In an exciting United States Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton took one more step towards becoming the 2017 World Champion with a comfortable win as the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team claimed their fourth successive Constructors’ Championship.
The Brit briefly lost the lead to his only remaining championship rival Sebastian Vettel at the start of the race, but found a way through before the pit stops before pulling away.
Vettel finished 10.1 seconds behind in second for Scuderia Ferrari to keep his slim title hopes alive, with Kimi Räikkönen reclaiming the third place he lost to Red Bull Racing‘s Max Verstappen on the last lap after the Dutchman received a five-second time penalty for an illegal overtake on the Finn.
Verstappen’s bold move at Turn 18 was deemed to be a transgression of the rules, as the Red Bull driver put all four wheels off the track, meaning Räikkönen re-inherited the place post-race.
Vettel made the perfect start, staying unfazed when Hamilton moved over to the extreme left hand side of the track as a defence mechanism – the Ferrari driver got his nose ahead into the uphill Turn 1 before holding his line on the exit, leaving the Mercedes to fend off from team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
Despite his inferior position on track, Hamilton expressed his pleasure at the early pace, keeping within striking distance of the Ferrari as the pair traded fastest lap times. Come lap six, Hamilton grew tired of trailing the German, making a rudimentary pass into the day’s overtaking hotspot, the Turn 12 hairpin to retake the lead. Vettel fought back through the tight complex of Turns 13, 14, 15 and 16 but Hamilton stayed ahead.
Meanwhile, Verstappen provided the entertainment further back, making his way up to sixth from 17th on the grid by the climax of lap 10.
It wasn’t all comfortable for Red Bull, as Ricciardo made several complaints about the condition of his tyres when fighting Valtteri Bottas for third before his premature bow on lap 16 with engine failure.
In clean air Hamilton had started to establish a healthy gap, six seconds ahead of Vettel at the time of the latter’s first stop on lap 17 for a set of soft tyres. The Mercedes had no problems with its ultra-softs, Hamilton asking to extend his stint.
The extension lasted until lap 20, with Hamilton coming under severe pressure from Vettel upon rejoining the track, he expressed his immediate concern on the radio.
The long running Verstappen held the lead on his super-soft tyres before Hamilton found a way through at Turn 15 on lap 23, two laps before the Dutchman’s first stop.
Scrabbling for an answer to the Mercedes’ pace, Vettel asked about the possibility of a two stop strategy, labelled as “Plan B”. Verstappen also engaged his and Red Bull’s ‘Plan B’, shedding his soft tyres after just 15 laps for another set of super-softs.
The stop proved to be a catalyst for Vettel and Ferrari, the German in the following lap – just staying ahead of Verstappen in fourth place. Further up the road, the fighting Finns Bottas and Räikkönen held second and third, resisting the urge for fresh rubber, just like Hamilton who was carefully managing his own race whilst making his way through the back-markers.
Räikkönen leaned on a higher engine mix to attack and pass the struggling Bottas before rapidly building a healthy buffer. Vettel survived a minor scare when Marcus Ericsson tangled with Kevin Magnussen as the Ferrari lapped the pair, Ericsson earning a five-second penalty for his misdemanour.
It wasn’t long before Vettel latched onto Bottas’ tail, pulling off a daring move on the outside of Turn 1 with five laps to go, with Stoffel Vandoorne having to take evasive action on the corner exit whilst heeding to blue flags.
The inevitable happened the next lap at the same corner, Räikkönen giving Vettel a free pass into second for championship reasons.
The switch didn’t come in time to bother Hamilton, as he cruised to the line, veering dramatically out of the last corner towards the pit wall, where his jubilant team had gathered to salute him. The action hadn’t stopped though, the rehearsed Ferrari move had allowed Verstappen to close right in on Räikkönen.
His spectacular move on the inside of Turn 18 looked to have worked in his favour, but his joy was short lived, the stewards taking a dim view on his racing line, handing the oldest driver on the grid his 89th career podium.
But with his 72nd race win, Hamilton needs just fifth place in Mexico to secure his fourth world title, with Vettel needing to take a win and rely on getting a huge slice of fortune – something that has evaded him in recent weeks.
Esteban Ocon held off pressure from his Sahara Force India F1 Team colleague and sparring partner Sergio Pérez and Renault Sport Formula One Team new boy Carlos Sainz Jr. on his way to sixth and a new Formula 1 record – the Frenchman passed Max Chilton‘s achievement of most consecutive finishes as a rookie with 26.
Sainz finished in an impressive seventh, ahead of Pérez, whilst his team-mate Nico Hülkenberg retired on lap four with an oil pressure issue.
Felipe Massa took two more points for Williams Martini Racing in ninth, but Lance Stroll struggled with traction issues spending most of the day at the tail of the field, inheriting 11th as a result of late incidents.
On his return Daniil Kvyat scored a sole point, as Brendon Hartley showed promising pace throughout his maiden F1 outing for Scuderia Toro Rosso, finishing 13th behind the McLaren Honda Formula One Team car of Vandoorne. Fernando Alonso suffered more reliability issues in the United States, retiring on lap 25 after looking good for points.
Haas F1 Team had a quiet home race; Romain Grosjean fell out of initial points contention, ending up in 14th and Magnussen suffered for pace after his clash with Ericsson, propping up the finishers.
Ericsson kept his 15th place despite the penalty, but the Sauber F1 Team saw Pascal Wehrlein retire very early on with damage after contact with Magnussen.
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