Mercedes have become the 2017 Constructors Champions following Lewis Hamilton’s victory at the US Grand Prix over title rival Sebastian Vettel, though the race was not without it’s controversial decision.
Hamilton was beaten off of the line by a fast starting Vettel in his Ferrari, though rather than go hell for leather after the German the Brit decided to play the long gam. He waited for the Ferrari driver to damage his tyres before quickly pouncing and taking the lead of the race once again on lap six of the race.
“Before the race you have to sit and study where you need to save the tyres,” Hamilton told the media after. “There are corners which are tougher on the tyres than others. At points in the lap he wasn’t saving tyres and l was thinking ‘he is going to run out of tyres way before me because l am saving there’. And that is what happened.”
From there Hamilton pulled out an impressive lead over Vettel that did not look to be under threat until the first round of pitstops, when Ferrari tried the undercut to get ahead of the Mercedes. Hamilton pitted but was able to stay out just ahead of Vettel. That was really the last anyone saw of Hamilton during this race as he streaked off into the distance. He crossed the line 10 seconds clear of Vettel in second.
With just three races left and a maximum of 75 points available left to play for it looks all but inevitable that Hamilton is on the brink of securing his fourth world championship. Hamilton’s championship lead now stands at 66 points, a lead that will mean if he finishes fifth or higher in Mexico in a weeks time, regardless of where Vettel finishes he will take the Drivers Championship for this year. If he becomes the champion, Hamilton will become only the fifth driver in F1 history to claim a fourth championship alongside Vettel, Juan Manuel Fangio, Alain Prost, and Michael Schumacher.
Vettel’s afternoon in comparison to Hamilton’s was far more dramatic, after the Red Bull of Max Verstappen successfully spooked the German into adopting a late two-stop strategy after the Ferrari’s tyres began to overheat.
Verstappen had nothing to lose when he pitted from fifth place, and on fresh rubber he began to look like a credible threat to those in front of him. Vettel was the only front runner to blink and pitted from second soon after Verstappen. On new tyres Vettel was soon able to close up and pull of a daring move to pass the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas, before his team mate Kimi Raikkonen diligently got out of his way.
Verstappen followed Vettel and overtook Bottas, but came unstuck behind Raikkonen until the final lap where he launched an opportunistic move into turn ten on the Finnish driver. The move stuck, and after starting in 16th position, Verstappen was up into the podium positions. However, as the Dutchman celebrated in the cool down room with Vettel and Hamilton he was informed the stewards deemed he had left the track during his overtake on Raikkonen, and as a result rewarded him a five second time penalty.
This saw Verstappen demoted to fourth position while Raikkonen was promoted to the final podium position. Understandably Red Bull were furious with the decision, while Verstappen stormed off from the cool down room not even acknowledging Raikkonen as the Finn arrived to compare notes with Vettel. Though Verstappen did not hold back once he was in front of the worlds media about the decision.
“It’s a shame we miss out on the podium as they take it away again but It’s just one idiot steward who always makes the decisions up there against me. I get a five-second penalty and a penalty point – but for what? At the end of the day, everybody is running wide. The crowd is loving it and then you do something like that on world TV. The way they did it is unbelievable. The sport makes no sense. They kill the race like that.”
Both Verstappen and Red Bull’s main issue with the stewards’ decision appears to be the lack of “consistency” shown, with drivers frequently running wide at Turns 9 and 19 during the race and qualifying. While after the chaos of Mexico in 2016, where due to a last minute penalty decision Verstappen was once again demoted from the podium only for Vettel to be demoted after and Ricciardo to finally that the last podium position, Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner was assured by the stewards that something like that would not happen again. He was told that if there was a late incident, like the one that occurred on the last lap, that the incident would be investigated after the podium and race to allow the drivers a right of reply as it were. However the incident was decided immediately and Red Bull were not allowed to appeal the decision.
“They [the stewards] said they wouldn’t make that hasty decision again,” Horner explained after the race. “They said that they’d listen, they’d look at all the facts, they’d listen to the drivers and then make a decision. What’s happened? They’ve made an instant decision and I think it’s a shocking decision. They didn’t even listen to Max’s argument. In other instances, they would have had the drivers in and listened to both sides. Maybe they would have come to the same conclusion, but at least give them the right of reply.”
The drivers steward, Mika Salo, was the same steward on call during the Mexican Grand Prix in 2016 during the podium debacle, and was also the steward who awarded Mark Webber a penalty for catching a lift back to the pits on Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari in 2013.
Bottas finished fifth in his Mercedes, once again seemingly off the pace of his team mate Hamilton. While his points did help secure Mercedes fourth constructors championship on the bounce, he has not looked comfortable in the car since Summer break, and even before his last minute pit stop he was still twenty seconds adrift of the race winning Mercedes.
Esteban Ocon was “best of the rest” in sixth after holding off his team mate during the race while saving fuel at the same time. Eventually though he was put under pressure by the Renault of Carlos Sainz during the final few laps, though he held off the charging Spaniard and set a new F1 record as well. Ocon has mow eclipsed former Manor driver Max Chilton’s record for the most consecutive finishes since his F1 debut with 26, Most of which have been while he’s been battling for points with Force India.
Sainz finished seventh on his debut for Renault, showing the team they were right to take a chance on him and fire Jolyon Palmer. While Sergio Perez finished behind him in eighth in the other Force India after having to fend off his position in the closing stages. Felipe Massa finished ninth for Williams while Daniil Kvyat managed to score one sultry point on his return to Formula 1 following his “rest” from the Japanese and Malaysian Grand Prixs.
Lance Stroll finished just outside the points in 11th, with Stoffel Vandoorne finishing 12th for McLaren, and F1 debutant Brendon Hartley finishing 13th for Toro Rosso ahead of Romain Grosjean in 14th for Haas.
Marcus Ericsson and Kevin Magnussen were the last of the classified finishers after tangling near the end of the race. Ericsson was found to be the driver at fault and was handed a five second time penalty, though by that time both he and Magnussen’s races had been ruined.
The Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo joined the Sauber of Pascal Wehrlien and Renault driver Nico Hulkenberg on the side as the official retirement. Though by far and away the hard luck story of the afternoon was Fernando Alonso in his McLaren who was forced to retire after another engine issue. The Spaniard had manhandled him McLaren into the points and seventh place before the all too familiar issue of a Honda engine failure reared it’s ugly head. It’s fair to say as a result Alonso is now counting down the days till his McLaren will be powered by a Renault engine.
Overall this race was definitely one of the most entertaining we’ve had this season. Although there wasn’t a real fight for the victory once Hamilton had passed Vettel there were fights up and down the field as we start to get to the real business end of the season, with many midfield teams out scrapping for every last point they can. While watching Verstappen come through the field from 16th place was once again a masterclass and yet more proof that once again that the young Dutchman could well be a future world champion of the sport. It seems many people are divided on if the punishment Verstappen received was a just and fair one. Personally I agree with Christian Horner, I feel the decision was made far too hastily and there were several cases of track limits being abused this weekend so it was off that Verstappen was the only one punished. However, Verstappen also knows the rules and he should have been aware of the fact he was offline when he managed the overtake. Therefore it is arguable that the punishment fitted the crime. Regardless of if you agree or disagree it’s definitely a decision that had got many people discussing whether it’s fair or not.
I’ll leave you now with my highlight of the weekend. And of course being in Texas there were a lot of cowboy jokes up and down the paddock. Though an honourable mention goes out especially to the C4F1 team with their all cowboy opening. However it was the outtakes that really made me laugh. Enjoy …
— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) October 22, 2017
United States GP Race Result
1) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1:33:50.993
2) Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari
3) Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari
4) Max Verstappen, Red Bull (Five second time penalty awarded)
5) Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
6) Esteban Ocon, Force India
7) Carlos Sainz, Renault
8) Sergio Perez, Force India: +1 lap
9) Felipe Massa, Williams: +1 lap
10) Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso: +1 lap
11) Lance Stroll, Williams: +1 lap
12) Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren: +1 lap
13) Brendon Hartley, Toro Rosso: +1 lap
14) Romain Grosjean, Haas: +1 lap
15) Marcus Ericsson, Sauber: +1 lap
16) Kevin Magnussen, Haas: +1 lap
17) Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull: DNF
18) Fernando Alonso, McLaren: DNF
19) Pascal Wehrlein, Sauber: DNF
20) Nico Hulkenberg, Renault: DNF