Lewis Hamilton claimed a record-equalling fifth career victory at the United States Grand Prix to give the defence of his world title a much needed boost ahead of Mercedes AMG Petronas team-mate and standings leader Nico Rosberg.
The result means Hamilton, who took the chequered flag with a winning margin of 4.520 seconds, has now taken five victories on his visits across the Pond. Only seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher can now boast an identical record, whilst the result also incidentally gave Hamilton his 50th career win. Only Alain Prost (51) and Schumacher (91) have enjoyed more victories in the sport.
By virtue of his second place finish, Nico Rosberg retains a 26-point advantage over Hamilton, and can wrap up a first world title at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez next week in Mexico provided he wins the race and the latter fails to register a single point.
In truth, the victory was as simple as they come from Hamilton. The two Mercedes’ made a level start, with Hamilton taking full advantage of his pole position to retain the inside line into the uphill left-hander at turn one. Rosberg left himself vulnerable to the fast-starting Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo and Australian duly seized second at turn two. So far, so good for those in Hamilton’s camp.
Ricciardo’s challenge for the runner-up spot was ultimately unraveled – by his team-mate. On a strangely off-colour day for Formula One’s newest prospect, Max Verstappen, the Dutch driver managed to demonstrate both the racecraft that has excited and divided the paddock so frequently this season, before delivering a reminder that he remains a little rough around the edges.
Verstappen made the poorer of the two Red Bull starts from the second row of the grid, and lost out to Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) before the race was a corner old. A spirited fightback not only saw the 19-year old reclaim fourth, but then also put pressure on Rosberg as the first round of pit stops approached.
The pressure continued after the status quo had been maintained at the front, with Red Bull reminding the youngster to ensure he kept his tyres alive until his next stop. “I’m not here to finish fourth” was the curt reply to his engineer Gianpiero Lambaise. However he mistakenly pitted for a second time on lap 27, catching his mechanics by surprise and relegating himself to seventh behind the Ferrari duo of Vettel and Raikkonen and Williams’ Felipe Massa.
His race then ended prematurely four laps later as his engine failed whilst shifting up through the gears. He pulled off the circuit in the final sector and in doing so compromised Ricciardo’s race by allowing Rosberg a ‘free pit stop’ under the Virtual Safety Car conditions.
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 24, 2016
Red Bull weren’t the only established team struggling with pit stops – Ferrari managed to leave a wheel-gun attached to Raikkonen when he came in for a second time, duly forcing the 2007 world champion to park at the end of the Circuit of Americas pit lane and conclude his afternoon early.
The battle for fifth provided late drama as Fernando Alonso gave McLaren-Honda a rare afternoon to smile upon; a boisterous late move to the inside of Massa ensured the two made side-on contact. Massa cried foul and was forced to pit with a puncture, though he eventually finished seventh regardless, whilst Alonso insisted he “was already alongside” when “Felipe closed me”.
Alonso then completed his rousing comeback from twelfth on the starting grid with a pass on equally-overperforming Carlos Sainz Jr.’s Toro Rosso on the penultimate lap, prompting a trademark Texas “yee-haw” over the McLaren radio.
The story of the Grand Prix was effectively Hamilton managing his lead, and fear that the car would fail on him as it did in Malaysia, to take the win. The status quo never looked likely of changing at the front; Hamilton simply ran and hid five seconds down the road from Rosberg, who clung to second and looked a little edgy throughout; likely conscious that any problem in Austin would hand Hamilton a chance to re-ignite his title challenge.
He did so, but not by as many points as he would have liked. With three races to go, Hamilton still needs Rosberg to trip up if he is to secure a fourth title, and a third in succession.
“All I can do is do my best and continue to drive as I have this weekend,” commented Hamilton. “Nico has been driving fantastically well all year, so the battle will continue.”
UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX – RESULT (56 LAPS)
|1||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team||1hr38m.12s|
|2||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team||+4.520s|
|3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer||+19.692s|
|4||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari||+43.134s|
|6||Carlos Sainz Jr.||Scuderia Toro Rosso||+96.124s|
|7||Felipe Massa||Williams Martini Racing||+1L|
|8||Sergio Perez||Sahara Force India||+1L|
|10||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team||+1L|
|11||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso||+1L|
|12||Kevin Magnussen||Renault F1 Team||+1L|
|13||Jolyon Palmer||Renault F1 Team||+1L|
|14||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber F1 Team||+1L|
|15||Felipe Nasr||Sauber F1 Team||+1L|
|16||Valterri Bottas||Williams Martini Racing||+1L|
|17||Pascal Wehrlein||Manor Racing||+1L|
|18||Esteban Ocon||Manor Racing||+1L|
|DNF||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer|
|DNF||Kimi Raikkonen||Scuderia Ferrari|
|DNF||Esteban Guttierrez||Haas F1 Team|