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At the end of a dramatic afternoon, the champion in the golden boots reigned supreme after passing Lewis Hamilton in the final, dramatic, palpitating moments to win the US Grand Prix.

Max Verstappen, the unstoppable missile of the year, notched victory No 13 to level on the all-time list of season achievers alongside Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel. Luckily enough for the Dutchman he has three races remaining to eclipse the German pair.

For most of the afternoon it looked as if Max Verstappen, flushed with the success of his second title clinched in Japan a fortnight ago, would turn the occasion into a celebratory waltz. That was until his front left tyre refused to go on, his second stop taking 11.1 seconds, and Hamilton was suddenly in the lead.

Max Verstappen had to fight for a thirteenth victory of the season in Austin on Sunday

Max Verstappen had to fight for a thirteenth victory of the season in Austin on Sunday

He suffered an 11 second pit stop but recovered well to take the lead in the final moments

He suffered an 11 second pit stop but recovered well to take the lead in the final moments 

‘Beautiful,’ said Verstappen with sarcasm dripping everywhere.

But could the seven-time world champion stay in front? Verstappen, on medium tyres, compared to Hamilton on hards, was closing fast. He first had to pass Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, and he did. Now he had a free run at Hamilton. With 15 laps remaining, Hamilton led by 4.5sec, but the gap was narrowing, narrowing, narrowing. It was 2.2sec with 10 left. It slipped under a second with seven to go.

Neither man would budge, or so you would have thought. There was too much history between them for that. Even if Verstappen caught him, Hamilton would not yield lightly. With six laps remaining they came level, and at Turn 12 Verstappen made the move stick.

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Hamilton, to my eye, was not as robust as might have been expected. Verstappen is the driver in the groove. The man of the moment. The Briton is a little rusty at the tip of the field, or a little dented by age at 37.

Anyway, Verstappen had done it.

The victory was a tonic after the controversy of his team’s cost-cap busting, denied by them, and then the awful news that owner Dietrich Mateschitz had died.

Hamilton led the race briefly but could not match the world champion for pace or grip

Hamilton led the race briefly but could not match the world champion for pace or grip

On the grid before the lights went out stood the visiting cast of celebrities led by Brad Pitt, Ed Sheeran and the man-mountain called Shaquille O’Neal. They stood for applause and the playing of Mateschitz’s favourite song, the Rolling Stone’s Start Me Up. Verstappen, 25, needs no such invitation as he demonstrated when the race roared off into a headwind up into that climbing first corner, warmly-peopled by stands containing the biggest share of a crowd that over the three days numbered 440,000.

Verstappen, starting second, tore off the line and reached the corner in front of Carlos Sainz, the pole man for Ferrari.

Game over, or so it looked.

Behind Verstappen at that opening bend, Sainz was ensnared by George Russell, who was vying with Hamilton for third place. Russell was on the inside and running out of road. Hamilton went round the outside, no fuss. Russell caught Sainz, spinning him round, causing a puncture and prompting the end of his involvement.

Russell was held culpable, rightly, and handed a five-second penalty. Hamilton went second, keeping Verstappen honest without seriously threatening his junior of 12 years who deposed him as champion.

Valtteri Bottas spun his Alfa Romeo off at the penultimate corner with a third of the race gone. Out came the safety car. This allowed Hamilton, who regained second place once Charles Leclerc stopped during the break in racing, to position himself right on Verstappen’s tail.

But, after the short hiatus, the leader maintained his advantage. Moments later, the afternoon’s big smash on the run into Turn 12 caused another delay. Alpine’s Alonso was closing in on the Aston Martin of Lance Stroll, when the Canadian blocked the path of his pursuer.

The nose of Alonso’ car poked itself in the air, as he travelled on his rear wheels. Wow, as Murray Walker might have said. He grazed the barrier and declared himself fine and carried on to finish seventh.

There was a dramatic crash between Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso that led to a safety car

There was a dramatic crash between Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso that led to a safety car

Stroll, who spun around before stopping on track, climbed out of his cockpit as the race was again suspended behind the safety car.

Pitt looked on from the Mercedes garage, as he preps himself for a starring role in the new Apple-backed Formula One movie. He probably wanted his co-producer Hamilton to win, but the result left him stuck on precisely no wins this season.

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As for Verstappen, it was his 33rd win, which lifted him ahead of Alonso and makes his the sixth most winningest driver, as they say this side of the Pond. Only Hamilton (103), Schumacher (91), Ayrton Senna (53), Alain Prost (51) and Sebstian Vettel (41) are ahead of him. It is remarkable that record has been accumulated despite this being his only year of total domination.

Where will his story end?

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