Ten-up for Lewis: United States GP review

By on Monday, November 3, 2014
Mercedes AMG Petronas

Mercedes AMG Petronas

Every driver to have won five races in a row has won the championship.

Every driver to have won 10 (or more) races in a single season has won the championship.

And yet, because of a deeply unpopular rule, there remains a chance that the title could be decided through a single race in which 50 points are available.

Lewis Hamilton’s 10th win of the year was a repeat of recent races. Nico Rosberg took the advantage, but Hamilton made a mid-race pass – as he did in Italy and Japan – to take the win.

With the gap between them now 24 points, the fight for the crown will go down to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, irrespective of what happens in Brazil.

Hamilton was on form all weekend, with a dominant performance in the final practice session hinting at what might come, while Rosberg was all at sea with a few problems.

But come qualifying, the tables were turned. Rosberg pumped in an astonishing performance in the second knockout session, while Hamilton complained that ‘this thing’ wasn’t acting as it should. He pinpointed his issues to the brakes and those problems continued into Q3.

Rosberg went two-tenths faster than Hamilton during the initial stages of the final shootout and improved his time, while Hamilton came across the line without green sector times.

The result was another pole position – a ninth of the year - for Rosberg, with Hamilton almost four-tenths back in second place.

Mercedes AMG Petronas

Mercedes AMG Petronas

Hamilton’s concern at the start was that the theoretically inferior traction offered by second place on the grid would leave him as prey for the predator-like Valtteri Bottas, but the Finn made a poor start, enabling Hamilton to retain second and begin his pursuit of Rosberg.

Their duel at the front was briefly interrupted when Adrian Sutil’s starring qualifying performance was rendered pointless thanks to a brainless attempted manoeuvre by Sergio Pérez.

Pérez, trying to impress in front of his ‘home crowd’ saw an opportunity to get ahead of Sutil – who had somehow dragged the recalcitrant Sauber into Q3 – but misjudged his move into Turn 15 and clipped the back of Kimi Räikkönen before clattering into Sutil. The two cars then bounced off each other and both the Force India and Sauber sustained terminal damage.

Pérez’s stricken car slithered back to the pits while Sutil was out on the spot, causing the Safety Car to be deployed while the Sauber was recovered. Pérez was later handed a seven place grid drop for this weekend's Brazilian Grand Prix.

“I had a good start and was in a promising position. Sadly Sergio crashed into my car, which was completely needless,” said a frustrated Sutil. “It is very disappointing that we missed our biggest chance of points because of this move.”

After a few laps the pack was unleashed and Rosberg immediately moved into a lead of just over a second, although Hamilton chipped away to quickly get back within DRS range.

The gap ebbed and flowed, with Hamilton often faster in the first sector while Rosberg extended his advantage across the remainder of the lap. Hamilton was never close enough to threaten a move although he remained an ever-present threat in the mirrors of Rosberg’s car.

Scuderia Ferrari

Scuderia Ferrari

As the Option tyres reached the end of their life both drivers began to suffer a slight drop-off in pace, with Hamilton’s sector times trailing off at a quicker rate. Rosberg stopped on lap 16 for Primes, while Hamilton came in a lap later to make his switch to the harder tyre compound.

Hamilton’s tardier pace at the end of the first stint enabled Rosberg to emerge from the first round of stops with a comparatively comfortable three second lead at the head of the pack.

Crucially, Hamilton’s mechanics tweaked his front wing at his first stop and his pace improved with it. The gap was cut to 2.5, then 1.8, 1.4, 1.0….within DRS range.

As TV cameras focused on a fabulous scrap between Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso, Hamilton had closed the deficit to just 0.8s and took a chunk of time out of Rosberg in the first sector.

Rosberg knew that Hamilton would try a move and so requested extra ERS power to defend his position, doing it via a switch change, rather than a button, delayed the request – an error he admitted – and so the extra boost was not forthcoming.

Rosberg moved over on Hamilton as Turn 12 approached but the Brit kept his foot flat and snuck up the inside, edging Rosberg ever so slightly wide as they rounded the corner.

“I was quite a bit back, I would say, but I felt very confident, there was a big headwind into 12, and I just felt like I was waiting for the moment really, to just be just close enough to throw it up the inside,” said Hamilton.

“And that’s what I did. There’s a kind of… you have to decide how much of a risk you’re willing to take. Nico wasn’t defending there really so almost caught him unaware.”

Rosberg had to settle back into a rhythm but the gap across the next stint grew to 2.7s, ballooning to almost four seconds after both drivers stopped for another set of Primes.

A rapid lap after the stops enabled Rosberg to take almost a second out of Hamilton’s advantage but the leader responded, with the pair touring at a similarly rapid pace. The only concern thereafter was when the duo had to lap a group of cars frantically battling for the final points paying positions.

There was a 20 second gap back to third placed Daniel Ricciardo but approaching the second round of stops the Mercedes pair in fact had to respond to the threat posed by Felipe Massa.

Red Bull/Getty Images

Red Bull/Getty Images

The Brazilian was never a huge threat to Rosberg’s position, but Massa – who had jumped ahead of Williams team-mate Bottas at the start – was only five seconds in arrears. Unfortunately for Massa, a slow stop scuppered his progress and, allied to an earlier stop for Ricciardo, enabled the Red Bull driver to jump ahead and into third.

Red Bull had adopted a similar approach in the first round of stops. Ricciardo started fifth but slipped to seventh at the start, before passing Kevin Magnussen and Alonso in quick succession. An earlier stop allowed him to pass Bottas for fourth through the pit stop phrase and, after getting by on Massa in the second round of stops, he was able to claim a podium that all but secures his third place in the standings.

Massa and Bottas trailed home in fourth and fifth, disappointed not to score a podium but content at another strong haul of points for Williams.

Alonso was sixth – about as good as it would get for Ferrari – after emerging on top in a thrilling duel with both McLaren drivers, while outgoing champion Sebastian Vettel recovered to seventh.

Vettel started from the pit lane after taking a sixth Power Unit of 2014 and his pace across the first half of the race was woeful. Red Bull considered running Vettel to the end of the race on Primes but brought him in towards the closing stages for fresh Options, allowing him to surge from 14th to seventh.

Magnussen managed to make his tyres last and come home eighth, while Pastor Maldonado inherited ninth – his first points of the year – after Jean-Éric Vergne was given a five second penalty for an overly assertive move on Romain Grosjean. The Lotus driver sustained damage and dropped to 11th, having felt that eighth was possible.

Button adopted a similar strategy to Magnussen but struggled with rear tyre degradation and tumbled back to 12th, while Kimi Räikkönen endured a troublesome race as he suffered from understeer and tyre wear to place only 13th. It was his worst race result for over two years, leaving the real possibility that he’ll finish outside of the top 10 in the championship for the first time in his Formula 1 career.

Esteban Gutiérrez was a lonely 14th at the back, while Daniil Kvyat was classified 15th after pulling into the pits late on when he sustained damage after clipping Räikkönen. Nico Hülkenberg failed to finish after a mechanical problem halted his Force India early on.

Hamilton’s advantage is such that he can play second fiddle to Rosberg across the next two races and still emerge as the 2014 World Champion. Though naturally, such thoughts have not entered his mind.

“[I’m] just going to be exactly the same as I approached this weekend and previous races: I want to win.”

Mercedes AMG Petronas

Mercedes AMG Petronas

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