Lewis Hamilton reeled in Sebastian Vettel in the opening laps of the US Grand Prix after the German aced his start, passing him on Lap 7 and going on to win by 10.1 seconds for his ninth win of this season.
Despite Vettel’s second-place finish, Hamilton now leads Vettel by 66 points with only 75 remaining; the Brit needs to finish within 16 points of Vettel next week’s Mexican Grand Prix to take his fourth World Drivers Championship.Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen rallied to finish third after Max Verstappen made a sensational charge from 16th to take third from Raikkonen on the last lap, but Verstappen put all four wheels off the track during his breathtaking bid. The Dutchman incurred a five-second penalty from the Race Stewards; just enough time to lift Raikkonen back to third place, with Verstappen falling to fourth.
Valtteri Bottas finished fifth, his race falling apart with worn tyres to finish 30-seconds behind Hamilton. Still, his points were enough, however, to help Mercedes clinch its fourth consecutive Constructors Championship, joining rivals Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari in the feat.Steady points gatherer Esteban Ocon was sixth, bringing more home to Force India. He was followed to the flag very closely by new Renault recruit Carlos Sainz who never gave any suggestion that the Austin weekend marked his first miles in the Renault since replacing Jolyon Palmer following the Japanese Grand Prix two weeks ago. Sainz took seventh off Sergio Perez, the two side-by-side through sector three on lap 34 before Sainz made a move on the inside of the last corner to cap off a successful debut for his new team. Felipe Massa and Toro Rosso stand-in Daniil Kvyat brought in the final two points positions. Massa spent 30 laps on super-softs and pitted from sixth for ultra-softs to rejoin in 12th. On the fastest tyre compound, he gained three places over 26 laps to finish ninth, ahead of Daniil Kvyat.
After the race, Hamilton revealed he was “surprised” Vettel didn’t fight him harder when he overtook the Ferrari to retake the lead on Lap 6.
In 2012, Austin, Texas opened the United States’ first purpose-built F1 facility designed to bring F1 back to the United States; the all-new Circuit of The Americas (COTA). Its signature element is a 5.5-kilometre (3.4-mile) 20-turn anticlockwise track Grand Prix circuit, located southeast of the Texan capital, and designed by Hermann Tilke in collaboration with American architectural firm HKS.
The designer deliberately chose inspiration from the best circuits around the world, as well as then building these attributes on a site to take advantage of the dramatic front straight’s elevation of nearly 40 metres.
The setup picture is reminiscent of Suzuka; the steep, uphill run into Turn One’s signature hairpin as well as the long straight between Turns 11-12 demand plenty of power. Turns Three through Seven need the same roll control and steering accuracy as Suzuka’s Esse Turns and Silverstone’s high-speed Maggotts / Becketts. Additionally, you can’t rely on just a robust front wing design to nail down the front tyres as too much front wing encourages oversteer. Finally, you have Turns 12 through 15 which suggest Hockenheim’s stadium section while Turns 16 through 18 resemble the former multi-apex Turn Eight at Istanbul Park.
Pre-race talk entered around Carlos Sainz’ Red Bull “loan” to Renault and Max Verstappen’s decision to extend his Red Bull contract another year, leaving him bound to the team until the end of 2020. Both young drivers’ personalities and talent look to shape and reshape these teams’ fortunes for years to come.
Once again Ferrari has had problems this weekend, with Vettel struggling with his car on Friday and losing it mightily in Turn 19 before later complaining that its front end felt “like jelly”. It was rebuilt around a new chassis overnight in a valiant effort by the Ferrari mechanics, who managed the job without even busting the FIA curfew.
“We are very happy with the result,” Vettel said. “It was crucial to get that final run. We’ve had a slow start here with a couple of problems, and I wasn’t comfortable yesterday with the car and hardly did any laps after I ‘lost’ it and spun early in FP2. Something wasn’t right, and apparently, it was a big job overnight. But the team were fantastic. The mechanics have now had a couple of race weekends in a row with last-minute engine changes and chassis changes, and they did it all without breaking the curfew.”
As you would expect from Hamilton’s success this season in both Suzuka and Silverstone, the Brit dominated all three free practice sessions and all of the qualifying; he also took his 72nd pole position and set a new record of 117 front-row starts. Vettel did all he could, splitting the Mercedes to be on the front row and give himself a chance to saves his crumbling championship bid.
Vettel had the better launch at the start and immediately claimed the inside line to the hilltop Turn 1, despite Hamilton’s steady attempt to close the door.
Hamilton let Vettel push hard through the initial four laps, leading the German to admit after the race that he knew within the first three laps that his tyres couldn’t take the cornering speeds produced by a robust headwind going through the Esses.
Daniel Ricciardo and Bottas lit up the crowd with their thrilling wheel-to-wheel fight in the opening laps. On two occasions, the Red Bull driver closed up to Bottas at Turn 1, and the pair fought for position through the Esses – one of the best points on any F1 circuit – and created a genuinely thrilling (and fair) spectacle.
Hamilton drew within DRS range to Vettel at the end of the back straight on Lap 6. He was by in an instant and established a two second lead within two laps. Vettel hung on in second place until Lap 17 when he pitted for soft tyres. Hamilton came in three laps later on lap 20 and rejoined just a car’s length ahead of Vettel.
It seemed to matter little as Hamilton repeated his early-race pace, as he once again built up a two-second lead within two laps over the four-time Formula 1 Champion Vettel.
The Ferrari driver stopped once more for tyres on Lap 39 of 56 for super-softs. Tyre changes between Ferrari and Mercedes had elevated Raikkonen and Bottas to the front, although by then both drivers were slowing on worn soft tyres. Vettel caught and passed them with five laps remaining to take back the second step of the podium.
Starting 16th position due to engine penalties, Max and his long-lasting super-softs reached into the top 10 within five laps and was in the top six by Lap 10.
When the leaders pitted Verstappen took over the lead on lap 21, However, Hamilton was chasing down the young Dutchman a second per lap. On new tyres, Hamilton took the lead on lap 23 in sector three, though Verstappen remained stoic in defence.
From second, Verstappen pitted for softs on lap 25 to exit in fifth. He completed a two-stop strategy by returning to super-softs on lap 38 and then pushed for all he was worth down on the final podium spot, overtaking Raikkonen for third place through the long sector three right-handers on the last lap.
However, the Race Stewards held that Verstappen left the track in sector three in his efforts to overtake Raikkonen, and the stewards handed him a five-second penalty, stripping his podium finish away to Raikkonen’s benefit.
For the victor, Hamilton once again had no significant pressure once he slipped past Vettel. In a season where the past three-time champion looked unable to mount a vigorous title defence, Hamilton is now poised to take the 2017 Driver’s Championship in Mexico City with two races remaining by just finish within 16 points of Vettel.
The three scenarios are:
If Hamilton finishes fifth or higher, he is world champion.
If Vettel finishes second, Hamilton needs to finish ninth or higher to be is world champion.
If Vettel is third or lower, Hamilton is world champion.
Now it’s on to Mexico City for one of the most supported and celebrated Grands Prix in the World, on October 29.
See you there.