Räikkönen Wins In Texas As The Title Battle Continues
Graham Read, Formula 1 Correspondent
Two weeks after Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton had extended his Drivers’ Championship lead over his main rival, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, to a mighty 67 points in Japan the Formula 1 circus reconvened at the excellent Circuit of the Americas, near Austin with just four races remaining.
Four time champion Hamilton knew that it might be possible to wrap up a fifth title in the US if results went his way, even though F1’s powers that be and many impartial fans wanted the battle to continue to nearer the end of the season to keep the excitement going. In the end it wasn’t to be for Hamilton as a highly popular Kimi Räikkönen claimed his first victory for Ferrari, 113 races since his last win.
The opening free practice session was a rainy affair, which had to be stopped part way through to clear gravel off the track following a spin for Sauber’s Charles Leclerc. At the top of the timesheets though it was business as usual with Hamilton and his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas fastest ahead of the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo and then the Ferraris pedalled by Vettel and Räikkönen.
Worse was to follow for Vettel when the stewards awarded the German driver a three place grid penalty and two penalty points on his licence for slowing insufficiently when the red flags flew after Leclerc’s off.
Come the second free practice period heavy rain meant that no cars ventured out onto the circuit for the first 47 minutes, but as the precipitation eased Hamilton again set the fastest time.
All was to change when the first dry running of the weekend took place in Saturday’s final practice and Vettel and Räikkönen put their Ferraris at the top of the leaderboard ahead of the Mercedes duo and the Red Bulls, with Leclerc the best of the rest.
Come the all important qualifying hour, which was also dry, Verstappen had a surprise early departure after breaking his right rear suspension on the Turn 15 kerbs. Hamilton emerged on top with an 81st pole position ahead of Vettel, who would have to start the following day’s race from fifth after his three place grid penalty. This promoted Räikkonen, Bottas and Ricciardo to start behind poleman Hamilton, but crucially all ahead of his arch rival Vettel.
When the red lights went out at the start of the Grand Prix both Hamilton and Räikkönen made great starts, but the veteran Finn swept into the lead at the opening lefthander. Vettel got the better of Ricciardo for fourth before contact between the pair made the former spin and drop down to fifteenth place. Meanwhile Verstappen was starting an impressive charge from eighteenth on the grid and was upto ninth by lap two.
As the race settled Räikkönen led from Hamilton, Bottas and Ricciardo and Vettel began to climb through the field. More bad luck befell Ricciardo though on the ninth tour as he ground to a halt with a loss of power and a Virtual Safety Car period was instigated to assist the recovery of his stricken Red Bull.
Second placed Hamilton was told to do the opposite of the leading Räikkönen at the end of lap 11 in terms of pit stops and the Finn made a pretend jink towards the pitlane entry before staying out whilst Hamilton pitted. The Ferrari driver then resisted pressure from the quicker Hamilton, delaying him, before making his own stop at the end of lap 21.
After the leading contenders had all made their first pit stops Hamilton led from Räikkönen, Verstappen, Bottas and fifth placed Vettel, enough to give Hamilton his fifth title. However, the British driver’s tyres were becoming increasingly worn as the chasing Finn closed the gap and he had to make a second pit stop on lap 37.
This brought Hamilton back on track in fourth place, just ahead of his championship rival and soon after moved upto third position after being let through by his team-mate Bottas.
As the Grand Prix progressed towards its conclusion the leading trio of Räikkönnen, Verstappen and Hamilton were very close, but the Ferrari driver seemed to have the upper hand. With two laps remaining we had some dramatic ontrack action as Hamilton did his best to find a way past Verstappen into second place, which would give him the title, but a temporary off-circuit excursion for the Brit meant the order upfront remained unchanged and Räikkönen claimed a thoroughly deserved victory.
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The race result meant that Mercedes continued to lead Ferrari in their fight for the Constructors’ honours and on the Drivers’ front Hamilton extended his lead over Vettel, with the battle for this year’s title continuing to at least Mexico in just one week’s time. Let’s just hope for another equally enthralling Grand Prix, with just three to go.
2018 Formula 1 USA Grand Prix
1 Kimi Räikkönnen (Ferrari) 1hr34m8.643s
2 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +1.281s
3 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +2.342s
4 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +18.222s
5 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +24.744s
6 Nico Hülkenberg (Renault) +1m27.210s
7 Carlos Sainz (Renault) +1m34.994s
8 Esteban Ocon (Force India) +1m39.288s
9 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) +1m40.657s
10 Sergio Perez (Force India) +1m41.080s
11 Brendon Hartley (Toro Rosso) Lapped
12 Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) Lapped
13 Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren) Lapped
14 Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso) Lapped
15 Sergey Sirotkin (Williams) Lapped
16 Lance Stroll (Williams) Lapped
17 Charles Leclerc (Sauber) Retired
18 Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) Retired
19 Romain Grosjean (Haas) Retired
20 Fernando Alonso (McLaren) Retired
2018 Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship (after 18 of 21 Grand Prix)
1 Lewis Hamilton 346
2 Sebastian Vettel 276
3 Kimi Räikkönen 221
2018 Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship (after 18 of 21 Grand Prix)
1 Mercedes 563
2 Ferrari 497
3 Red Bull 337
Räikkönen Wins In Texas As The Title Battle Continues, 21st October 2018, 22:53 PM