If yesterday’s pace from Ferrari marked a revival, renaissance or whatever one chooses to call it, it is quite simply too little, too late, and, frankly, a bit of an insult, considering some of the Scuderia’s recent performances.
Then again, as we have been saying for some time, perhaps, once we get the championship nonsense out of the way – for anyone who thinks Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari can overcome a 67-point deficit is talking complete nonsense – we can sit back and think what might have been, as the Scuderia goes head-to-head with Mercedes in a fight more about restoring pride than anything else.
The championship lost, all Vettel can hope for now is redemption, three or four races in which he proves the doubters – including yours truly – wrong. However, Hamilton will not make it easy for him. For while, some still compare the German to his hero, Michael Schumacher, it is the Briton who actually appears to have the seven-time champions’ remorselessness.
So, please, let’s get the title decided and done with, and let’s have some racing in the final few outings of 2018, and what better place to start than the Circuit of the Americas.
Of course, all eyes will be on Hamilton and Vettel at the start, but watch out for Kimi Raikkonen, who of the leading bunch is starting on the ultrasofts.
Due to Friday’s wash-out, going into today’s race, much like yesterday, was a step into the unknown in terms of set-up, and with drivers unable to complete their race simulations on Friday, this has left a question mark over tyre degradation also. In other words, with just one day’s running on slicks, the teams are pretty much in the dark as to how the tyres will perform today.
Overnight, concerned at unexpected degradation to the rears witnessed yesterday, and increased temperatures today, Pirelli ordered the teams to increase tyre pressures.
Of course, when one thinks of tyre issues and the United States Grand Prix, one cannot help but recall the travesty of Indianapolis 2005.
Back to the main story, and with the title still supposedly up for grabs, expect both Valtteri Bottas and Raikkonen to be called on to play wingman today, though how they react to any such instructions remains to be seen.
Courtesy of that suspension failure and a subsequent gearbox change, Max Verstappen starts from the back of the grid, which, if nothing else, guarantees some fun and games as the youngster picks off the back-markers one by one.
And as if that isn’t enough, we then have the battle for best of the rest, which, with just a couple of races remaining, is not only about unsigned drivers still looking to secure a seat, but, more importantly, the team standings, which, after all, decide the prize money.
Only on Thursday, Romain Grosjean referred to the points that were “stolen” from him at Monza, and while he and Haas await the decision of their appeal, what better way to get back at Renault than by finishing ahead, especially at what is the American outfit’s home race.
That said, despite being retained for 2019, Kevin Magnussen still doesn’t appear to have rediscovered the form we witnessed in the first half of the season, while since the summer break Grosjean has gone from strength to strength.
Not for the first time, Esteban Ocon out-performed his teammate, who must be heaving a huge sigh of relief that the 2019 Racing Point contract is done and dusted.
Though Toro Rosso has ditched the raft of upgrades due to be used on Pierre Gasly‘s car, the Frenchman and his teammate do at least have the updated Honda power unit, and though starting from the back may just be able to nibble at the back of the Top Ten.
For Williams and McLaren it promises to be another long Sunday afternoon, though Fernando Alonso can usually be relied upon to provide his own unique brand of entertainment, especially if it means messing with the leaders.
In a late move, following an issue on Bottas’ car, Mercedes has opted to change the water pump on both its cars.
In terms of tyre strategy, Pirelli claims quickest is a one-stopper, with an initial stint on supersofts for 18-24 laps then softs to the finish. Slightly slower is to start on ultrasoft for 14-20 laps then softs to the flag. Clearly slower is to start on ultrasofts for 20-25 laps then softs to the flag.
The pitlane opens and one by one the drivers head out.
Air temperature is 20.3 degrees C, while the track temperature is 27.8 degrees. It is bright and sunny, unlike the previous two days. There is 0% chance of rain.
Hamilton, Bottas, Ricciardo, Vettel, Sainz, Magnussen, Alonso, Sirotkin, Stroll, Vandoorne, Gasly and Hartley all start on supersofts, while the rest – bar Ericsson and Verstappen, who are on softs – start on the purple-banded ultras. Strangely, Sainz appears to be starting on used supers, though he qualified outside the top ten.
The filed heads off on the warm-up lap. All get away cleanly.
The grid forms.
Hamilton moves across the track to cover Raikkonen, and as they head up the hill the pair are side-by-side. However, the Finn has the inside line in T1 and holds off Hamilton, while further back Vettel runs wide finding his progress blocked by Bottas and Verstappen. On rejoining he is lucky not to collect Hulkenberg. Behind the Ferrari, Sainz also runs wide, and on rejoining gets ahead of Ocon.
Through Turns 3, 4 and 5, Verstappen is all over Bottas with Vettel in hot pursuit.
However, tyre smoke fills the air, along with a certain amount of debris as Alonso goes heading off into the distance after colliding with Stroll, the left-front wheel on the Williams doing the side of the McLaren no favours whatsoever.
“These guys are impossible to race with,” says Alonso, “impossible”.
Vettel passes Ricciardo, but the Australian fights back, the German out-brakes himself and as they continue to battle at T12 they touch and the Ferrari spins.
The joy witnessed on Maurizio Arrivabene’s face when Raikkonen took the lead now replaced by despair.
At the end of lap 1, it’s: Raikkonen, Hamilton, Bottas, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Sainz, Ocon, Perez, Verstappen, and Magnussen. Leclerc, Stroll, Grosjean and Alonso all pit while Vettel has dropped to 14th.
As Verstappen closes on Perez, both first lap incidents are under investigation.
After 4 laps, Raikkonen leads by 1.569s, with Hamilton 4.2sclear of third-placed Bottas.
Verstappen passes Ocon for seventh, while Grosjean has pitted again and retired, to join Alonso as the second DNF of the afternoon.
As Raikkonen reports loss of rear grip, and fears damage, Hamilton is told his team is happy for him to challenge the Finn.
Stroll gets a drive-through for the first lap clash with Alonso… not that it helps the Spaniard.
As Stroll serves his drive-through, at the end of lap 5, Raikkonen is advised that the team can find no issues with the rear of his car.
The incident involving Grosjean and Leclerc will be investigated after the race.
As Vettel passes Ocon for 8th, Hamilton is told to watch the track limits at T19.
Verstappen passes Hulkenberg for sixth and sets about his next target… Ricciardo.