Having had a disasterous Japanese Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton bounced back with a much-needed victory at the Circuit of the Americas yesterday, closing the gap on Mercedes’ teammate Nico Rosberg to 26 points with three races to go. It was a weekend that saw Hamilton ultimately dominate the race, having qualified on pole, and having led every lap, bar one brief spell where Vettel (who hadn’t pitted at the time) was in front.
The nature of this win – Hamilton’s 50th career triumph) raises questions as to why we haven’t seen this sort of performance from him very often this season. One can’t help but wonder if the mistakes in the opening rounds, not to mention in Baku and Japan, plus his out-of-sorts showing in Singapore, might prove to be the key variable.
As far as the race went, Hamilton got a good start and was clear into turn 1 without too much trouble. Rosberg was passed by the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo and had the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen loitering close behind. The start wasn’t so enjoyable for Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and Wiliams’ Valteri Bottas – they (and the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel) were involved a pinch at the first corner, which led to Hulkenberg forced to retire and Bottas forced to pit, pushing him right down the field.
At the front, Ricciardo was keeping Hamilton honest, with Rosberg following. Max Verstappen had made a relatively poor start in the other Red Bull, but within a few laps he had caught and passed Raikkonen, and gave Rosberg some food for thought by straying into DRS range. However, the Red Bulls were on the supersoft tyres, which began to lose performance by lap 8, and the Mercedes were both on the soft compound. Interestingly, Mercedes split their strategy, with Rosberg pitting first and for medium tyres, whilst Hamilton would pit for softs again.
There would be two pit stop calamities, one of which would prove costly for Raikkonen. The first incident though, belonged to Verstappen, and it would hurt Ricciardo’s chances of threatening for a win. Verstappen mistakenly believed he’d been called to the pits, and pulled in with the crew not ready. He’d barely gotten halfway around the out lap when he was forced to slow down, and his team took so long in directing him to pull over that when he finally did stop, the stewards deemed it necessary to use the virtual safety car – this grave Mercedes a free stop, and both cars donned the medium boots. From that point on, they were able to cruise to the end, leaving Ricciardo to settle for third.
Ferrari were at fault for Raikkonen’s untimely retirement, at a point where he’d been showing good pace. They left a wheel gun on his rear-right tyre as he pulled away, and with the tyre not being secure, they had no choice but to pull him over and retire the car.
Things at the front were quite steady, but behind them an interesting race broke out. Carlos Sainz in his Toro Rosso held off the Williams of Felipe Massa for several laps, allowing McLaren’s Fernando Alonso to close in on them both. Alonso had started in 12th, but he would finish in 5th after a bullish move to get by Massa, and a move on Sainz late on. Jensen Button in the other McLaren had qualified in 19th – but finished 9th.
Finally, there were mixed results for the US team Haas. Esteban Gutierrez was forced to retire on lap 16 with brake failure, but Romain Grosjean was able to take the final points place.
So what does this all mean for the title battle? Well, it was job done for both Hamilton and Rosberg. Hamilton needed to win – he needs to win all the remaining races – whilst Rosberg can afford two 2nd places and a 3rd place, even if Hamilton wins the three remaining races – and still be champion. Next up we journey to Mexico – what might we expect?