Lewis Hamilton beat Sebastian Vettel to win the US Grand Prix and take a giant step closer to claiming his fourth championship.
Hamilton and Vettel traded places during the early stages, and the Ferrari made another attack mid-race, but it was the Englishman that cruised to victory and extend his now almost unassailable lead in the championship.
Such is the gap that Vettel now needs to get a 17-point advantage at the Mexican Grand Prix – equivalent to Vettel winning and Hamilton finishing lower than fifth – just to extend the title battle to Brazil.
Behind the title hopefuls a charging Verstappen came from the back of the grid to miss out on the podium due to a controversial penalty. Raikkonen picked up third, Verstappen fourth and Bottas fifth. A fascinating battle also unplayed between Massa of Williams, Renault debutant Carlos Sainz and both Force India’s. In the end, it was Ocon that finished ahead of Sainz, Perez and Massa.
Hamilton Pushes For COTA Win
Hamilton talked pre-race about wanting a battle with Vettel and that is exactly what happened under the glorious Texan sun.
Starting from pole, Hamilton fell behind Vettel and closely trailed before finding a way through on Turn 12 of lap 6.
The Mercedes was clearly the quicker car – despite expectations the warmer weather could favor Ferrari – and Hamilton built up a comfortable lead without taking any risks.
Vettel made his first pit stop on lap 16 and he had another chance to attack when Hamilton was left out for another three laps. The Prancing Horse closed the 4.5-second gap to be on Hamilton’s tail when he came out of the pits.
But again Hamilton pulled away to take his sixth win in eight races.
“Naturally when Sebastian got a better start than me I didn’t know how it was going go,” said Hamilton.
“I never felt I was on the back foot – you just step aside and take a new approach.”
“Initially I thought I would wait for the pit stops, but then I could see him pushing and I thought ‘I’m pretty good on my tires right now, he’s going too quick through that corner, he’s going to kill his tyres’ – and that’s what he did.”
“If he’d backed off in those places he would have been able to keep me behind I’m certain, but he didn’t.”
On the narrow gap after the pit stop Hamilton said: “I mean it was odd. I think I had a 6.5 second lead or something like that and then I come out of the pits and Sebastian is right with me and I’m like what the hell, why the hell’s he so close? It was definitely too close in that first pit stop.”
Red Bull furious Over Verstappen Penalty
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen charged from the back of the field to bravely overtake Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen just three corners from the chequered flag.
The Dutchman celebrated after crossing the line and even went to the ‘green room’ thinking he had finished third only to be told that he received a five second penalty for cutting the inside of Turn 17.
The penalty was all the more remarkable because earlier in the race Valtteri Bottas ran wide to overtake Verstappen.
“It is very weird because the whole weekend we could run off track and there were no track limits.”
“Even my fight with Bottas, he went off the track when I was in front and he came back in front of me and there was no penalty given, and we overtake him again.”
“I am fine with that but then I am fighting with Kimi and I do get a penalty.”
“For the sport, the fans also don’t understand, they are loving it and then they ruin the sport. They should keep going like this and then for sure within two years the fans are walking away here.”
The FIA later argued that most drivers in the race exceeded the track limits on the outside, whereas Verstappen gained a “lasting advantage” on the inside.