Lewis Hamilton has one hand on the World Championship after another comfortable win in the Texan sun, in a race full of spectacular wheel-to-wheel racing and overtakes.
There was no doubt where the GP was being held, with Austin giving us the full USofA intro to the event to come, with drivers brought to the grid one by one, introduced by legendary boxing ring announcer Michael Buffer, with some choice new nicknames for the drivers (I’m sure Daniel ‘Ricci Rocket’ Ricciardo is going to stick). It was cheesy, it was a little cringy, and it was a massive hit! No doubt Bernie Ecclestone was chocking on his tea as Liberty Media took tradition and dumped it in the proverbial Boston Harbour.
First blood to ferrari
All this pre-race hype got Vettel going. Knowing the worst thing he could do is clash with Hamilton at the first corner, you could be forgiven for expecting a slightly defensive start. This wasn't the case though, and as Hamilton tried to squeeze him into turn one, the quadruple champion kept his nerve, and kept it clean, to take the lead.
There wasn’t a huge amount of movement place wise in the opening few laps, beyond Max Verstappen clawing back a third of his 15 place gird penalty. Ricciardo tried to take Valtteri Bottas at the start of lap two, but again some great aggressive, but clean, driving saw the Finn hold his place through the first section. The Red Bull tried again two laps later, but once again Bottas kept his cool.
Despite losing the lead, Hamilton was calm in his car, showing none of the frustration he sometimes shows when things aren’t going his way. Sure enough, on lap six he got close enough to have a go at his rival into turn one. It didn’t seem like Vettel put up a huge fight, maybe expecting the Brit to struggle to make the move stick into the acute left hander. However you don’t become a multiple world champion if you can’t make a move stick, and unlike Ricciardo on previous laps, Lewis kept himself on track to hold the move and move away from his title challenger.
The race order seemed to be settled, especially once Verstappen had made his way back into the top six, passing Esteban Ocon by lap 11. It was his teammate Ricciardo who was the first of the front drivers to pit on lap 13 as he dropped back from Bottas in third and found Kimi Raikkonen putting huge pressure on him. Alas, Red Bull's reliability issues caught up with him and his engine blew on lap 16, ending what had been an entertaining drive up until that point.
Pit stop pressure
Of the front two it was Vettel who pitted first on lap 16, but if they were looking for the undercut it might’ve been a futile gesture, as Hamilton’s ultrasoft tyres seemed to be lasting well. Mercedes even allowed Bottas to pit first of the two, finally bringing the leader in on lap 19. It was a close run thing as Hamilton came out just in front of the Ferrari. However, he kept the gap over a second, ruling out the DRS and keeping his place secure with the fresher tyres to boot.
In the meantime, it was Verstappen who nominally led the field until Hamilton caught him on lap 23, with his grid penalty allowing him to select a different strategy and run longer on the supersoft tyres. It didn’t seem like he got much benefit of the harder compound, only stopping four laps after Hamilton.
Further back, Massa ran a long opening stint, up to lap 30, meaning he could finish the race on the ultrasoft tyres. This left the two Force Indias of Ocon and Sergio Perez once again battling for position. Thankfully Mr Buffer wasn’t needed to announce another scrap as the teammates played nice for a change. Unfortunately for Perez, that left him in the window for Renault new boy Carlos Sainz, as again some brilliant wheel to wheel racing through multiple corners allowed the Spaniard to steal seventh place.
Christian’s curve ball
Back up front, Hamilton was controlling the race well, with a 6.5s lead by lap 37. However Vettel, Bottas, Raikkonen and Verstappen were all close together, with less than 5 seconds separating them all. Red Bull then pulled Verstappen in, knowing they had a big enough gap to pit the Dutchman without losing any places. In return Vettel came in to cover off the move, but the other two stayed out, hoping the tyres would last long enough to fend off a late challenge from the two gamblers behind.
Behind this fight, Sainz was fighting for ‘best of the rest’ with Ocon, as Perez dropped back into a battle with Daniil Kvyat and Felipe Massa. At the back Marcus Ericsson tried to hang onto Vettel's coattails as he lapped Kevin Magnussen, leading to a collision with the Haas and a five-second penalty for the Sauber driver.
Sure enough, the chasing pair finally caught the Finns in the podium places, Vettel pulling a stupendous move into turn one as Bottas lapped Stoffel Vandoorne, finding a gap between the two and catching the Mercedes unaware. As expected, getting passed his Ferrari teammate was far easier.
For Verstappen, getting passed Bottas was a more difficult affair, which compromised his run on Raikkonen. As he approached the last lap, the message came over the radio he has one shot to take third. Biding his time, he threw himself into turn 17 and took the Finn into 18. However, the gamble didn't pay off as the stewards decided he took too much liberty off the track to gain advantage, and hit the Dutchman with a five-second penalty after the race ended, demoting him to fourth.
The result gives Mercedes their fourth straight constructors' title, but the drivers' title will have to wait until at least Mexico in a week's time.