Max Verstappen’s podium that wasn’t was the big talking point after Lewis Hamilton continued on his winning ways in Austin.
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Lewis Hamilton: qualified 1st, finished 1st. Valtteri Bottas: qualified 3rd, finished 5th.
Mercedes won its 11th Grand Prix of the season – and fifth out of six races since F1’s mid-season break – to annex the constructors’ championship for a fourth year running, and could very well seal the drivers’ championship next weekend in Mexico after Hamilton continued his love affair with the Circuit of the Americas. Of the six races held at Austin, the Briton has now won five of them, and while he made a tardy getaway to be beaten by Vettel’s Ferrari into the first corner, Hamilton was untroubled after reclaiming the lead on lap six, and will take a 66-point lead to Mexico City with a maximum of 75 points left in the season. Also for the statistically minded, Hamilton’s pole position on Saturday was his 117th front-row start, breaking the record set by Michael Schumacher. Hamilton’s form since F1’s summer sojourn contrasts sharply with that of teammate Bottas, who, having re-signed for 2018, has dropped well off the pace. The Finn finished 34 seconds behind his teammate after making a late pit stop for tyres when Raikkonen and then Verstappen demoted him from the podium places, but in a six-race run where Hamilton has won five times, Bottas has managed just two podium finishes in what is undoubtedly the fastest car in the field. “A tough day for me,” he lamented.
Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo: qualified 4th, did not finish. Max Verstappen: qualified 6th, finished 4th.
It had almost been the perfect week for Verstappen, who signed a contract extension until 2020 in the lead-up to the race in Austin. Notice we said ‘almost’; after being beaten in qualifying by teammate Ricciardo and then taking an engine penalty that demoted him to the back, Verstappen was electrifying in the early stages of the race, passing 10 cars in the first 10 laps to give himself a chance of a podium finish. An audacious and opportunistic pass of Raikkonen’s Ferrari with four corners left on the final lap saw him cross the line in third place, but as he was preparing to head out onto the podium, the race stewards deemed he’d left the track and gained an advantage with his move, the subsequent five-second time penalty demoting him to fourth. Former Red Bull racer Mark Webber, commentating on British TV, called it a “shit decision”, while team boss Christian Horner found the verdict “unbelievably harsh”. Verstappen’s take? “We had a really great race, but with those stupid decisions you really kill the sport,” he fumed. Ricciardo’s Sunday was, initially at least, quite action-packed as he diced furiously with Bottas for third in the early stages, but that all came to nought when an engine failure saw the Australian sidelined on lap 14, snapping his run of three straight podiums. Ricciardo spent more time talking about his future in the wake of Red Bull hitching its wagon long-term to Verstappen – the 28-year-old comes out of contract at the end of the 2018 season – than he needed to spend analysing a race that ended all too quickly. He’s also likely to take a grid penalty for Mexico in seven days’ time.
Sebastian Vettel: qualified 2nd, finished 2nd. Kimi Raikkonen: qualified 5th, finished 3rd.
The Prancing Horse has a pulse, but only a faint one after Vettel again couldn’t hang with Hamilton despite a jack-rabbit start that briefly raised hopes that Mercedes could be challenged at COTA. After being overtaken by Hamilton, Vettel got aggressive with his first pit stop and tried the undercut in an attempt to thwart the Briton, but he ended up needing to pass Bottas and a compliant Raikkonen to get back to where he started and minimise his points deficit to the driver would could join him as a four-time world champion as soon as next weekend. “At the start it was looking good, but quickly we realised we couldn’t do the same pace as Lewis,” he said after finishing over 10 seconds adrift. Raikkonen, who turned 38 in the week leading into the race, robustly defended his driving before a wheel was turned in Austin, despite having scored 12 fewer points in 16 races than at the same stage of last season. Sunday – eventually – saw him grab a fifth podium for the season with one of his stronger drives for the year, but the gap to his teammate ballooned to over 100 points – and is a big reason why Mercedes wrapped up the teams’ title with three races to go.
Sergio Perez: qualified 10th, finished 8th. Esteban Ocon: qualified 7th, finished 6th.
Stop us if you’ve heard this before: Perez, behind teammate Ocon in the middle part of the race, was immediately on the team radio telling Force India brass that “I am a lot faster” in an attempt to get the team to move the Frenchman aside. The team didn’t, figuring the points earned for sixth and seventh would be the same no matter which pink car crossed the line first, but the decision came back to bite them when Sainz muscled his Renault ahead of Perez and narrowly missed out on passing Ocon as the laps wound down. Ocon’s qualifying effort was all the more meritorious given he was struggling with the onset of a migraine, and the 21-year-old set a record by finishing the opening 26 races of his F1 career, beating former Manor driver Max Chilton’s mark. Perez, who was apoplectic when Magnussen blocked him in qualifying, at least has the next race at home in Mexico to look forward to.
Felipe Massa: qualified 11th, finished 9th. Lance Stroll: qualified 17th, finished 11th.
While Massa’s future remains cloudy, with Williams testing Robert Kubica and Paul Di Resta in what amounts to a shootout for his seat before Austin, the veteran Brazilian is making the most of the present, using a long first stint on a contra tyre strategy on Sunday to vault into the points. Stroll narrowly missed out on joining him, a three-place grid penalty for dangerously impeding Grosjean in qualifying on Saturday proving costly.
Fernando Alonso: qualified 9th, did not finish. Stoffel Vandoorne: qualified 13th, finished 12th.
It’s been a season where good news has been in short supply at McLaren, but there were plenty of smiles at the pre-event press conference when Alonso announced an extension of his contract with the team. The Spaniard produced an extraordinary lap in qualifying to work his way into the top 10 shootout despite his car being 20km/h slower than the Mercedes-powered runners down COTA’s lengthy back straight, but the long faces returned on Sunday when he had to park with – you guessed it – an engine failure on lap 24. “I cannot believe it,” he sighed after his 10th retirement of the year, the most for one driver since Raikkonen in 2002. Vandoorne was on a hiding to nothing when he took yet more engine penalties and started from the back, and try as he might, the top 10 remained just out of reach. “It was a shame to get so close to the points, but we were always going to struggle starting so far back,” he said.
Daniil Kvyat: qualified 12th, finished 10th. Brendon Hartley: qualified 18th, finished 13th.
It was all-out, all-change at Toro Rosso for Austin, with the Suzuka line-up of Sainz (off to Renault to replace Jolyon Palmer) and Gasly (who stayed in Japan to contest the Super Formula season finale) replaced by Kvyat and Hartley. For the Russian, it was welcome reprieve after being benched for Gasly in Malaysia and Japan, while for 27-year-old sportscar ace Hartley, Austin was an opportunity he must have thought would never come, the New Zealander cast aside from Red Bull’s driver pool seven years ago. The Kvyat/Hartley pairing represented the first time in 23 years that a team changed both drivers between consecutive rounds of the championship. Kvyat, who admitted before the race that he was desperately seeking some clarity about his F1 future, scored his first points since Spain in round five with 10th, while Hartley’s debut was compromised by engine penalties that saw him start at the back. The Kiwi kept his nose clean, raced to 13th, and looked forward to being able to reflect on what had been a whirlwind week. “It won’t be until I go to bed tonight and put my eyes at rest that I’ll start to process everything,” he said.
Romain Grosjean: qualified 14th, finished 14th. Kevin Magnussen: qualified 20th, finished 16th.
The ‘home’ team in Austin left for Mexico without any points after a weekend of incidents for both cars, including one on track in practice between Magnussen and Grosjean that left the Frenchman fuming. Grosjean, wearing a Nicky Hayden-inspired helmet design in a nice nod to the late American MotoGP champion, struggled mightily with tyre wear late in the race as his outside chance of a points result faded, while Magnussen, who admitted fault in a qualifying incident with Perez that saw him demoted three places on the grid, had contact with both Saubers, Wehrlein on the first lap which necessitated an early pit stop, and Ericsson later on when the Swede had just been lapped by Vettel.
Nico Hulkenberg: qualified 15th, did not finish. Carlos Sainz: qualified 8th, finished 7th.
Hulkenberg must wonder why he even bothers travelling to Austin; the German’s lap three retirement after suffering an oil pressure problem was his fourth straight non-finish at COTA, and came after he’d taken a 20-place grid penalty for changing engine components. Sainz, on the other hand, couldn’t have had a more impressive start to life at his new team after coming across from Toro Rosso; after out-qualifying Hulkenberg on Saturday (something former teammate Palmer didn’t manage in 16 attempts), the Spaniard raced strongly to seventh on Sunday, and was the final car not lapped by race-winner Hamilton. Sainz’s six points saw his new team draw within five points of his old one for sixth in the constructors’ standings.
Marcus Ericsson: qualified 16th, finished 15th. Pascal Wehrlein: qualified 19th, did not finish.
Beneath the radar, Ericsson had one of his stronger Saturdays of the year in Austin, out-qualifying a Williams and a Toro Rosso and beating teammate Wehrlein by four-tenths of a second in what is clearly the slowest car in the field. The race didn’t go as well, the Swede given a five-second time penalty for the incident with Magnussen. Wehrlein, who turned 23 in the lead-up to the race, was out of it after five laps, the damage from his own coming-together with Magnussen too much to continue.