Hamilton’s charge to victory in Austin was a joy to behold and left him nine points from a fourth title
US and Mexican GP debriefs
The dazzling pre-race buildup to the 2017 US GP revealed much about how Formula 1’s new owners intend to develop the sport into a global racing spectacle. But the race itself, though entertaining, told the same old story: Mercedes domination; Ferrari capitulation.
“It felt for a moment like I was dancing with the wind,” said Lewis Hamilton, as he described the intensely intimate sensation of taking his Mercedes W08 downhill from the Turn 1 peak of the Circuit of The Americas through those thrillingly fast sweepers from Turns 2 to 9. Then he caught himself, momentarily embarrassed at how easily he’d reached for lyricism in trying to explain quite how it is that he and his car have attained a peak of performance beyond the reach of any rival. A coy smile and a nervous laugh: this was the kid from Stevenage still unable to reconcile his most unlikely upbringing with his ever-growing status as a global sporting icon.
“The tyres,” he continued, “they feel like living tissue. That’s why we have to treat them so carefully to bring out their performance and maintain it.”
There was no artifice to Hamilton’s declaration of how it had felt to set his 72nd career pole position; this was sportsman-as-artist, expressing himself in as pure a manner as he knew, in a moment of joyous exhilaration. Just as there is a beautiful fluency to a Hamilton pole lap, so, too, is he effortlessly articulate when describing what he experiences while driving… so long as he is happy.
And here is the key to understanding why it is that Lewis Hamilton currently appears to be so untouchable; why he has taken this championship by the throat since the summer break and almost strangled the life out of it; why records set by legends such as Senna and Schumacher all suddenly seem easily within his grasp.
Certainly, no one else was going to get a look-in this Austin weekend if Lewis had anything to do with it. He set a new outright lap record during Q2 of 1m 33:560s, then laid down what would be pole time with his first flier in Q3 – a 1m 33:108s on Pirelli ultrasofts. P1 was his, and a platform secured for what could be a title-clinching race – if he were to win, with Vettel no higher than sixth.
Is Formula 1 witnessing another ‘Schumacher’ moment? That’s how the sport is starting to feel as the Lewis Hamilton juggernaut rumbles on. Records are tumbling; goals that previously seemed unattainable are suddenly within his reach.
Win number 62 for Hamilton in Austin, his ninth this season from his 72nd pole, all but sealed the 2017 drivers’ championship with three races to go. He now leads Sebastian Vettel, his neck-andneck rival for the first two-thirds of the year, by 66 points with a maximum of 75 still available. Something truly freakish would have to happen for Hamilton not to secure his fourth world title before season’s end. And deservedly so, for he and his Mercedes team – crowned constructors’ champions for a fourth consecutive season in Austin – have looked an exceptionally strong Ferrari challenge in the eye this year, stared it down, and forced it into submission.
While Hamilton charges imperiously to further glory, Vettel and Ferrari have crumbled, bit by bit, since the summer break. In Austin it was Ferrari who had to make an overnight chassis change from Friday to Saturday, and whose strategy calls on Sunday were questionable. And this was all against a murmuring backdrop of looming management changes, as rumours had it that team principal Maurizio Arrivabene would be replaced by technical chief Mattia Binotto for 2018.
Over at Mercedes, by contrast, there has been nothing but diligent deconstruction of their once temperamental W08, honing it to a peak of excellence that’s allowing Hamilton always to dance with its music. Not that Ferrari are a spent force, and not that Vettel is anything but a gallant combatant: his bold start from P2 at COTA showed
“AT MERCEDES THERE’S NOTHING BUT DILIGENT DECONSTRUCTION OF THEIR ONCE TEMPERAMENTAL W08, HONING IT TO A PEAK OF EXCELLENCE THAT’S ALLOWING HAMILTON ALWAYS TO DANCE WITH ITS MUSIC
pure racing spirit – and millimetre-perfect skill – that allowed him to pass Hamilton into the first corner and lead for six laps before succumbing to the inevitable Hamilton DRS pass at T11.
That was it as far as the win was concerned, though the supremely fit-for-purpose layout of the Circuit of The Americas helped ensure there was spice aplenty to entertain a throbbing raceday crowd. True, this one didn’t live up to the fever-pitch levels of anticipation built by compère extraordinaire, Michael ‘Let’s Get Ready to Rumble’ Buffer, but there was no shortage of action.
Both Red Bulls could be thanked in part for that, at opposite ends of the race – although what looked like one of the passes of the year by Max Verstappen on Kimi Räikkönen at the penultimate corner, for the final podium place, incurred a five-second penalty as Verstappen was deemed to have exceeded the track limits.
Carlos Sainz, making his Renault debut, put in another star performance. The six points he collected with his seventh-place finish, on a day when his perennially unlucky team-mate Nico Hülkenberg retired early with low oil pressure, helped to lift Renault up to seventh in the constructors’ standings.
But this was Hamilton and Mercedes’ day. Even a dauntless Vettel, eased through to an eventual P2 by his compliant team-mate, had to admit: “We simply didn’t have the pace.”
Clockwise from above: Vettel takes the lead at the start and holds it for six laps; Verstappen cuts through to P3 but is penalised for his pass on Räikkönen; Lewis edges closer to a fourth title