Hamilton in complete control
Despite being beaten off the line by Sebastian Vettel Lewis Hamilton once again displayed the composure and race craft that has all but secured his fourth Formula One world championship. There was no problem with the British driver’s start but Vettel had it hooked up exceptionally well and had the inside line going into turn one. Hamilton went to squeeze him but recognised he could not hold the place and avoided any potentially race-ending contact. The contrast with Vettel’s reaction to being jumped by Max Verstappen in Singapore could not be clearer. The crash that ensued is one of the moments that has cost Vettel his title challenge. Hamilton knew to play the long game, as he did when choosing not to defend aggressively against Verstappen in Malaysia. It paid off again. Vettel worked his tyres too much in the early stages and was powerless as Hamilton sailed past him on lap six. His Mercedes was on song in Austin but these are the moments that dictate how championships are won and so it proved. The title is all but in his hands.
Verstappen, too, had a remarkable race coming back to fourth from 16th on the grid. He had scythed through the field with great skill but it was his demotion from third for exceeding track limits on his last-lap dive past Kimi Raikkonen that caught all the attention. He was furious, his dad, Jos, was furious, Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, was furious and Twitter worked itself into a positively apoplectic froth. The steward’s decision was based on the principle that Verstappen had gained an advantage by putting all four wheels off the track. The problem in Austin was that drivers had been abusing track limits all weekend without punishment, as Horner pointed out: “The race director was quite clear he had no issues with track limits.” So some had already been gaining advantage by going wide allowing themselves to get on the power earlier. Verstappen was pulled up because when he did so he made a pass. Inconsistency is the problem and it riles drivers, teams and fans. Setting firm boundaries at the start of the weekend has to be better than seeing yet another on-track result reversed after the flag.
Sainz off to a flyer
Carlos Sainz’s talent has rarely been questioned and in Austin he once again confirmed he is likely only to improve. With nine points finishes for Toro Rosso this season he has eclipsed his then team‑mate Daniil Kvyat. Making his debut for Renault in Austin to replace Jolyon Palmer he proved emphatically that the team made the right choice in taking him on. Starting from eighth on the grid, he finished in seventh scoring six valuable points. In doing so he pulled off a breathtaking move on Sergio Pérez up the inside of turn 19 on lap 33. The left-hander does not lend itself to overtaking and the Force India of Pérez is the quicker car, but Sainz made it stick and held the place to the finish. Red Bull, to whom he is contracted, know his value and have only loaned him to Renault but the 23‑year‑old Spaniard may prove crucial to the French manufacturer’s position in the constructors’ championship and the financial largesse it returns. They now trail Toro Rosso by only five points and claiming sixth place looks well within their sights.
Mercedes make it four
Hamilton still has to wrap up the drivers’ championship but for his team clinching the constructors’ crown in Texas was a huge achievement. It is their fourth consecutive title – a feat achieved by Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull – and they were rightly celebrating. Mercedes have defined the turbo-hybrid era, untouchable between 2014 and 2016 but to have maintained their superiority to claim the title with three races remaining after a major regulation change is no small feat. That their mightily powerful engine plays such an important role has been key but equally this season they have had to work hard for their laurels. Their diva of a car has been tricky to manage and required constant development. The technical director, James Allison, was full in his praise for the attention to detail that is put in across the team to ensure success – and they have become the model others must seek to emulate. But Ferrari must also consider they might have pushed them harder with a driver better able than Kimi Raikkonen to return consistently high points finishes. His unthreatening position in relation to Vettel may suit the German but has left them lacking the two-pronged attack needed to challenge Mercedes.
Putting on a show
The expected hoopla in the pre-race build-up was everything that had been predicted as F1’s owners Liberty Media looked to put their stamp on their first home grand prix since taking over the sport. Usain Bolt was waving the green flag, cheerleaders abounded and the sports announcer Michael Buffer gave a series of suitably hyberbolic introductions to the drivers who emerged from a smoke-filled tunnel. Like it or not and many did not, it did not feel out of place at an event held in the US where putting the showbusiness into sport has long been favoured. Hamilton was one driver who came down firmly in favour of a spot more razzmatazz at races. “I think it’s great, the Americans. They’re way better than us Europeans at putting shows on,” he said. “There’s more of an atmosphere. I like that it’s starting to spill over into this. That’s the best start of a grand prix I think I’ve seen and, if we can bring that more into Formula One culture, it’s just going to be more exciting.” It is hard not to imagine it would become tiresome pretty swiftly if applied to every meeting but amid the sunshine and cowboy hats the Circuit of the Americas put on an opening that worked and, if it attracts more fans in the US, all the better.