Hamilton one race from his fourth title, but the Mercedes party is already underway
Lewis Hamilton did all he could today in pursuit of claiming his fourth world title in Austin. He claimed pole, fought back to retake the lead after Sebastian Vettel’s lightning start, and then brought home the win in the face of his rivals charging through the field on fresher tyres.
While this was enough to confirm Mercedes as this year’s constructors’ champions, Hamilton will have to wait until Mexico for another chance to claim the drivers’ crown after Vettel finally ended a run of horrible reliability to come home second. However, the German will be hard pressed to deny Hamilton in Mexico, as it now looks like poor reliability, or an absolute shocker of a performance, is the only way that the Brit will fail to walk away with the title at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.
Hamilton will win the title if he finishes fifth or higher in Mexico. Given that he has only finished lower than fifth once this year, at Monaco where a disastrous qualifying restricted him to seventh, this looks like a simple enough task. Ferrari will no doubt be hoping for some sort of gremlin on Hamilton’s Mercedes, but even if the worst should happen to Hamilton, Vettel would still need a podium finish to extend the title fight to Brazil.
Stranger things have happened, but for all intents and purposes Hamilton’s fourth title is now just a matter of time.
Max’s excellent day tainted by last-lap controversy
Starting from way down in 16th after a power unit change, Max Verstappen spearheaded a spectacular charge through the field that saw him fighting with the Ferraris for an unbelievable podium finish by the final lap. It even looked like he had achieved the implausible when he forced his way past Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari with only a few corners remaining.
This elation was soon to turn sour however, as the stewards ruled that Max had gone off track and gained an unfair advantage while overtaking the Finn. This led to some awkward scenes when Raikkonen turned up in the cool down room along with an FIA official to tell a clearly crestfallen Max that he would have to get out.
The debate around this decision is already well underway, and some will argue that, given the lack of space available, the fact that Kimi maybe didn’t see Max until quite late to give him enough room, and the fact that many others had abused the track limits throughout the weekend, this penalty was excessively harsh. Others will argue that exploiting the track limits becomes a more serious issue when there is an overtake involved, and that the penalty was firm, but fair.
Personally I think the stewards made the right call. It was harsh, but in the case of an overtake being made under these conditions, you can’t deny that Max gained an advantage by going off track. Had the race continued he would have probably been ordered to give the place back, so this result seems fair. In the cases of other drivers going off track that we’ve seen this weekend, this is something that undoubtedly needs to be cracked down on, especially if the stewards are going to make calls like this, but surely there is a difference between a driver going off track on his own, and doing so to effect a pass on another driver?
Despite this unfortunate end to his day though, you can’t deny what an absolutely stellar show Verstappen put on today for the American fans, with a drive that showcases what a prodigious talent he is.
Sainz imperious on his debut in yellow
Coming into this weekend, Carlos Sainz was downplaying his chances on his Renault debut. He repeatedly said that this weekend was all about getting settled into the car and the team, and that pace was very much a secondary concern.
Well, you wouldn’t have known it from watching Sainz today, as he put on an absolutely spellbinding performance to bring his car home seventh. The Spaniard was on it right from lights out, and entertained the crowd in the second half of the race with a fantastic duel with the Force India drivers. Sainz did at one point get past Esteban Ocon for sixth, but was repassed by the Frenchman late in the race and had to settle for seventh. This was still a hugely impressive effort and one that will definitely cause Nico Hulkenberg some sleepless nights before F1 arrives in Mexico.
Hulkenberg was doing a similarly good job in Austin, but was forced to retire the car on lap three with engine issues. This was a shame as many fans were really looking forward to getting a good comparison of these two, but this will now have to wait for at least another week. Hulkenberg has had it easy so far this year, with Jolyon Palmer never really presenting a strong challenge to the German, but things are certainly different now.
Palmer may not have pushed Hulkenberg much at all, but he is certainly going to have to up his game now that he has Sainz breathing down his neck.
Hartley makes solid, if unspectacular, F1 debut
Kiwi Brendon Hartley made his Formula 1 debut this weekend in Austin, and although he crossed the line in a somewhat unspectacular 13th place, this was still an impressive showing. Hartley came into the weekend having not driven a single-seater for the better part of a decade, and only had his seat fitting last Wednesday. Add to this an unknown car and the mystery of 2017’s Pirelli tyres, which took the current crop of drivers a few races to fully figure out, and the fact he finished in front of anyone at all looks even more impressive.
Whether this will be enough to give him a shot at a 2018 race seat remains to be seen, especially as the returning Daniil Kvyat drove a solid race to claim tenth, and a single championship point. Kvyat thoroughly outperformed Hartley this weekend, but this isn’t really a surprise. What will be interesting to see is which way Toro Rosso go after this. Outward appearances aren’t everything, and they will have all the telemetry and data to give their two Austin drivers a thorough comparison in the run up to Mexico.
Two doesn’t go into one though, and with Pierre Gasly set to return, who will be alongside him in Mexico?
Is Force India’s approach working?
We’ve all seen Force India’s new rules of engagement in action, with the last few laps in Japan being a prime example where Sergio Perez was denied the opportunity to challenge Esteban Ocon in the closing laps. Well surprise surprise, in Austin Perez found himself once again running up to the gearbox of his teammate, but this time we were barely halfway through the race and the pair had Carlos Sainz’s Renault closing on them fast.
Unsurprisingly, the team’s response when Perez asked to be let through was tepid to say the least, and Ocon was given a few more laps to get past Felipe Massa, who was struggling to make a long first stint work. While this was happening, and Sainz was closing in on this train of cars, Perez told the team that they were risking losing a position to Sainz if they did not allow him through to try and get past Massa.
Ocon failed to get past Massa in the end, and when Felipe eventually peeled into the pits, Sainz was on top of them and promptly passed Perez, who seemed to lose his focus for a moment, and began hounding his teammate. Although Ocon would finish ahead of Sainz, Perez would not, so is this something that could have been avoided had Force India let Perez through to have a go at Massa earlier? Perez will certainly think so, and as a man who likes to get his elbows out he may just be tiring of these new rules of engagement at the team.
This will definitely be an interesting area to watch, especially if they find themselves in a similar situation next week in Mexico.
What were your talking points from Austin? Let us know in the comments below!