Events

Raikkonen Rains on the Mercedes Parade at Austin’s COTA

There was a very happy driver that won the United States F1 Grand Prix but it wasn’t Lewis Hamilton. Ferrari’s Kimi Raikonnen has rained on the Hamilton parade and in doing so takes his first win since Melbourne, 2013. It’s his 21st win and makes him, at 39 years of age, the oldest driver to take out a F1 GP since the great Nigel Mansell in 1994.

Lewis Hamilton finished third, one place ahead of his title rival Sebastian Vettel, and one place behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. In one of the drives of the year, Verstappen, starting from rear of grid, scythed his way through thefield, to finish just 1.2 seconds behind Raikkonen, in a masterclass display of driving ability. The same couldn’t be said of Vettel who somehow managed to spin on lap 1, falling to 15th, and hitting Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo whilst doing so. The result was Ricciardo nursing a wounded car before retiring on lap 9. The Australian must be wondering how many more black cats will be walking under ladders in front of him as what promised to be a great 2018 has gone backwards at a great rate.

 

Fernando Alonso also suffered a lap 1 contact with Lance Stroll, with subsequent inspections of both revealing that Stroll’s car had effectively destroyed the side of Alonso’s, leading to a very early retirement, a sad end for the veteran Spaniard. The notorious turn 1 at the Circuit of the Americas resulted in numerous incidents, with Charles Leclerc and Romain Grosjean tangling, with Stroll and Alonso all pitting on lap 2.

Alonso’s tangle with Stroll was all the more galling as the stewards called Stroll as the cause of the impact, leaving the Canadian with a drive through penalty. In the background Vettel was starting to show some class by getting back into the top ten by lap six. Verstappen’s charge is being well managed, with lap 9 seeing the young Dutchman into fifth behind Ricciardo. But it’s here that Ricciardo’s luck runs out with his car failing yet again, possibly with another battery related problem, and forcing the despondent Aussie to pull over, and out.

Max Verstappen

A virtual safety car is called to clear the stricken Red Bull, resulting in cars in and out of pit lane. Hamilton’s becoming concerned with tire management even here

It’s possible that the tire strategy for Mercedes contributed to Hamilton finishing third. Raikkonen started on Ultrasofts and pitted once for softs. Verstappen started on softs and pitted once for super softs. Hamilton started the race on super softs and pitted twice, both for soft tires.

Team orders are in play here though for Valtteri Bottas and Hamilton, with Bottas requested to clear a path for Hamilton. Hamilton takes this as a chance to launch an assault on the rampaging Raikkonen. This results in Raikkonen upping his drive but comes at a cost, being extra tire wear. It’s lap twenty, not far off half race distance and Hamilton has closed to within just 0.3 of a second. Raikkonen pits on lat 22 which allows Hamilton to take advantage of the stop. News comes in that Carlos Sainz has been given a five second penalty, with this going back to lap 1 and being deemed to have gained unfair advantage after leaving the track.

Verstappen pits on lap 23, hitting the super softs and re-enters in position 5. Vettel reports that his tires are starting to go off and Raikkonen’s new rubber are starting to pay dividends as he hunts down Hamilton.

Lap 27 and with Verstappen looming large, Vettel pits. He also re-enters in P5. Word comes in that McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne is close to receiving a five second penalty for  exceeding track limits, this time with three close calls at turn 19. Although out of the points at P13 any extra penalty will only do harm.

Down in the middle of the top ten it’s Nico Hulkenburg, Kevin Magnussen, and Sergio Perez. The three are tied on points but it’s the German that looks likely to break the shackles. He’s in P6, with the other two back in P9 and P10.

Lap 35 and the tire choice for Hamilton is becoming crucial, with the slightly frustrated Briton reporting handling issues thanks to tire wear. This spurs Vettel but he’s substantially behind the top three. It’s lap 38 and the inevitable happens, Hamilton comes in to replace the badly blistered rubber. He’s back out in fourth. What this also means is that any chance Mercedes had of snaring the crown for Hamilton now have to wait until the next race, in Mexico.

The end is in sight for Hamilton. Another team ordered pass on Bottas and he’s back in third with just ten laps to go. Verstappen and Raikkonen are well and gone and that’s how it finished for Hamilton.

He now must wait until this coming weekend for the Grand Premio de Mexico to see if his opportunity lost can be changed to the title win.

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David Conole

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