On a bright Fall afternoon in Austin, Lewis Hamilton drove a perfect race to capture the 50th victory of his Formula 1 career and gain back valuable points from world championship rival Nico Rosberg in the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas. The win puts Hamilton one victory away from tying Alain Prost for the second most career wins in Grand Prix history
Hamilton’s win was his fourth of the five US Grands Prix at COTA as Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg trailed 4.5-seconds in second and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo took the final podium step. While Rosberg lost seven points to Hamilton, he remains a good distance ahead of Hamilton for the title, with just three races to go. Hamilton must win all the remaining Grands Prix, while Rosberg can finish second in all three and still win the world championship.
While Hamilton never put a foot wrong, many of his fellow drivers had an afternoon fraught with difficulty. For them, COTA was a big helping of Tex Mess as both Mercedes’ rivals Red Bull and Ferrari lost precious manufacturers points with DNF’s, while brake woes, collisions, and punctures cost other teams strong finishes.
Lewis Hamilton’s pole position time of 1m34.999 was the fastest ever qualifying lap at COTA. Teammate Nico Rosberg was just two tenths slower.
The Red Bull duo of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen’s race pace during FP2 looked extremely competitive, and Red Bull chose split tire strategies, with Ricciardo on supersofts and Verstappen on the soft compound Pirelli tyres, which was expected to last eight laps longer than the superset compound.
After the disastrous 2015 race, when COTA was doused from Hurricane Patricia, the track reported a total of 269,889 people over this season’s weekend, which, compared with the brief history of the event thus far, is a good sign for both the circuit and F1 in the United States.
Hamilton made a perfect start, as Ricciardo took the inside line into the first turn and attempted to slot between Hamilton and Rosberg, going on to complete the pass by the second corner. By the time they reached the Esses, the order was Hamilton, Ricciardo, Rosberg, Raikkonen and Verstappen.
Behind them, Vettel had pinched Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India, sending him into Valtteri Bottas’ Williams. The Hulk’s race was finished on the spot, while Bottas had to limp around the entire lap with a flat before he could reach the pits.
Daniil Kvyat celebrated his 2017 Torro Rosso contract extension by ramming Sergio Perez’ Force India at the end of Lap 1. Perez pitted for a new rear at the end of the first lap; Kvyat received a ten-second penalty. Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso advanced from twelfth to ninth.
On Lap 12, Verstappen passed Raikkonen for fourth and then began to reel in Rosberg who was in the middle of the tightening Red Bull vice. Verstappen appeared to cost himself a podium position on Lap 26 when he dove into the pits believing that he had been ordered to box. He was mistaken, and his arrival was met with an empty pit. By the time the Red Bull team reacted, Verstappen had lost 9.2 seconds and had dropped to seventh. Then, three laps later, Verstappen had his Tex Mess as he dramatically slowed on COTA’s main straight when his gearbox lost drive. In his attempt to return to the pits, his gearbox finally gave up, leaving him too close to trackside near Turn 18, activating a Virtual Safety Car period for two laps.
As the field slowed, first Hamilton and then Rosberg dove for the pits for new rubber. Meanwhile, because Ricciardo had already stopped before the VSC, he realised the Mercedes duo’s VSC stops saved them 10-seconds. Thus when the safety period ended, Ricciardo found himself not in second place, but now in third place and ten seconds behind Rosberg.
With that development, the race for the top three slots was finished. However, there was still more Texas Trauma to be shared. Kimi Raikkonen was running fourth when he pitted on Lap 39. As he left the pitlane, he was ordered to stop when his right rear wheel was suspected of not being secured correctly.
Sebastian Vettel finished a lonely fourth after Raikkonen’s demise. Alonso’s pace picked up at the end, earning him fifth, but not without controversy. As he challenged Felipe Massa and Carlos Sainz, he dove down the inside of Massa, banging wheels and slicing Massa’s tyre. He was then quickly past Sainz tyre-depleted Toro Rosso. Sainz ended in sixth with Massa salvaging seventh. Perez recovered from Kvyat’s blow to finish eighth with Jenson Button’s McLaren and Romain Grosjean’s Haas F1 rounding out ninth and tenth.
Romain Grosjean scoring his single point gives newcomers Haas F1 8th place in the constructor’s cup baring a miracle for Renault, Manor or Sauber – a superb achievement for both team and the very likeable and competent Swiss.
Lewis Hamilton remarked after the race that his DNF in Malaysia was still a source of dread. “I was just concerned the whole race the car was not going to make it. I was just in fear of the same thing, the same feeling, the sound that I heard in Malaysia, so I was grateful that the car made it across the line.
Max Verstappen took the blame after arriving for an unscheduled pit stop when Red Bull was not expecting him at the U.S. Grand Prix. He had been told the previous lap to push hard and close the gap to Rosberg and assumed it was meant that he would then pit the following lap.
Carlos Sainz used superb race craft and the VSC period to pull himself up to fifth until he ran out of grip and was passed by Fernando Alonso at the end of the race. With COTA having more fast corners than Spa and more slow corners than Hungaroring, Sainz put his Toro Rosso into sixth despite slow straight-line speed and no engine updates for the entire season. He was the Driver of the Day.
Fernando Alonso: radio transmission as he passed Sainz for fifth after just ramming Felipe Massa’s Williams.
COTA Race Stewards: radio transmission following Alonso / Massa incident