they had a performance deficit to overcome. Tactics are easier when you’re quicker.
Looked another way, Verstappen and Red Bull stopped very early, a brave play and not an option available to Hamilton whose Mercedes team were understandably nervous about how to make their tyres last through the three stints on a track notable for its tyre wearing qualities.
Hamilton’s performance was exceptional and underscored by setting fastest lap late on. That point gained could turn out to be crucial five races from now by which time he will have an eighth world title or Verstappen will have his first.
And, either way, we will have been privileged to witness a classic season, a race to final glory between the two pre-eminent drivers and teams of an exceptional generation.