Front to back: the United States Grand Prix

Every team and driver reviewed after Daniel Ricciardo takes third in Austin.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton:
qualified 1st, finished 1st
Nico Rosberg: qualified 2nd, finished 2nd
“Immaculate” was Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff’s succinct summary of Hamilton’s US Grand Prix, where the reigning world champion delivered a performance that showed he’s not going to relinquish his crown to his teammate without one hell of a fight. Hamilton set up his fourth win in five races at the Circuit of the Americas and his 50th F1 victory in all with a monstrous lap in qualifying on Saturday, becoming the first driver ever to lap COTA in under 95 seconds, his speed in the first sector utterly mesmerising. The Briton controlled the start and was untroubled from there, although he admitted to having his mind drift back to Malaysia two races ago when he led with a similarly comfortable margin only for his engine to blow up. Rosberg’s championship lead was trimmed to 26 points with his second place, but if Mercedes are able to build on their five 1-2 finishes this season and Hamilton wins in Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi, Rosberg will sneak the title by five points. With the way this season has gone, you’d be surprised if it was that straightforward, though.

Ferrari
Sebastian Vettel:
qualified 6th, finished 4th
Kimi Raikkonen: qualified 5th, did not finish
Fourth for Vettel, the only other driver besides Hamilton to win at COTA (2013), was flattering in the extreme – the German qualified behind Raikkonen, trailed him in the early going, and inherited two spots when his teammate and Verstappen’s Red Bull retired before the end. A late-race pit stop saw him record the fastest lap of the race on lap 55 of 56 (nearly two seconds quicker than anyone managed all afternoon), but the four-time world champion was 23 seconds away from the podium and more than 50 seconds ahead of Alonso’s McLaren, in no man’s land. Raikkonen was the feistier of the Ferraris in Austin and went for an aggressive three-stop strategy, but it was that final stop on lap 39 – when the right rear wheel wasn’t affixed correctly – that saw the Finn park up at the end of the uphill pit lane exit, his race only over after he rolled back down into the lane itself, a bizarre sight that cost Ferrari 5000 Euros for the unsafe release from the stop. Ferrari now trails Red Bull by 53 points in the constructors’ race with a maximum of 75 available from the final three Grands Prix.

Williams
Felipe Massa:
qualified 9th, finished 7th
Valtteri Bottas: qualified 8th, finished 16th
Masa had scored just five points in the past nine races leading into Austin, so was relieved to get back inside the top 10 again after a strong drive. It could have been better too, as a late-race clash with Alonso left him with a front left puncture and a harried pit stop on the penultimate lap, but he had enough of a margin over Perez’s Force India to bank six points. Bottas’ race all but came to an end after he clashed with Hulkenberg at the first corner, a puncture seeing him have to limp back to the pits, and he struggled around outside the points thereafter, the floor of his Williams damaged in the melee. Massa’s six points saw Williams narrow its deficit to Force India for fourth in the teams’ race to eight points.

Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo:
qualified 3rd, finished 3rd
Max Verstappen: qualified 4th, did not finish
Ricciardo’s seventh podium of the season was meritorious and frustrating in equal measure. The Australian started the race on supersoft tyres in a show of aggressive intent, split the Mercedes duo into Turn 1 to sneak up to second, and had that spot under control until the mid-race Virtual Safety Car caused – ironically – by his teammate’s demise gifted Rosberg a free pit stop and left Ricciardo back where he started. Finishing well ahead of Ferrari after the Italian team turned the tables in Japan a fortnight ago gives him plenty of optimism for the final three races, while third place in the drivers’ championship is getting closer by the race. Verstappen’s gearbox gave up on lap 29, which wasn’t long after he came into the pits for his second pit stop, but the team didn’t know he was coming in until he appeared in the lane … The non-score was Verstappen’s first DNF since Monaco in round six, and snapped his two-race streak of second-place finishes on a weekend where he could never quite get on terms with his teammate.

Force India
Nico Hulkenberg:
qualified 7th, did not finish
Sergio Perez: qualified 11th, finished 8th
All of the good news out of Austin happened to Hulkenberg before the race; the German signed a deal to move to Renault for next year after the race at Suzuka, and then hauled his car into seventh on the grid with a superb lap on Saturday that was half a second faster than anyone not driving a Mercedes, Red Bull or Ferrari. His race was over in no time, the crash with Bottas at the first turn breaking his suspension, and leaving Hulkenberg less than impressed with Vettel, saying “sometimes (he) is quite aggressive, and sometimes he forgets there are other cars.” Perez salvaged eighth on an afternoon that looked to be going the same way as Hulkenberg’s when he was turned around by Kvyat’s Toro Rosso at Turn 11 on the first lap, the enraged Mexican calling the Russian a “f**ing idiot” over the radio as he re-joined at the very back. “I think we could have finished fifth today,” was his lament afterwards.

Renault
Jolyon Palmer:
qualified 15th, finished 13th
Kevin Magnussen: qualified 18th, finished 12th
Hulkenberg’s signature for 2017 means one – or both – of Magnussen and Palmer won’t be back in yellow next season, which gave their frequent on-track stoushes on Sunday in Austin all the more weight.  Magnussen finished the better of the pair by just five seconds after the Dane was given a five-second time penalty for shoving Kvyat off track late in the race, and Palmer was frustrated that the team didn’t swap its drivers around on the opening phase of the race with the cars on different tyre strategies. “I was on the radio in the first stint saying I was quicker, but nothing happened,” Palmer said. “I was pushing like hell to pass him and overheating the tyres and ultimately I dropped back. I felt like it wasn’t the best call in the interests of the team.”

Toro Rosso
Daniil Kvyat:
qualified 13th, finished 11th
Carlos Sainz: qualified 10th, finished 6th
Sainz equalled a career-best with sixth place at COTA in a race that exceeded his wildest expectations – pre-race projections had him sliding out of the points despite an excellent qualifying effort on Saturday that produced what he felt was one of his best-ever laps. The Spaniard expected to be exposed on Austin’s long back straight, and while attrition ahead had him in fifth place and in a fight with compatriot Alonso in the latter stages, eight points was a superb return. It was announced Kvyat would be staying at STR for 2017 in the lead-up to the race, ending a period of uncertainty for the Russian that had clearly impacted his results since stepping back from the senior Red Bull squad. Any chance of points on Sunday was scuppered by a 10-second penalty for the Perez incident on lap one, but having his future finally secured after months of speculation means Kvyat will leave Austin in a decent state of mind.

Sauber
Felipe Nasr:
qualified 21st, finished 15th
Marcus Ericsson: qualified 16th, finished 14th
Ericsson looked like getting Sauber into the points for the first time all season when he ran 11th late in the race, but faded to 14th by the flag as the Swiss team’s nightmare run continues. Nasr, who is being linked with the Force India seat to be vacated by Hulkenberg next year, started the race on medium-compound tyres for a marathon first stint, and while a late-race pass of Bottas would have raised a smile, it was another frustrating afternoon for the Brazilian and his team.

McLaren
Jenson Button:
qualified 19th, finished 9th
Fernando Alonso: qualified 12th, finished 5th
Anyone who wondered if the fire still burns for Alonso needs to re-watch the final stint of Sunday’s race, when he chased down, caught and passed old Ferrari teammate Massa and fellow Spaniard Sainz with some of his feisty best. His yelled “yeeha!” when passing Massa two laps from home showed how much he still relishes the wheel-to-wheel combat, and his first laps of races are must-see TV – he’s now made up 42 places on the opening lap from where he started (while dropping none) since round three in China. Teammate Button joined him in the points after a clean and composed race that made up for a fraught qualifying 24 hours earlier that left him way back on the second-last row of the grid. Off-track, the future of chairman and long-time McLaren figurehead Ron Dennis made the headlines, the BBC reporting that Dennis’ position is “under threat from his fellow shareholders”.

Manor
Pascal Wehrlein:
qualified 20th, finished 17th
Esteban Ocon: qualified 22nd, finished 18th
There wasn’t much to write home about for Manor, whose drivers were the last two across the line for the third race in a row. Wehrlein just missed out on passing the compromised Williams of Bottas on the last lap, and while Ocon made a superb start to gain six places, he started on the medium-compound tyre, quickly fell back, and was two laps behind race-winner Hamilton at the finish.

Haas
Romain Grosjean:
qualified 17th, finished 10th
Esteban Gutierrez: qualified 14th, did not finish
The first points in nine races for the American team couldn’t have been better timed at home, and finishing anywhere near the top 10 looked very unlikely after both Grosjean and Gutierrez had their cars shed bodywork in Friday practice, the kerbs and high downforce of Austin’s first sector seemingly too much to cope with. Gutierrez was out after lap 16 with brake failure, but Grosjean was able to finish 10th in his 100th F1 start to give the team and its home fans plenty of cause for celebration. “It’s been a long time since we scored,” he said. “It’s obviously a great thing to be able to score points at the end of the season.”

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