Mark Hughes has highlighted how COTA affected Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, saying the track prevented them from driving flat-out.

Hamilton and Verstappen contested an epic race at the US GP, with the latter narrowly beating the former. However, the track was not the kindest to both drivers, with its uneven surface playing tricks from practice itself.

In fact, the poor nature of the track was chipping into the drivers’ pace itself. On closer observation, one could make out that the two drivers were not driving to their best, and were in fact managing their tyres.

Hughes highlighted how COTA affected Hamilton and Verstappen, and said that tyre management took priority over speed.

In his column for the Race, Hughes wrote, “Neither car was being driven at anywhere close to its limits. If they had been, their tyres would have been destroyed within three or four laps.

“With both driving whole seconds off their potential pace, Hamilton was catching in the final stint by driving slightly less conservatively, not because his car was actually faster than the Red Bull at that point. In the middle stint he was faster because Verstappen’s tyres were damaged by the fast out-lap necessary to take track position.”

Max Verstappen Lewis Hamilton Red Bull Mercedes F1 US GP
Verstappen (in front) and Hamilton (behind) pushed each other to the limit, but only just. Source: the-race.com

Drive smart

“If Verstappen tried to drive at Hamilton’s pace on tyres that were 1s per lap older, they’d have been destroyed within three or four laps, making him whole chunks slower again and a sitting duck.

“Instead, he had to just set a pace which would allow him still to have enough grip left when Hamilton arrived on his tail. So Verstappen has to go fast enough that Hamilton has to eat into his tyre advantage to catch him in time, but not so fast that he destroys his own tyres. He did it to perfection.

“With both deliberately driving over two-and-a-half seconds off their potential pace, it is meaningless to look at their actual times to judge which is the quicker car.

“It made for a thrilling spectacle and perhaps gave the illusion of a flat-out race. But it was nothing of the kind. It was still a thrilling contest and a pure one – but not one of flat-out driving,” he concluded.

Read more: Hughes critical of Red Bull’s performance during practice – “They didn’t get their estimate right”

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