Raikkonen Wins US GP, Halts Hamilton From Clinching Title In Style
It was meant to be a textbook result, a day of Formula One history as Lewis Hamilton crossed the line to win his 5th F1 drivers title. It didn’t happen, despite everything working, initially, in his favor. The US GP race day was filled with errors, albeit minor. Enough to deny Lewis Hamilton entrance to the elites of the grand prix drivers pantheon.
So Hamilton narrowly beat a resurgent Ferrari squad to pole-position during Saturday’s qualifying. Vettel picked up an awkward penalty during practice that would see him demoted to 5th after qualifying second. This elevated teammate Raikkonen up to 2nd as a result. The US GP was set for an interesting race.
Race day. The second-placed sitter arguably has the better line into the first left hand, hairpin corner. And so it proved to be the case. Raikkonen assumed the lead from Hamilton who put up a stern defense.
Both Hamilton and Raikkonen are explicit examples of how to race fair but hard. For much of the opening phase of the race, Hamilton had the pace to keep up with Raikkonen. Indeed Hamilton looked as though he could still win.
Behind them, a melee of incidents and banging wheels ensued. Vettel was the highest profile driver to lose out as he battled with Ricciardo for 4th. The Ferrari spun as he banged wheels with the Red Bull as both battled for position. Vettel dropped down to 15th.
However, Mercedes decided to bring Hamilton in a few laps early under a virtual safety car period. Usually, this means a long stint, and it also means a second pitstop is required. Raikkonen was set on one-stopping, so in theory, Hamilton should be on the faster strategy.
It wasn’t to be, Hamilton did not do enough to ensure he would be ahead of Raikkonen when he pitted for the second time. Mercedes left Hamilton out for too long on his first stop, his tyres degraded quicker than expected and he was loosing more time than he was predicted to gain.
This, the advantage he had hoped for never materialised. Hamilton did take the lead on lap 27 when Raikkonen pitted, but he could not build up enough of a lead to ensure he remained ahead after his second pit stop.
As Hamilton exited the pits for the second time on lap 38 he found Max Verstappen, who started 18th, was was just over 5 seconds ahead with Raikkonen firmly in the lead. Hamilton should have closed down Verstappen quickly, he did but not as quick as expected.
And when the Mercedes driver did get close the gap he couldn’t’ find enough of a speed advantage to get past Verstappen. Only a small mistake from the Red Bull driver on the penultimate allowed Hamilton a possible way past.
The wheel to wheel action was as close as Verstappen put a dogged defense. It was a brief moment, the only moment Hamilton got to mathematically sealing his 5th world drivers title at the US GP. But the day belonged to Raikkonen, the old dog still has plenty of mileage left in him. It was his first victory since 2013, his 21st overall.
For Hamilton, the plaudits will have to wait for another race at least. With a 70 point lead and three grand prixs to go, Hamilton is still all but guaranteed the 2018 drivers title.
2018 US GP Results, Circuit of The Americas, Austin
Note – Ocon excluded for exceeding fuel flow limits on Lap 1. Magnussen excluded for consuming more than 105kg of fuel during the race.