F1 may usually come across as a highly volatile and explosive sport culminating in seconds of drama spread over a three-day weekend. When we saw the front of the grid and the prospect of Lewis going for the coronation day win, Vettel trying to save his championship and Verstappen trying to right wrongs from earlier in the season, you could be forgiven for predicting a similar podium. But for contact during the initial sequence of corners we may have had a far more explosive finale.
Instead, the Finns flanked the Dutchman on the podium and were perhaps the not intended audience for the inaugural podium DJ…
Lewis Celebrates by doing the now traditional championship winning donuts, putting on a display for the fans.
1 Could Valterri Bottas have won the race?
Both Bottas and Kimi had questionable races given the car performance under them. Superficially both improved on their grid positions to claim vital podiums for their careers, but this was to be expected for Mercedes and Ferrari. With Daniel Ricciardo suffering from yet another reliability issue for Red Bull and Sebastian/Lewis circulating further down the field, had Bottas and Kimi not got on the podium questions would have been raised.
Bottas had a strong initial getaway, holding the fourth position that he qualified in, and quickly rose to second place where he stayed for the rest of the race, rarely challenged from behind and slowly letting the gap to max increase. Whilst the track may have suited the more aerodynamically efficient Red Bull, the Mercedes should have still had the pace to challenge. Instead Bottas remained firm in second. Conspiracy theorists may attribute this to Mercedes management knowing Sebastian was aiming for second place and ensuring that they were covering him off in every way possible rather than optimising Bottas's strategy to attack.
Even then this race served as a reminder of the emerging Finnish second driver ethos that both Ferrari and Mercedes have adopted. Unless Bottas comes back with about half a second on every single track on the calendar, he will play second fiddle to Lewis next year. There seems to be parity between who the fans perceive as the best drivers and what certain drivers can achieve on track. The likes of Hamilton, Ricciardo, Alonso, Verstappen and Vettel are often considered the racing elite on the grid, and as evidenced by Sebastian carving his way through the entire field bar Lewis to finish 15 seconds behind his teammate, the two Finns just don't seem to be able to raise their performances when given the opportunity.
Conversely, the argument could be made that this was Lewis's day, and the team was focusing their efforts in ensuring he finished in the points and thus stopped Sebastian's challenge. However Bottas will look to redeem himself in Brazil, and Abu Dhabi in particular, as the finale is predicted to suit the silver car a bit better than the Ferrari and Red Bull.
In the post race press conference Bottas conceded the Red Bull pace advantage and in doing so scapegoated his own performance. Oh, how long ago does Russia seem now...
2 Could Kimi Raikkonen have won?
Maybe, but probably not.
Despite Kimi achieving rare back-to-back podiums in the USA and Mexico, there will still be question marks over his driving ability. His initial start phase from the grid was good and he appeared to be in the running for a strong position coming into turn one. Both Ferraris however had a mediocre secondary phase which ultimately cost Vettel the race and Kimi his chance at the win. By the end of turn three Kimi was as low as eighth at one point, and considering there was no obvious collisions or contact that is quite a poor start by anyone's standards.
In true Kimi Raikkonen fashion he chops his arm off at the start of the race only to drive one handed for the rest; He has this unique ability to find himself in a less that optimal situation while nobody really knows why. It is assumed that Kimi still has the speed from earlier in his career and sometimes he shows it.
But in other races such as Mexico it was Ferrari who bailed him out with a superb over-cut strategy so that after his solitary pit-stop he would emerge in front of both Force Indias, the Renault of Hulkenberg (who would later retire) and the flying Williams of Lance Stroll. Once in third position Kimi showed that once in clean air he could have posed a threat to Verstappen and Bottas. However, given how supreme Max was and how difficult Kimi was finding it to overtake, as evidenced by his trials and tribulations behind Sergio Perez's car, the win looked unlikely anyway.
Overall, neither second nor third deserved to win the race, nor did they even deserve the podiums they achieved but for the machinery underneath them. However, it was a nice touch from Ferrari to allow Kimi the podium knowing their title challenge was over instead of, as many predicted, allowing Vettel through in case of an engine failure for one of the top two.
In the post race press conference Kimi summed up his race by saying:
"The initial start wasn't too bad but all the guys behind got a massive tow and I was left alone."
"I had some patience and once the guys in front stopped, we had enough speed to improve."
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