The United States likes to bill itself as the land of opportunity. The US Grand Prix in Austin stuck to the script. Most of the drivers had LOTS of opportunity to race wheel-to-wheel. We were treated to one of the most entertaining races of the year. Here’s how it went down.
Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes won; let’s get that out of the way. But it wasn’t a cake walk. He started on pole position, breaking the record for most pole positions for a driver on one team (does anyone else feel like we are kind of reaching for records at this point?) But as soon as the lights went out, Vettel snuck past him on the inside of Turn 1 and took P1. Vettel held P1 for about 7 laps until Lewis crawled back within a second of Vettel and used DRS to pass him on the back stretch. Vettel made a desperation play late in the race, making a second pit stop to try and catch Lewis on fresh tyres, but Vettel never seriously threatened again.
Behind them, Bottas, Ricciardo and Raikkonen were battling for the last step in the podium. Ricciardo was wheel-to-wheel with Bottas for a while, but the former had to retire with a failed Renault engine while the latter is mentally weak and faded. P3 looked like Raikkonen’s. But then the young Max Verstappen stormed all the way from the back (suffered an engine penalty on Friday) and was pushing Raikkonen in the closing laps. Raikkonen was on old tyres, while Verstappen had made a second stop for fresh tyres. To make matters worse, Raikkonen was told he needed to save fuel so he had to coast into the corners. On the final lap, three turns from the end, Verstappen got to the inside and passed Raikkonen for P3! He was escatic over the radio and ebullient in the post-race room. But then a steward came up to him and told him that he was being given a 5 second time penalty for taking all four tyres off the track as he completed his pass of Raikkonen. Verstappen out, Raikkonen in.
Further back, Sainz had a great first race with Renault and finished best of the rest. His teammate, Hulkenberg, was not so lucky and suffered a race ending engine failure in the first few laps. That’s two Renault engine failures if you are keeping track. Perez and Ocon were duking it out for P7 and the prospect of yet another clash between the drivers made for compelling tv. Perez was on the radio barking at the team to order Ocon over to let him through. In the end, however, Perez didn’t challenge and even fell off Ocon’s pace.
It was a challenging track that gave the smart and bold drivers plenty of opportunity to overtake. Let’s hope we get something half as good when we come back here in 2018.