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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - AUSTIN, Texas: Max Verstappen will be racing for pride, points and records this weekend at the United States Grand Prix as his rivals compete for positional prize money behind the newly-crowned champion.
But in the first of four weekends’ racing in the Americas before the season-closer in Abu Dhabi, much attention will be taken by politicking and preparations for 2024 with Ferrari and Mercedes striving to close the gap behind the dominant Red Bull team.
Verstappen, however, will be the man who takes the limelight at the Circuit of the Americas where he will seek to secure a hat trick of successes and his 50th career victory, having secured his third consecutive drivers’ title in Qatar.
That win was his 14th in 17 races this year and might, for another driver in another age, have signalled a chance to relax, but not for the 26-year-old Dutchman who is focused on winning every contest.
“It could be quite hectic for us this weekend,” he said, referring to another Grand Prix embracing a Saturday dedicated to a sprint race.
“We will have only one session to try and find the optimum balance in the car and it looks as if we will have high temperatures again too.”
Verstappen could equal his 2022 record of 15 wins in a year and close the gap on four-time world champions Alain Prost (51 wins) and Sebastian Vettel (53) in the all-time list for most race victories.
He and Red Bull know the chasing pack will be as keen to catch them as ever, particularly as the sport’s prize money is only distributed to teams via their finishing positions in the constructors’ championship and not via the drivers’ title race.
Mercedes, on 326 points, will seek to extend their 28-point advantage ahead of Ferrari with strong performances to secure second place, while McLaren attempt to close an 11-point gap on Aston Martin for fourth.
The difference is worth tens of millions of dollars.
McLaren’s Australian rookie Oscar Piastri won the Qatar sprint and finished second in the main race.
On his first appearance in Austin, he will seek to maintain his personal momentum while team-mate Lando Norris will hope to mark his 100th start with success.
Mercedes will be seeking to erase the disappointment of Qatar, where seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton collided with teammate George Russell.
Team boss Toto Wolff confirmed their cars will have an updated floor in Austin, hoping to regain enough race pace to match McLaren.
“It will be the last significant update we will introduce this year,” said Wolff, hinting that like most teams Mercedes’ attention will then switch to 2024.
Wolff also seeks to paper over any perceived cracks appearing in the relationship between his drivers.
The Texan weekend will also see Daniel Ricciardo return for Alpha Tauri after missing five races since breaking his hand at the Dutch Grand Prix while the American-owned Haas team will not only bring a major upgrade for their home event, but may maintain their opposition to fellow Americans Andretti’s bid to join the grid.
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