Rhythm Is Key
Lewis Hamilton’s purple patch continues and despite a decidedly average performance on Saturday, the Englishman ensured that the bookends of the weekend were of his usual standard. After a typically impressive Friday, Lewis required a return to this form in order to overhaul his rival’s advantage and in the race, he demonstrated this very speed. In many ways, the race mirrored qualifying, with the weekend in general being a case of punch and counter-punch at Mercedes – Nico won the mental battle on Saturday and stole the momentum away from Lewis ahead of race-day, but the championship leader was not about to concede the seven point swing and head to Brazil. The battle throughout the race was truly compelling.
Hamilton clearly found his rhythm much faster than Nico, who seemed to be over-driving, complaining of understeer on the radio during the first stint. When the German found the speed which had guided him to pole just 24 hours previous, Hamilton had already stretched his advantage, (after a textbook overtake, might I add), and the lead was insurmountable for him. In fairness, Rosberg battled valiantly throughout the final stint and Hamilton’s advantage did show several signs of vulnerability as Nico began to reel in his teammate. As such, if Rosberg had extracted the maximum out of his W05 in the opening exchanges, he may well have had the pace to take a lights to flag victory, albeit this sport is crammed full of ifs, buts and maybes.
It is these fine margins which define championship’s and with Lewis’ win on US soil, Nico’s championship credentials have taken a heavy hit. Ultimately, the title is now out of his hands, with Hamilton only needing to finish behind his teammate in second in the next two races in order to claim the 2014 spoils. However, with 75 points up for grabs and Mercedes reliability being far from infallible throughout this campaign, anything is possible. Rosberg is by-no-means out of the picture just yet and judging by his pace and mental strength shown in Austin, he is fully capable of claiming victory at the next two rounds.
The Ricciardo Flick
One man that is now mathematically out of the title race is Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo. Whether he was ever in the hunt or not is a topic for debate, but now, he can concentrate on bagging the best results possible in the final two races and end a 2014 campaign which has been full of excellence. His performance at COTA was another case study in this excellence.
However, the start was certainly not one of his best. The Aussie was over-exuberant in applying the throttle and the wheel-spin generated as a result sent him down to P8. But, when you have the race-craft and overtaking ability that Ricciardo possesses, this mistake can easily be redeemed. A great late braking maneuver on Kevin Magnussen into Turn 12 was a taster of what was to come next. Heading into Turn 1, Ricciardo pulled off his traditional dummy to the outside, before driving up the inside of none-other than Fernando Alonso, in what one of the best moves of an overtake packed race.
The Red Bull strategists also deserve a special mention for executing a perfect strategy, elevating Daniel past both Williams’, jumping Bottas at the first service and Massa at the second. Ultimately, this was a podium which was stolen from Williams who looked to have an edge over Red Bull throughout the weekend. However, missing out on a podium will be compensated by the fact that the team once again extended their lead in the constructors championship over Ferrari, further cementing their position in P3. With Alonso in P6 and a decidedly anonymous Kimi Raikkonen in P13, Williams have extended their lead to 25 points.
Unquestionably, the US Grand Prix provided fans with a cover-to-cover dose of wheel-to-wheel action. From a pure-racing perspective, it was one of the best of the season and in a nation where close racing is an expectation rather than a luxury, this was an integral factor. There may only have been 15 cars on the circuit for the majority of the race, yet they certainly provided the paying customers with a great product.
Fernando Alonso was seemingly at the thick of the action throughout, battling with Ricciardo early on before engaging in a titanic scrap with Jenson Button. The two locked horns in a dice which lasted for around two laps and contained a countless amount of cutbacks. Then, as Alonso emerged from the pits, he met Sebastian Vettel and with flashbacks to Silverstone, the two fought over P6. Ultimately, if the race had been one lap longer, the same fight would have recurred, as a Vettel equipped with fresh rubber came charging through the field and found himself starring at the Ferrari diffuser once again as the checkered flag fell.
Meanwhile, Jean-Eric Vergne and Romain Grosjean found themselves in a similar battle, with the duo trading Pirelli rubber as they made contact the apex of Turn 1. Vergne later incurred a five second penalty for what was a truly audacious attempt at an overtake, but the fans certainly enjoyed the action and in a country where the love for Formula 1 has to compete with the homegrown business’ of NASCAR and IndyCar, this is always great to see.
One thing that this US Grand Prix did prove is that COTA is one of the most impressive circuits and one which adeptly lends itself to fantastic racing.
Driver of the Day
After being bettered in qualifying by Nico Rosberg, Lewis recovered in the style of a true champion, pulling off a textbook overtake and managing to control the race from the front and soak up relentless pressure placed upon him by his chief rival. Considering what is at stake, it was a sublime drive.
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
4 Felipe Massa Williams
5 Valtteri Bottas Williams
6 Fernando Alonso Ferrari
7 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull
8 Kevin Magnussen McLaren
9 Pastor Maldonado Lotus
10 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso
11 Romain Grosjean Lotus
12 Jenson Button McLaren
13 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
14 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber
15 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
R Nico Hulkenberg Force India
R Sergio Perez Force India
R Adrian Sutil Sauber