For the first time in nine years, one month and 22 days, Kimi Räikkönen took victory for Scuderia Ferrari in a pulsating United States Grand Prix; also ending his record-breaking streak of 113 races between victories.
With Max Verstappen finishing in a remarkable second place from eighteenth on the grid and Sebastian Vettel taking fourth place – after falling to the back on lap one – Lewis Hamilton‘s third place at the Circuit of the Americas was not enough to secure a fifth Drivers’ Championship.
As expected, Räikkönen squeezed past the staunch defence of Hamilton into the tightening Turn 1 at the start to take the lead on his ultra-soft tyres. With Hamilton and team-mate Valteri Bottas tucking into second and third respectively, Vettel faced getting lost in the crowd amongst Daniel Ricciardo, the Renault Sport Formula 1 Team and Racing Point Force India F1 Team pairings.
After reaping the benefits of the slipstream down the long back straight, Vettel attempted to pass Ricciardo at Turn 12, the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing driver fighting back around the outside of Turn 12. As Vettel momentarily lost the car on turn in and drifted wide, the slightest of touches to the Ferrari’s front axle was enough to tip the German into a spin and relegate him to fifteenth.
The stewards deemed the collision as a racing incident as Vettel set about making his way back through the field. Ahead of the recovering Ferrari, it took Räikkönen just five laps to start complaining of rear tyre wear on the purple-walled Pirellis. Given the green light to attack, Hamilton started to edge down a gap that stood around three seconds.
A Virtual Safety Car period triggered by Ricciardo grinding to a halt on the exit of Turn 11 saw Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport contradict Räikkönen’s strategy and pull Hamilton into the pits for soft tyres, rejoining in third.
It looked to be a decision that had paid off for Mercedes, with the Brit setting superior lap times to the leading pair. Räikkönen planned his next move, immediately rescinding a request for more front wing at his pitstop, 11 laps after Hamilton.
Räikkönen also took soft compound tyres, returning in fifth behind Bottas, Hamilton, the resurgent Verstappen and Vettel. The status quo at Ferrari was retained as Vettel ushered the Finn through at Turn 1 for his own benefit. His fourth place transformed into third once Bottas and Verstappen came in for their respective stops, the Red Bull emerging ahead of the Mercedes.
On fresh rubber, Verstappen put Hamilton back into championship position by boldly moving past Vettel at Turn 16 – the place he illegally moved onto the podium 12 months ago.
Blistering on the mid-section of Hamilton’s rear tyres forced the Mercedes into a second pitstop, demoting him to fourth behind Bottas, Verstappen and Räikkönen. A succession of fastest laps saw the reigning champion latch onto the back of the submissive Bottas and perform an engineered move.
His progress was relentless as Räikkönen and Verstappen nursed their tyres. With eight laps to go, ahead of all predictions, the top three were covered by around 2.5 seconds.
With two laps remaining, Hamilton looked to have sewn the championship up, pouncing on a Verstappen mistake at Turn 12 to pull alongside around Turns 16, 17 and 18 but ran wide after hitting the marbles and was forced to settle for third. 15 seconds behind, Bottas locked up on the defensive and ran wide at Turn 12, ensuring that Vettel takes the title battle to Mexico City in a week’s time.
Nico Hülkenberg improved on his qualifying efforts by one place to secure sixth for Renault, immediately ahead of team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr. as the French marque extended their gap over the Haas F1 Team to 20 points in the battle for fourth in the Constructors’ Championship.
Alongside Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault, Force India were the only team to get a double points finish. Sergio Pérez had asked to be let through by Esteban Ocon in the midway stages of the race, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. Ocon’s eighth and Pérez’s tenth place sandwiched Kevin Magnussen – the only Haas to finish the race.
Brendon Hartley narrowly missed out on the top ten in a race that marked his one year anniversary as a Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda driver, beating Marcus Ericsson and Stoffel Vandoorne in a closely fought battle.
Pierre Gasly held off Sergey Sirotkin for fourteenth, while Lance Stroll propped up the classified finishers after suffering the effects of a collision with Fernando Alonso on lap one and the resulting drive-through penalty.
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Magnussen and Ocon disqualified post-race for fuel infringements.