It was looking to be a bleak weekend for Ferrari heading into Austin for the United States Grand Prix. Sebastian Vettel had garnered a 3-place grid penalty on Friday’s first practice session and the Merc’s looked quick albeit in the rain.
The soggy Friday left only Saturday’s practice session in the dry and this was precious little time for teams to harvest data and allow them good insight into how the tires would react for an anticipated dry race. As Sunday came around, the sun, heat and dry weather appeared but with Vettel starting 5th and Lewis Hamilton on pole, it looked as if he could take his fifth world championship in Austin Texas at the Circuit of the Americas and win the race for the fifth time in a row.
In the end, it was not Lewis’s day because this day belonged to Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen who did precisely what he needed to do to not only help Sebastian Vettel by denying Lewis the win but also securing the first victory at the US Grand Prix for Ferrari since 2006 when Michael Schumacher did it. Kimi’s win and Lewis finishing behind Max Verstappen for third place means that his 5th title will have to wait until the Mexican Grand Prix next weekend. Lewis will need to beat Seb by 5 points in Mexico to take his 5th title.
A huge win for Kimi Raikkonen who hasn’t won since Australian in 2013 and breaks the record for longest winless drought. The last win for Kimi happened when Lewis only had one title to his name. Kimi’s had 30 podiums since his 2013 win but no victories until today and the drive he put in was the drive his fans knew he was capable of. No errors, defending from Hamilton on dodgy tires and effectively costing Lewis enough time to put him third on the podium behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Ferrari’s strategy team gets a win today for ignoring the free Virtual Safety Car pit stop on lap 11 and keeping Kimi out. At the time, it seemed like a no-brainer to box Kimi but Ferrari either knew better or reacted better to recover from a strategy error. Either way, they didn’t box Vettel and one could argue they should have but in the end, Kimi’s defensive driving cost Lewis the win, handed Raikkonen the win and protected Vettel’s points deficit for another race.
A big win for Max Verstappen who took his Red Bull car from 18th to 2nd in the race. A strong performance and level-headed drive when being seriously hounded by Lewis who desperately needed second place to win the title (at the time as Vettel hadn’t passed Valtteri Bottas yet). A brilliant performance from the young Dutchman!
A win for Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz despite the Spaniard garnering a 5s penalty for running wide at turn one on the first lap. The Renault duo finished 6th and 7th and they were fighting hometown heroes, Haas F1, for 5th in the constructor’s championship so the points haul it massive for the team.
A good race for Brendon Hartley who is trying to convince the F1 world that he should stay at Toro Rosso by finishing 11th while the much-vaunted Pierre Gasly was a distant 14th.
A big win for Formula fans who were treated to a terrific race with three teams fighting for the win.
On one hand, you have to hand it to Sebastian Vettel who managed a recovery drive that didn’t just bank on Max keeping Lewis in third as Vettel passed Bottas for 4th in the waning laps to keep his head above water in the title fight. Despite what was otherwise a terrific drive, Vettel once again put himself in the position of needing heroics in order to survive. No one loves heroics more than I but a team or driver shouldn’t continually have to deliver heroics to win a title. Was it Sebastian’s fault that he collided with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo? The stewards didn’t see it that way and nor did I. Seb desperately needed that position and ran out of corner when Dan was holding his position. A similar pass attempt happened later with Hamilton and Verstappen but Lewis backed out and ran wide. The stewards reviewed and felt neither driver was a fault.
Mercedes didn’t get the entire weekend put together and missed their chance to close Lewis’s 5th title in Austin. The strategy didn’t play out for the team and the lack of running in dry, warm weather on Friday simply didn’t give them enough data to know how their Soft tires would react to long stints. To be fair, it seemed to be a logical call to bring Lewis in for a free stop under the VSC but as it turns out, Ferrari covered that strategy, knew Mercedes were going to have to two-stop Lewis and Kimi’s defensive driving put the nail in their coffin. Lewis drive a great race but the USGP turned into a close fight between three teams and a chess match on unknown tires for Mercedes.
Equally, a fail for strategy with Valtteri Bottas who couldn’t make much of a 1-stop strategy, hence the reason for the 2-stopper for Lewis. Valtteri couldn’t hold off Vettel and finished 5th.
A fail for Lance Stroll who managed to ruin Fernando Alonso’s while Romain Grosjean decided to ruin Charles Leclerc’s race.
A WTH for the issues that Daniel Ricciardo is having with reliability while Max isn’t. Same car, same engine but Dan seems to have the worst of it when it comes to power unit failure and that can’t be giving him big confidence in his employer next year. Dan punched a hole in the wall of his room in the motorhome such was his frustration. One wonders what may have happened if Dan had the car to finish the race? Surely in the podium mix given Max’s pace.
A WTH for Sergey Sirotkin who was setting some terrific lap times early on to fade to the very back with his naughty teammate, Lance Stroll.
Also, a WTH for Mercedes who were allowed to change water pumps in both cars while in Parc Fermé condition…I didn’t think that was allowed.
US Grand Prix Results
|2||Max Verstappen||Red Bull/Renault||1.281s|
|8||Esteban Ocon||Force India/Mercedes||1m39.288s|
|10||Sergio Perez||Force India/Mercedes||1m41.080s|
|11||Brendon Hartley||Toro Rosso/Honda||1 Lap|
|12||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber/Ferrari||1 Lap|
|13||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren/Renault||1 Lap|
|14||Pierre Gasly||Toro Rosso/Honda||1 Lap|
|15||Sergey Sirotkin||Williams/Mercedes||1 Lap|
|16||Lance Stroll||Williams/Mercedes||2 Laps|
|–||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull/Renault||Retirement|