In the Weekend just gone, we head to Texas for a unique race.
We start, as we always do, in Q1 we saw drivers of the American owned team Haas finish the session in P19 (Mick Schumacher) and P20 (Nikita Mazepin). Not far ahead was Kimi Raikkonen in his Alpha Romero in P18, failing to get into Q2 for the 9th time this season. Ahead, was the Williams of Nicolas Latifi in P17 and the shock of the session was Lance Stroll, only qualifying P16 in his Aston Martin.
Moving into Q2, we saw the strongest of the teams using the Medium tyres, hoping that they would be able to last longer than the Softs during the race. Despite this, George Russell, in his Williams, decided to go out in the Soft compound, however had his lap time deleted for exceeding the limits of the track, meaning he ended up in P15, behind the Alpine of Fernando Alonso in P14. In P13, was Alpha Romero’s Antonio Giovinazzi, with Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel in P12, and Esteban Ocon in the Alpine in P11. The only drivers to qualify in the top 10 on the Softs, was the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz, and Yuki Tsunoda in his Alpha Tauri.
In Q3, we saw every driver return to the Soft tyre. Following the first set of qualifying laps, we saw the Red Bull of Sergio Perez sitting on Provisional Pole, 0.19 of a second ahead of his teammate, Max Verstappen. With some drops of rain falling onto the track, the final runs of the drivers were crucial. By the end of the session, we saw P9 and P10 filled by the Alpha Tauri’s of Pierre Gasly and Tsunoda respectively. 3 tenths of a second ahead, was the McLaren pair of Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris in P7 and P8 respectively. Both Ferrari’s were up next in P5 and P6, with Charles Leclerc qualifying ahead of Sainz. P4 and P2 saw Valterri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton in their Mercedes’ being split by Perez who took P3, with his teammate Verstappen taking his 9th Pole Position of the season.
There were multiple drivers who had taken on completely fresh engines for the race, starting with those who were pushed to the back of the grid. Those included, were Russell, Alonso and Vettel dropping to P20, P19 and P18 respectively. Along with this, Bottas took on his 6th ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) of the season, dropping him 5 places, to P9 to start the race.
As the 5 lights go out and the race begins, we see Hamilton get off the line better than Verstappen, which causes Max to squeeze the Merc up towards the pit wall and to the edge of the circuit on the hill up to Turn 1, however Lewis is able to hold his nerve and stay alongside through the corner, pushing the Dutchman off track in order to keep his hard fought lead. This opens the door for Perez to make a move on his teammate, but opts not to, knowing he needs to let Max continue to fight for his championship. In the middle of the field, we saw the Canadian’s of Latifi and Stroll make contact, dropping them right to the back. Further forward, Sainz, Ricciardo and Norris were fighting all the way through the first sector, up until the back straight which leads down into Turn 12. This saw Carlos being sandwiched between both McLaren’s, with Daniel on the outside and Lando on the inside. In the end, it looked like Daniel went for the switch-back on the Ferrari, but got caught behind his teammate, whereas Sainz took an outside line and ended up running wide on the exit and staying ahead of the McLaren’s, something that didn’t last long, as Ricciardo was able to get past his teammate in the twists at the start of Sector 3, and get up the inside of Carlos on the triple right hander of Turn’s 16, 17 and 18.
By Lap 2, the Alpha Tauri’s had swapped positions, with Bottas remaining between them. By Lap 4, Russel had climbed up to P14 and Ocon had pit onto Hard tyres, and changed his front wing, following some minor contact with one of the Alpha Romero’s who got off the line brilliantly. Latifi was next to pit on Lap 6 for Hards and a front wing, coming out of the pitlane to be beside Ocon, remaining that way until the exit of Turn 1, with Latifi staying ahead.
Moving onto Lap 8, Max remained just 0.7 seconds behind Lewis, both pulling away from Sergio, who also had created a comfortable gap to Leclerc. Alonso also had pit from P15 onto the Hards. Tunoda is next to pit on Lap 10 for the same tyres, returning into P14.
It only takes until Lap 11 for one of the leaders to pit. That man is Max Verstappen, following complaints of his tyres overheating, also changes to the Hards, returning just behind Ricciardo into P5. By Lap 12, Max had worked his way past his former teammate, and it’s Lap 13 when Hamilton pits, allowing Perez to stay out and be used as a strategic block for Red Bull. Once Lewis returns to the track, he is 6 seconds behind Max. On Lap 16, Gasly retires from the race with a suspected engine issue, while Bottas pits from P5, returning to the track in P11, behind Yuki. Both Ferrari’s also pit with no trouble. While this is happening, Kimi and Alonso are fighting into Turn 1, staying wheel to wheel until they touch, and Kimi looks to have taken the position while Fernando was pushing him off the track, but in doing so, it seems like he has taken some damage to his floor.
By Lap 18, both the Aston’s are the only car yet to pit, running P8 and P9, while ahead, Sainz and Lando continue to fight for P6. By the end of the lap, Sebastian pits, allowing Yuki and Valterri to push, returning to the field in P15. On the following lap, both Tsunoda and Bottas have past Stroll, causing him to pit, which brings Antonio back into the points. Moving onto Lap 20, Bottas is eventually able to pass the Alpha Tauri using DRS (Drag Reduction System) into Turn 12, promoting the Fin to P8. By Lap 21, Hamilton has remained over 5 seconds behind Max, and has begun to lap the Haas’ at their home race.
On Lap 22, the Alpha’s had swapped position, allowing Kimi to push on, but allows Alonso to pass Giovinazzi at Turn 12, but looks to have taken the position off track so he hands the position back by start of Lap 25. The two have continued to fight until Turn 12 again, with Alonso diving down the inside of the Italian, but Antonio runs wide and keeps the position, meaning by Turn 15, Giovinazzi was told to give the position back. Max comes into the pits on Lap 30, returning to the track a second behind Perez. Sainz also decides to pit, returning just behind Bottas, but has a slow stop, so McLaren decide to pit both Ricciardo and Norris. This quick thinking from the papaya outfit got Daniel out ahead of the Spaniard, and allowed Lando to close the gap to his former teammate. Sergio let Max pass quickly and pits the following lap. from here, Max has around a 17 second gap to close before Lewis pits.
On Lap 34/56, Yuki and Leclerc both pit for more Hard compound tyres, returning to P11 and P4 respectively, and Bottas does the same on the following lap, returning in P7. Once Hamilton pits from the lead, he returns just under 8 seconds behind Verstappen. By lap 41, the gap stood at 8.1 seconds, with both drivers needing to fight their way through backmarker traffic. On the following lap, Ocon is forced to retire. By the time we get to Lap 51, Hamilton had reduced the gap to 1.9 seconds, with Perez over 30 seconds behind, who has been without a drinks system for the entire race. Alonso is also forced to retire, making it an all around bad day for Alpine. On Lap 53, Raikkonen, who was sitting P10, took a trip into the gravel, allowing Sebastian Vettel to take the final points paying position.
As we get onto the final lap, Mick Schumacher was lapped by the leaders, and Hamilton had closed the gap to just over a second, which means that he doesn’t have DRS to help close the gap on the straights. This gave Max an advantage, as he gets DRS from the Haas. This allows the Championship leader to keep the gap to Hamilton as he crosses the line to win the American Grand Prix, extending his lead to 12 points with just 5 races to go. Hamilton takes a strong second, along with the fastest lap, with Perez taking the last step on the podium with a fantastic P3, considering the circumstances. Ferrari outscore rivals McLaren, with their drivers taking P4 and P7 (Leclerc and Sainz respectively), whereas McLaren take P5 and P8 (Ricciardo and Norris respectively). Bottas comes home in P6, not making much of an impression on the race, with Alpha Tauri’s Tsunoda taking an impressive P9, and Vettel remains in P10.
Overall, another quiet race, with most the intrigue surrounding how Lewis and Mercedes would be able to outthink RedBull and their 2 drivers. My Driver of the Day goes to Verstappen, as he was able to complete a very aggressive strategy, really getting everything he could out of the tyres he was on, and forcing Mercedes into uncomfortable positions which put Hamilton on the backfoot. An honourable mention must go to Sergio Perez, completing the race without a drinks system, remaining on the podium, and by the end of the race, it really showed just how much effort was needed to put in such an impressive performance on such a hot day. Another mention should go to Sebastian Vettel, climbing from P18 to P10, collecting 1 point for himself and Aston Martin. The loser of the weekend sadly must go to the retiring Kimi Raikkonen, following his spin and subsequent loss of a point for Alpha Romero, a now common and still unwelcome sight to the Italian manufacturers, as they continue their hunt for Williams, and remain 16 points behind the British team.
Featured Image Credit: The Telegraph