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Highlights of the US Grand Prix

Posted on 23 October 2017

Seb takes the start, but Lewis takes the win

Austin’s Circuit of the Americas was always going to have a vital role to play in the 2017 World Drivers’ Championship, with Lewis Hamilton having the possibility of taking the drivers’ crown at the United States Grand Prix. The COTA race marked one of Sebastian Vettel’s final chances to swing the balance of the championship in his favour.

As the drivers lined up on the grid for Sunday’s race, with Hamilton on pole position and Vettel joining him on the front row, it was all to play for when the lights went out.

The start belonged to Vettel, who rocketed off the line and managed to take the lead as the drivers rounded Turn One. Hamilton tried to fight back, but with the championship at stake there was no room for risky manoeuvres.

Despite Vettel’s early lead, within a few laps it became clear that the advantage remained with Hamilton. As the Ferrari driver struggled to eke maximum performance out of his tyres, the Briton was on the radio telling the Mercedes team that his rubber felt good, and that he thought his opening stint could be extended.

By lap six, Hamilton was within DRS range of Vettel’s car, and judicious use of the extra boost saw the Mercedes slip past the Ferrari in a brief scrap that ended with the championship leader half a second ahead.

From then on, the race was Hamilton’s, and the gap between the Mercedes and the chasing Ferrari grew until the pit stops began. Vettel was first of the pair to stop, on lap 16, and began to set purple sector times. On lap 19, Hamilton dove into the pits for his own fresh rubber, and returned to the track with the Ferrari behind him. Just.

The small margin was all that was needed, and Hamilton retained control of the race for the rest of the afternoon, eventually taking the chequered flag with a ten second lead over his championship rival.

Max’s Red Bullish strategy

Thanks to grid penalties for exceeding his allowance of power unit components, Max Verstappen lined up on the eighth row of the grid at Sunday’s United States Grand Prix, in 16th place. But the Red Bull driver was determined to secure a podium finish despite starting the weekend on the back foot, and Verstappen nearly delivered.

The young driver was on a charge from the moment the lights went out, making his way through the midfield and into the points in the first few laps around Austin’s Circuit of the Americas.  By lap 18, pit stops had promoted the Red Bull star to P3, and following Kimi Raikkonen’s stop at the end of lap 20, it was Verstappen who was leading the field.

That position was only temporary, and it was following Verstappen’s first stop that the Dutch driver really began to put the pressure on the leading pack. As F1’s youngest race winner was closing up on the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen -- who was himself chasing down the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas -- the Red Bull dove into the pits for fresh rubber, all the better to attack with.

Sebastian Vettel then pitted on the following lap, covering the growing threat from the Red Bull, and the stage was set for an epic chase as Verstappen, running in fifth, set his sights on the fourth-placed Vettel.

Ahead of the battle of the Vs was a brewing spat between Raikkonen and second-placed Valtteri Bottas. But Bottas was struggling on his decaying rubber, and the stage was set for a spectacular battle of the Finns. Raikkonen came out on top, scooping second place, as Bottas continued to lose pace.

Once Vettel had made short work of Bottas it was up to Raikkonen to let his teammate past for P2, and the podium was all set. Until Verstappen came back into play...

Ferrari boosted by Max’s error

While Max Verstappen’s charge from the lower reaches of the grid was one of the highlights of the US Grand Prix, Red Bull’s golden boy made a mistake on the final lap, taking all four wheels off track to pass Kimi Raikkonen for third place.

The Dutch ingenue crossed the line ahead of his Finnish rival, but was penalised between the chequered flag and the podium ceremony for leaving the track and gaining an advantage when passing the Ferrari at Turn 17. The five seconds added to his race time pushed the Red Bull driver back down into fourth place, and restored Raikkonen to his hard fought podium.

The stewards’ decision read: “The Stewards examined video evidence and concluded that car 33 did leave the track, with all 4 wheels clearly off the track by at least half a metre, and overtook car 7 in doing so. The driver did gain a lasting advantage.”

In addition to the loss of points, Verstappen was further penalised with one penalty point, taking his total to four in the past twelve months.

Speaking to the media after the race, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner did not hold back in his criticism of the stewards in their decision to penalise his driver.

"There’s been cars going off track all day today and there’s been no action at all so I think it would be unbelievably harsh to give Max a penalty for that," Horner said. "It just doesn’t feel right. It’s wrong. We’ll have a look at it but for that was fair, hard racing. That’s a bad judgment by the stewards.

”It is an appalling decision. They have robbed all of the fans here. It was a great grand prix and they have screwed it up.”

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