Raikkonen could put Hamilton’s championship celebration on ice | 2018 United States Grand Prix pre-race analysis

There were two surprises on Saturday at the Circuit of the Americas.

The first was that it stayed dry. For days the forecasts had agreed Saturday would be another day of persistent rainfall. So much so that the teams made sure they saved as many sets of wet weather tyres as they could for qualifying.

But the rain didn’t come, and so we saw the day’s second big surprise: Ferrari are back.

The reason why the red cars had fallen so far behind Mercedes in the last three races has been a point of much conjecture. According to Sebastian Vettel, they have rediscovered their pace by removing recent “major” upgrades which had failed to do their job.

They were quick enough for both Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen to get within a tenth of a second of Lewis Hamilton’s pole position time. Although pole position was never a possibility for Vettel due to his three-place grid penalty, you wouldn’t have thought so to hear his bilingual cursing when his engineer informed him of his six-hundredths deficit after the chequered flag dropped.

Lining up second on the grid needn’t have been a disaster for Vettel. After all he started there last year and beat pole-sitter Hamilton to turn one. But he will start fifth while Raikkonen lines up closest to Hamilton.

Raikkonen has a serious chance to get past Hamilton. While both Mercedes and Vettel will start on the strategically preferable super-soft tyre, Raikkonen has the softer ultra-soft compound on. Mercedes admitted on Saturday they are concerned about the difficulty of containing Raikkonen’s pace on the first lap.

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Ferrari’s strong straight-line speed will aid Raikkonen’s charge. The red cars were quickest through the speed traps in qualifying, and already there are rumours they have unlocked more performance from the SF71H’s engine.

If Raikkonen can get ahead of Hamilton, he may be able to repay the favour Mercedes paid him via Valtteri Bottas at Monza, bottling up Hamilton while his tyres degrade. Alternatively – and perhaps more likely – Ferrari could use him as the ‘hare’, try to win the race on sheer speed, and deal with whether Raikkonen can help Vettel’s dwindling championship chances later.

The latter is the more realistic scenario as the teams are operating with much less data about how their tyres are likely to perform than usual. Friday’s practice was a washout, and although yesterday was dry the track was green, and Sunday is expected to be quite a bit hotter. As we saw in 2015, that can be a recipe for an unpredictable race.

But if Hamilton can keep his lead and control proceedings, his chances of clinching the title look very good indeed. If Hamilton wins, Vettel can only stop him clinching the title today by finishing second.

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Qualifying times in full

Sector times

Speed trap

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Drivers remaining tyres

Driver Team Soft Super-soft Ultra-soft
New Used New Used New Used
Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 2 0 0 1 0 3
Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 2 0 0 1 0 3
Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1 0 1 1 0 3
Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1 0 2 0 0 3
Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 2 0 1 1 0 2
Max Verstappen Red Bull 2 0 2 0 2 1
Sergio Perez Force India 1 0 1 0 0 4
Esteban Ocon Force India 1 0 1 0 0 4
Lance Stroll Williams 1 0 2 0 2 2
Sergey Sirotkin Williams 1 0 2 0 2 2
Carlos Sainz Jnr Renault 1 0 1 0 1 4
Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1 0 1 0 0 4
Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 1 0 2 0 1 3
Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso 1 0 2 0 1 3
Romain Grosjean Haas 1 0 1 0 0 4
Kevin Magnussen Haas 1 0 1 0 1 4
Fernando Alonso McLaren 2 0 1 0 2 2
Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 2 0 1 0 2 2
Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1 0 1 0 3 2
Charles Leclerc Sauber 1 0 1 0 0 4

Over to you

Will Lewis Hamilton clinch the world championship today? Is this Kimi Raikkonen’s best chance to win a race this season?

Share your views on the United States Grand Prix in the comments.

2018 United States Grand Prix

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