Lewis Hamilton has a possibility of winning the 2017 Formula 1 title this weekend at The Circuit of The Americas but this isn’t the first time the Mercedes driver has arrived in Texas with a chance of being crowned champion. Go back just two years and the hurricane-effected USGP was a stunning race full of drama from start to finish. Here’s the story of that grand prix.
The 2015 season had been dominated by Lewis Hamilton in his seemingly untouchable Silver Arrow, winning 9 of the 15 rounds so far and having a yawning chasm between him and the competition in the standings. Despite there being three races remaining, Hamilton had a real chance of clinching the title in Austin as Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was 66 points behind, with his teammate Nico Rosberg a further 7 back.
A hurricane had disrupted the running all weekend with Free Practice 2 being cancelled and the grid decided on Q2 times. That meant that it was Rosberg who started on pole position for Sunday’s race with Hamilton beside him on the front row. Vettel started down in 13th due to a penalty for an engine change and had it all to do if he was to keep his slim championship hopes alive until Mexico.
Mercedes v Red Bull
The race began with the track damp but the rain having stopped earlier in the day. Both the Mercedes drivers got a good start, but it was Hamilton who led after turn one via a controversial move on Rosberg. The British driver dived down the inside and forced the German wide, causing him to lose three places to the Red Bulls and the Force India of Sergio Perez. Rosberg soon re-passed Perez but the Red Bulls were charging. Daniil Kvyat was hounding Hamilton for the lead but his Renault powered car was too slow in straight line to pass despite being much more comfortable in the corners.
Further back, the Ferrari cars had sensational starts, Vettel up to sixth and Kimi Raikkonen climbing to eighth by the time the Virtual Safety Car was called for debris on lap six. Kvyat was perplexed as to why Hamilton was driving slower than what was required, but when the VSC ended he quickly found out. Rosberg forced his way past Daniel Ricciardo and then proceeded to out-drag Kvyat down the long back straight to make it a Mercedes one-two.
Going into lap 13 of 56, Kvyat made a move for second at the final corner but outbraked himself and flew off the circuit. The Russian rejoined without issue but lost a place to Ricciardo, who gained two in one straight. The Honey Badger instinctively sent his car down the inside of Rosberg at turn one and immediately challenged for the lead of the race. The Mercedes cars were continuing to struggle with their front tyres and it showed as Ricciardo flew by Hamilton in the long right-hander of turn 16 as if he were standing still.
The circuit appeared to be almost dry, but those who were on slicks had no pace and the rest, who were still on inters, were struggling with overheating. It was F1 limbo, a real damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. Hamilton was struggling more than most, though, being passed by Rosberg and almost losing out to Kvyat on lap 18 before bailing into the pits for dry weather tyres.
Despite pitting a lap before the rest of the top four, Hamilton didn’t make up time on his competitors and actually lost time to Kvyat. It was definitely time for the slicks, although Raikkonen overestimated the grip levels, flying off the circuit in the S-section and chopping his front wing off for good measure, eventually causing the Iceman to retire. Hamilton was desperately trying to get by Kvyat as he could sense that Vettel, now free of the Toro Rossos and Force Indias, was setting fastest lap after fastest lap. The defending world champion got by Kvyat as Rosberg overtook Ricciardo for the lead. A few laps later and Vettel was also past the Russian and set about chasing after Hamilton.
Hamilton v Rosberg
The Red Bull cars were clearly the fastest in the damp conditions, but in the dry they were nowhere. Hamilton got by Ricciardo on lap 26 to make it a Mercedes one-two once more but the gap to Rosberg was around ten seconds. However, he was handed a lifeline when Marcus Ericsson’s stricken Sauber brought out the full safety car and pack closed up once more.
The race restarted on lap 33 and Vettel, who was now going to the end on his current tyres after pitting, overtook both of the Red Bull drivers by the end of the next lap. The three title protagonists were together on the road for the first time this race and stunningly, it was the Ferrari that was looking like the favourite for victory.
The Red Bulls continued to struggle on their used tyres, being passed by Max Verstappen’s Toro Rosso then being put under pressure by Nico Hulkenberg. The Hulk tried to force his way past Ricciardo but ran wide, collided with the Australian, and ruined his suspension forcing the Force India to retire.
This deployed the VSC once more, and bailed out those who didn’t stop before. Hamilton wasn’t one of those, though, and the yellow flag period ended too quickly for Mercedes to pit both of their drivers, so only Rosberg got fresh rubber at this stage. Lewis now had to unleash Hammer Time to try and build that gap to those behind.
It was Rosberg, however, who was lighting the timing screens up, passing Vettel with ease on lap 42, the same lap the safety car came out once more; Daniil Kvyat was having a solid race, but he ran wide at the second to last corner, lost the back end and torpedoed into the barriers.
A Gust of Wind and Cap-gate
Lewis Hamilton was again thrown a lifeline by the safety car, the slower pace of the field allowing the Brit to get some fresh rubber on and only lose one position to Rosberg because Vettel trundled down pit-lane once more too.
Ten laps remained to potentially decide the championship, and Vettel wasted no time getting ahead of Max Verstappen for third, making it a three-way fight once again. All Rosberg had to do was keep his car on the road; Hamilton would never make a diving move in this scenario. But the German made an embarrassing error, spinning his rear tyres up out of turn 16 and skidding off the circuit, handing the lead to Hamilton on a silver platter. Rosberg would later blame this mistake on a freak gust of wind, an excuse that must have taken him all of five seconds to conjure up.
Further back, there was a huge squabble going on, from which Jenson Button emerged on top, climbing to sixth in his uncompetitive McLaren as his teammate, Fernando Alonso, plummeted down the field with engine troubles. Vettel was all over Rosberg in the closing stages, as second would be enough for the Ferrari man to take the title fight to Mexico City, but he couldn’t get past the Mercedes.
Lewis Hamilton rounded the final corner to win the United States Grand Prix and the world championship to join the likes of Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauada, Nelson Piquet and his hero, Ayrton Senna, as a triple world champion.
Max Verstappen equalled his best ever F1 finish with fourth, Sergio Perez was a respectable fifth, Button an excellent sixth and Alonso just missed out on points after being agonisingly passed by Ricciardo on the last lap. Finally, Alexander Rossi almost scored Manor’s first point of the season but just fell short in 12th.
Hamilton rode the wave of his success for all it was worth, he was exhausted and couldn’t believe what he had just achieved. He celebrated with his team in ecstatic fashion and everything appeared to be respectful between him and Rosberg as they embraced each other after the race.
The pre-podium room soon heated up, though, with Hamilton throwing the second place cap to hsi teammate, and Nico angrily launching it back in his direction. However, Lewis didn’t care, he was on cloud nine and still rising, 2015 was his year and this was undoubtedly his day in history.
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