Lewis Hamilton became the first British driver to retain the Formula 1 World Drivers’ Championship as he took victory in an exciting United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas on Sunday.
In a race that begun in the wet after persistent rain but ended with the first dry running of the weekend, and Hamilton took his tenth victory of the season after capitalising on a mistake from erstwhile leader Nico Rosberg to clinch the title with three races of the season remaining.
For most of the race it had looked as though the championship battle would go on to Mexico City next weekend, especially with Rosberg in the lead and looking comfortable, but the German will be left to rue the mistake that saw Hamilton sweep into the lead.
Hamilton took the lead at the start as drivers began the race on the intermediate Pirelli tyres, with Daniil Kvyat, Daniel Ricciardo and Sergio Perez all also getting passed pole-sitting Rosberg on the opening lap. Rosberg soon found his way back into fourth, while Kvyat attacked Hamilton for the lead, although he failed to maintain the position, and was not in as good a position again when the Virtual Safety Car was deployed for the first time.
Debris on the circuit was the cause of the VSC, with Felipe Nasr having clipped the rear of his Sauber F1 Team team-mate Marcus Ericsson at turn one and breaking his front wing on the Swede’s rear tyre.
There had already been debris scattered in the area after collisions on the opening lap that saw Will Stevens retire his Manor in the pits and Valtteri Bottas, Romain Grosjean and Alexander Rossi pit for repairs.
Once the VSC was withdrawn, Rosberg reclaimed third place from Ricciardo and set about closing the gap to Kvyat in second, but Ricciardo would then move from fourth into the lead as the pace of the Red Bull in the drying conditions on intermediate tyres was impressive.
Once it became clear dry tyres were the way to go, it was Ericsson who made the first successful jump to them after gambles by Bottas, Nasr and Grosjean all backfired, everyone took to the pit lane, and once on dry weather tyres, the Mercedes drivers once again took to the front, with Rosberg, who had overtaken Hamilton just before the duo switched to dry tyres, ahead of Hamilton.
Rosberg had acquired more than a ten second lead before the introduction of the safety car for the first time, with Ericsson having stopped his Sauber on track at turn eleven, with the top four at the time – Rosberg, Hamilton, Ricciardo and Kvyat – deciding not to pit, while Sebastian Vettel, having already impressively climbed up the field, did, making the jump from the soft to the medium tyre, and closing up to those in front of him.
Vettel moved up into third ahead of the two Red Bull’s once the safety car left the track before the VSC was deployed a second time when Nico Hulkenberg pulled out of the race after crashing into the side of Ricciardo as the two battled down the long back straight, with the Sahara Force India’s suspension braking as a result.
Whereas Rosberg, Ricciardo and Kvyat finally pitted, Hamilton stayed out, and with it unlikely that his tyres would last until the end, it looked as though the title battle would continue on at least until next weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix.
But luck was on Hamilton’s side when, fighting down in tenth position following his belated pit stop, Kvyat crashed at the exit of the penultimate corner after running out off-track across the still-wet runoff area and hitting the inside barrier, narrowly being avoided by team-mate Ricciardo.
Hamilton took to the pit lane and rejoined in second position behind Rosberg, while Max Verstappen moved into third in his Scuderia Toro Rosso ahead of Vettel, who chose to switch back to the soft tyre at the safety car as well.
Rosberg’s mistake at turn fifteen then promoted Hamilton into championship winning position, and despite Vettel’s best efforts to claim the second place he would need to stay in contention, Hamilton and Rosberg claimed a 1-2 finish for Mercedes to clinch the Briton his third World Championship.
Verstappen held on for fourth ahead of Force India’s Sergio Perez, while Jenson Button claimed sixth for McLaren-Honda despite finishing behind the second Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz Jr, who was handed a five-second penalty for speeding in the pit lane during his first pit stop.
Pastor Maldonado finished in the points for a third consecutive race for the first time in his Formula 1 career by finishing eighth for Lotus, while Nasr claimed two points for Sauber despite making five pit stops during the race.
Ricciardo claimed the final point on offer on the final lap as he passed the slowing Fernando Alonso as the Spaniard struggled with a loss of power over the closing laps in his McLaren.
Rossi was the final finisher in twelfth, with the American racer being as high as eleventh and close to the points for the Manor F1 Team.
Kimi Raikkonen was a relatively early retirement in his Ferrari after initially spinning off on his first lap out of the pits on dry tyres before being called back into the pits and into retirement with high brake temperatures.
Neither Williams Martini Racing car saw the chequered flag either, with Bottas retiring early with a reoccurrence of his suspension issue that affected him during qualifying, while Felipe Massa was also called into the pits with a mechanical issue.
Circuit of the Americas Race Result
|4||33||Max Verstappen||NED||Toro Rosso-Renault||+22.359s|
|5||11||Sergio Perez||MEX||Force India-Mercedes||+24.413s|
|7||55||Carlos Sainz Jr||ESP||Toro Rosso-Renault||+30.619s|
|10||3||Daniel Ricciardo||AUS||Red Bull-Renault||+53.371s|
|RET||26||Daniil Kvyat||RUS||Red Bull-Renault||Retired|
|RET||27||Nico Hulkenberg||GER||Force India-Mercedes||Retired|