(Reuters) – Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen have traded the lead in the Formula 1 championship four times in six races and Sunday’s United States Grand Prix in Austin could bring another twist to history.
Red Bull’s Verstappen leads Hamilton by six points after 16 of 22 races, but the Circuit of the Americas has happier memories for seven-time world champion Mercedes.
There was no race last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Hamilton clinched his sixth title in Texas in 2019 after celebrating his third there in 2015.
No driver has been more successful than the Briton in Austin, Hamilton having won five wins in eight starts.
Each winner also started on the front row and Mercedes took pole position in the last six.
“Austin has been a stronghold of Hamilton for several years now,” observed Red Bull boss Christian Horner after Verstappen took over Hamilton in Turkey.
Valtteri Bottas won in Istanbul for Mercedes and was also the last winner in Austin, on pole position, but the Finn is expected to give in to Hamilton if circumstances demand in Austin.
“This season has had so many twists and turns so we’re ready to react to whatever happens to us this weekend in Texas,” said Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, whose team is 36 points ahead of Red Bull in the constructors’ ranking.
Verstappen has won seven races against five for Hamilton this season and has also led many more laps than his 36-year-old rival.
While Austin should make more of the Mercedes’ strengths, with several long straights, there are also some tight, low-speed corners and good overtaking possibilities to cheer Red Bull on.
There is also always a first time and Verstappen is ready to take the chance.
“We have always been competitive in the United States and are close to a good result,” said the young Dutchman. “So it’s about converting that into a win now.
“We now go on every track knowing that we can fight at least for a podium now, but also for a win and it’s different from years past.
“We are focused on doing our best and always trying to win the race, and it will be no different in Austin. It will be another close battle this weekend and I look forward to it.
Verstappen’s record in America is also strong, with a second place in 2018, a third in 2019 and a fourth in 2015 and 2017.
The battle for third place in the constructors’ standings remains hot, with McLaren 7.5 points ahead of Ferrari and both full of hope.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo will be looking forward to Texas in particular and will receive an award from McLaren boss Zak Brown for winning the Italian Grand Prix.
Ricciardo will take the late Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s 1984 NASCAR Wrangler Chevrolet Monte Carlo for a lap.
“He’s one of my great heroes, so being able to drive one of his cars is going to be a surreal moment and a bit of a dream come true. Many thanks to Zak for holding up his end of the bargain and making this possible.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)