Lewis Hamilton moved one step closer to a fourth Drivers’ Championship title with a convincing sixth career US Grand Prix win at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas. The win, ahead of the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen, allied to a fifth place for Valtteri Bottas also handed Mercedes their fourth Constructors’ Championship crown in a row.
Hard-charging Vettel took the lead into Turn 1 at the start, but when Hamilton grabbed first place with a good overtake of the German on lap six and quickly opened a two-second gap there was little doubt that, barring mechanical issues, the Mercedes driver would cross the line in first place to open a 66-point lead over Vettel with a maximum of 75 points on the table from the remaining three rounds.
There was more drama at the end of the race as Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen was denied a podium finish. The Dutchman was handed a five-second penalty for leaving the track and gaining and advantage when passing Räikkönen for P3 in the last sector of the last lap. Verstappen was demoted to fourth and the Ferrari man took the podium alongside Hamilton and Vettel.
At the start, Vettel made the best getaway and despite Hamilton moving across to the inside to try to take first place, the Ferrari driver snuck past on the entry into Turn 1 to take the lead. By the end of the first lap, third-placed Valtteri Bottas was coming under heavy pressure from Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, though the Finn managed to hang on to third place.
Ricciardo’s team-mate Max Verstappen was having more success in gaining places and by lap six the Dutchman had claimed the scalps of Williams’ Lance Stroll, Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, Haas’ Romain Grosjean, Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat, Force India’s Sergio Perez and the second Williams of Felipe Massa to sit in ninth place.
Ahead, Vettel’s lead didn’t last long. On lap six, Hamilton attacked and under DRS on the back straight he slipped past the German on the inside to re-take the lead. By lap nine he’d built a 1.8s lead over the Ferrari driver.
Verstappen’s march continued and with the dismissal of Force India’s Esteban Ocon to take sixth place, the Dutchman had taken 10 places in 10 laps.
Meanwhile, team-mate Ricciardo’s pursuit of Bottas was beginning to hurt. The Australian was struggling with worn starting ultrasoft tyres and by lap 11 he was being harried by Räikkönen. The solution was for the Red Bull man to pit, and on the next tour he made his first stop, for supersoft tyres.
It would all end for the Australian on lap 16, however. Towards the end of the lap he slowed and then went off track at Turn 15 where he eventually pulled over, telling his engineer “engine’s gone, I think the engine’s gone”.
At the front, Vettel, now 5.4s in arrears to Hamilton pitted on lap 17 and took on soft tyres. Mercedes then pitted Bottas and a lap later Hamilton, with both drivers taking on the same compound. Hamilton rejoined in third place behind leader Räikkönen and second-placed Verstappen, both of whom had yet to pit.
Räikkönen’s lead was short-lived and at the end of lap 20 he dived toward the Ferrari pit box and bolted on a set of soft tyres. Verstappen was now the race leader, but again it was a brief stint, as on lap 23, Hamilton, armed with fresh tyres, muscled past the Red Bull driver.
The order then began to settle and on lap 28 Hamilton led Vettel by four seconds. Bottas was still third, but with just 2.9s in hand over Räikkönen. Verstappen was now fifth, ahead of Massa, Ocon and Pérez. Carlos Sainz was ninth for Renault ahead of Kvyat.
Sainz, though, was charging forward and when the now traditional battle between Perez and Ocon began to result in Perez asking to pass his team-mate and being denied, Sainz saw an opportunity. He closed hard on the Mexican and over the course of four corners in the final sector he built a move that he eventually made stick as the pair headed for the start/finish straight.
Towards the front, Vettel, struggling for pace on his soft tyres, was asking Ferrari to consider strategic options as behind Bottas closed in and Raikkonen, much happier on the softs, closed on his fellow Finn.
Behind them Verstappen began to close on the battle between Räikkönen and Bottas but with 50-seconds in hand over Ocon, Red Bull chose instead to pit the Dutchman, bolting on a set of supersofts for the final 19 laps.
And that was the strategic option Vettel and Ferrari then also took, chiefly to cover the Red Bull. The German pitted at the end of lap 39 and he emerged just in front of Verstappen.
Räikkönen, meanwhile, finally got some reward for his efforts. He dived down the inside of countryman Bottas at the end of the back straight, got past and then made his car wide through the next sequence of corners to secure second place.
Vettel, meanwhile, was narrowing the gap to Bottas and on lap 51 he powered past the Mercedes driver to claim third place. It wasn’t long before he found Räikkönen and sensibly the Finn moved across to allow his title-hunting team-mate back to P2.
Hamilton, though, was 14 seconds further up the road and there was no hope of Vettel using his better pace to close so large a gap and after 56 laps the Briton crossed the line to take his sixth career US GP win with 10 seconds in hand over the German.
Behind the top two there was plenty of drama in the final laps. Soon after Vettel passed Bottas, Verstappen closed in on the second Mercedes and he quickly got past the Mercedes man who was visibly struggling on worn tyres.
Verstappen then hunted down Räikkönen and as the last lap began he was told by his race engineer that he would likely have one chance to pass. Verstappen chose the long right-hander at the end of the lap. He elbowed his way past the Finn and seconds later was punching the air in celebration of a podium finish from 16th place on the grid.
Within seconds though the Red Bull driver’s move was placed under investigation by the race stewards and he was quickly handed a five-second time penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage. “Car 33 did leave the track, with all four wheels clearly off the track by at least half a metre,” the stewards’ report said.
Räikkönen, then, held his third place and took the podium with Hamilton and Vettel. Verstappen, who had four seconds in hand over Räkkönen at the end, managed to keep fourth place ahead of Bottas.
Esteban Ocon was sixth ahead of Carlos Sainz, who put in an excellent performance in his first race for Renault. Sergio Pérez was eighth in the second Force India ahead of Williams’ Felipe Massa and Daniil Kvyat, on his racing return, took the final point for Toro Rosso.
2017 United States Grand Prix – Race
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes –
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 10.143
3 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 15.779
4 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 11.768 *
5 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 34.967
6 Esteban Ocon Force India 90.980
7 Carlos Sainz Renault 92.944
8 Sergio Perez Force India 1 lap
9 Felipe Massa Williams 1 lap
10 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1 lap
11 Lance Stroll Williams 1 lap
12 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 1 lap
13 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso 1 lap
14 Romain Grosjean Haas 1 lap
15 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1 lap
16 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1 lap
Fernando Alonso McLaren
Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
Pascal Wehrlein Sauber
Nico Hulkenberg Renault
* Five-second penalty