Red Bull will also be looking forward to the next two races, Mexico and Brazil, more than Mercedes will. So yet more pressure on Hamilton to claw back some vital points today. He says: “The start is definitely an opportunity but it’s a long race. The cloud cover makes it a bit better with the tyres. Keeping up with the Red Bulls will be a challenge but I’ll give it absolutely everything.”
Meanwhile, while the clouds have amassed over Houston, word is there’s very little chance of rain today.
Danica Patrick reckons it’s advantage Red Bull, with Perez starting from third. “I think it’s a really big deal,” she says. “Every time you have two team-mates there and one solo, it makes a difference. If Lewis is second and let’s say Max is leading, he’ll have pressure from behind, and if he gets behind he has the ability to get held up too. I think it’s a really tough dynamic for Lewis – not something he can’t overcome – but it’s tough.”
Serena Williams is in the house. Also in attendance: Ben Stiller, Megan Thee Stallion and Geri Horner – a trio who could put on a decent variety show between them.
How they’ll start
1 Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
2 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
3 Sergio Perez (Red Bull)
4 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
5 Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)
6 Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren)
7 Lando Norris (McLaren)
8 Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri)
9 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
10 Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri)
11 Esteban Ocon (Alpine)
12 Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo)
13 Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)
14 Nicholas Latifi (Williams)
15 Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo)
16 Mick Schumacher (Haas)
17 Nikita Mazepin (Haas)
18 Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin)
19 Fernando Alonso (Alpine)
20 George Russell (Williams)
As road rage incidents go, a middle finger and a “stupid idiot” may not rank very highly in the grand scheme of things but it certainly marks a break with the blandishments and politesse that tends to govern the public conduct of Formula One drivers. As such, this weekend’s exchanges between between Max Verstappen (deliverer of aforementioned insults in Friday’s practice session) and Lewis Hamilton (recipient) have been very welcome for those of us who prefer our sporting rivalries heated, hostile and vulgar.
Are we reading too much into a three-second tete-a-tete? Almost certainly – “It’s all fun and games” said Hamilton afterwards – but it nonetheless sets things up nicely for a race on a bumpy track with ample overtaking opportunities in front of a full house in Austin. Hamilton, the reigning world champion, was overtaken at the top of the standings by Verstappen in Turkey two weeks ago.
And there’s more anxiety at Mercedes after Valterri Bottas – who came third in Friday’s qualifying and triumphed in Turkey – will start further back after being handed a five-place grid handicap for using a sixth internal combustion engine this year, something that has left Toto Wolff worried about possible engine trouble. “We are trying to get on top of the problems, and we haven’t understood full,” he fretted on Saturday, knowing that his team need to avoid at all costs a scenario where Hamilton retires and his rival hoovers up the points.
Hamilton himself struck a morose note after qualifying: “it’s been a real struggle compared to normal here,” he said – and yet despite the doom and gloom he will will have to fancy his chances at a circuit where he has won five of his eight previous visits.
Verstappen meanwhile is six points ahead with six races remaining. “Everyone’s expecting a great race, and that’s what we expect as drivers,” says the championship leader. Quite right.