MEDIA RELEASE/McLaren Formula 1 Team - Main Photo: Supplied The McLaren Formula 1 team have…
PRESS RELEASE/Formula 1 – Photo: supplied
It was set up as the day when Lewis Hamilton would seal a fifth world title. Instead, the United States Grand Prix will be remembered for another piece of history – as the day when Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen brilliantly broke a 112-race winless streak.
The Finn, whose last victory came all the way back in Australia 2013, 2044 days earlier, came out on top of a titanic three-way battle with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Mercedes driver Hamilton at Austin’s Circuit of The Americas to claim his 21st career victory and become, at 39, F1’s oldest race winner since Nigel Mansell in 1994.
Behind him, Verstappen put his qualifying woes behind him as he crossed the line 1.2s back to cap a superb drive through the field from 18th on the grid, while Hamilton – who started from pole and led during the middle phase of the race – was forced to settle for third after needing to make one more pit stop than his rivals.
Hamilton will now look to Mexico next weekend as his chance to clinch the 2018 drivers’ crown, with his gap to rival Sebastian Vettel stretched to 70 points by virtue of another scruffy race for the Ferrari star.
Vettel started fifth but was 15th at the end of lap one after another first-lap spin, this time following contact with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo while battling for fourth.
The German recovered to finish fourth, passing the second Silver Arrow of Valtteri Bottas late on, but he will be powerless to stop Hamilton from beating him to becoming just the third man in history to win as many as five titles if the Briton scores five or more points in Mexico.
But as his career with Ferrari winds down, this was a race that will be remembered for a famous Raikkonen victory…
** finally!” Raikkonen exclaimed in celebration.
Having been gifted a front-row grid slot by team mate Vettel, by virtue of the German’s three-place grid drop for driving too fast under red flags in practice, Raikkonen made full use of his elevated position and his ultrasoft tyres at the start to jump the supersoft-shod Hamilton into Turn 1.
Team boss Maurizio Arrivabene celebrated the move passionately on the Ferrari pit wall, but his joy would be short lived as later on around the lap Vettel found himself pirouetting in a cloud of tyre smoke in a moment that brought back memories of lap one in Italy.
Battling with Daniel Ricciardo for fourth place, Vettel launched an attack up the inside of the Red Bull. The two banged wheels and before he knew it, Vettel was spinning down to 15th, his already slim title hopes seemingly going up in literal smoke.
That confrontation followed two other clashes on lap one, with Williams’ Lance Stroll eventually being given a drive-through penalty for spearing Fernando Alonso’s helpless McLaren, leading to the Spaniard’s early retirement. “These guys are impossible to race with,” Alonso angrily said over team radio before parking his orange car for good.
Charles Leclerc was also in the wars, with Romain Grosjean collecting the Sauber driver at the hairpin and sending him into a spin. The duo would both ultimately retire their cars following the incident, with Grosjean subsequently being handed a three-place grid drop for the next round in Mexico for causing the collision.
Raikkonen, having gained a position on the opening lap for the first time since the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, led comfortably in the early running as further back Verstappen and a recovering Vettel made ground.
Behind Hamilton, Bottas ran third with Ricciardo fifth, but the Australian’s luck would soon run out as his Red Bull ground to a halt with a power unit issue coming out of Turn 11.
Ricciardo’s retirement – his seventh from 18 races this season – would prove a decisive moment. With the Virtual Safety Car (VSC) deployed to allow marshals to clear the stricken RB14, Hamilton was instructed to pit, provided Raikkonen didn’t dive in ahead of him. Ricciardo was clearly annoyed by yet another failure and allegedly took out his frustration on a wall a short time later.
The Finn stayed out and in came Hamilton, swapping onto soft tyres and losing minimal time in the process, the VSC allowing him to lose just nine seconds to Raikkonen, as opposed to the 20 or so seconds he would have lost under normal racing conditions.
Advantage Hamilton then – or was it? Ferrari confidently told Raikkonen that Hamilton – with so much of the race to run – would need another pit stop, and though the Briton led following the Finn’s sole stop on lap 21, the Mercedes driver was indeed forced in for fresh rubber once more on lap 38 after suffering excessive tyre wear.
He rejoined in P4 behind Verstappen in second and Bottas in third, the flying Dutchman having undercut the second Silver Arrow after stopping one lap earlier than the Finn on lap 23.
Vettel, meanwhile, stopped on lap 27, returning in fifth place having steadily climbed the order beforehand. He caught and eventually passed Bottas for fourth on lap 55, but most eyes at that point were on the lead battle.
Hamilton had quickly passed Bottas after his stop and then rapidly set after Verstappen and Raikkonen, who were nine and 12 seconds up the road respectively when he rejoined.
The four-time world champion quickly closed the gap but after latching on to the back of Verstappen, who having brilliantly made his supersoft tyres last had himself closed right onto the rear of Raikkonen’s car, he could go no further.
The closest he came was on the penultimate lap, when he and Verstappen dramatically went wheel-to-wheel for several corners, the Dutchman ultimately coming out on top thanks to a stubborn defence as Hamilton ended up running wide.
That squabble gave welcome breathing room to Raikkonen, who duly went on to wrap up a popular victory that moved him one ahead of fellow Finn Mika Hakkinen into 15th in the all-time wins list. He also moved ahead of Bottas into third in the drivers’ standings. But while that fight could go down to the wire, the battle for P1 in the drivers’ standings now surely looks set…
Behind the frantic action up front, it was a great day for Renault as they finished sixth and seventh with Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz to strengthen their grip on fourth place in the constructors’ standings ahead of Haas, whose home race ended with them claiming just two points for P9 with Kevin Magnussen.
Force India, meanwhile, took another step towards overhauling McLaren for P6 as Esteban Ocon finished a strong eighth and Sergio Perez 10th. However, Ocon’s car is being investigated by the stewards for allegedly exceeding fuel flow limits early in the race.
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