RACE RE­PORTS

Hamilton’s charge to vic­tory in Austin was a joy to behold and left him nine points from a fourth ti­tle

F1 Racing (UK) - - CONTENTS -

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.

QUAL­I­FY­ING

“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.

RACE

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

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