Kimi Raikkonen’s down to his last few races with the Ferrari Formula One team before heading to Sauber, but he reminded everyone not to count him out just yet on Sunday. In an unpredictable, edge-of-your-seat type of U.S. Grand Prix, Raikkonen won his first F1 race since 2013 while Lewis Hamilton’s fifth-career title got put off for at least another week.
Hamilton, who has been untouchable at Austin, Texas’ Circuit of The Americas for five out of the seven years F1 has raced there, faltered in the last few laps. Red Bull driver Max Verstappen rallied from the back of the field to a runner-up finish, while his teammate was out right after the race began with a failure.
From different pit strategies, to the top three running within two seconds of each other as they clicked off the final laps, to the suspense of how the math would play out in Hamilton’s hopes of clinching his title three races early, the U.S. Grand Prix was a pleasant surprise in a racing series that tends to lean on the predictable side—even as the cars rounded the final turns on the last lap, that thing wasn’t over until it was over.
And that’s exactly how racing should be.
The lead up to the U.S. Grand Prix was simple, and it seemed like the race itself would be just as simple: Hamilton only needed to score eight more points than runner-up Vettel to clinch the title, and Circuit of The Americas is his personal playground. Most would’ve predicted a casual Sunday drive to a championship for Hamilton with his pole starting position, but it was far from that.
Raikkonen showed just how far from the very start on Sunday, diving to the inside of Hamilton from the second starting position after Vettel received a grid penalty. The field packed into the first turn as it usually does, with Raikkonen coming out ahead and pole-sitter Hamilton in second.
Raikkonen took off, holding strong over Hamilton and his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas while Verstappen climbed up from 15th into fourth within the first 10 laps. While Verstappen diced through the field, his teammate Daniel Ricciardo made contact with Vettel, who spun and dropped to 15th. Ricciardo soon pulled off with what Red Bull called a “suspected battery issue” on Twitter.
Ricciardo sulked off of the track in one of the cowboy-patterned fire suits Red Bull brought out for the weekend, looking like a music video for a sad country song about a long-lost lover who happened to last be seen at a race track.
The field shuffled around not long after when a virtual safety car came out and Hamilton took a pit stop. He fell to third behind Raikkonen and Bottas but ahead of Verstappen, getting on a different pit strategy than the other top contenders.
With fresher tires and a championship to win, Mercedes radioed to Bottas after the race went back to green: “Lewis is three seconds behind, so don’t hold him up.” Bottas pulled over for team orders soon after, letting Hamilton take second and get one place closer to Raikkonen while Vettel climbed back up to fifth.
Hamilton cut huge chunks into Raikkonen’s lead after taking second, pulling up within a second around lap 19 and stalking his red Ferrari while Verstappen held off the person standing between Hamilton and his title—Vettel—for fourth.
Raikkonen aggressively held off Hamilton for several laps after he caught the Ferrari, finally giving up the lead to pit around lap 22. The field shook out after pit stops, with Hamilton 17 seconds ahead of Raikkonen in second. Verstappen and Bottas followed, with Vettel in fifth.
Pit stops cycled through once again closer to the end of the race, and that’s when things got really good—just like the top three were glued together, it was hard not to be glued to the race.
Raikkonen led the field from around lap 38 and stayed there. With 10 laps to go, he had a 1.9-second lead over Verstappen. Hamilton was 2.4 seconds back from Verstappen, while Bottas and Vettel battled for fourth.
The magic numbers were in play from that point on: In order to win his fifth-career title, Hamilton needed to finish second and he needed Vettel to stay in fifth. Neither of those things happened.
Verstappen closed in on Raikkonen. Hamilton closed in on Verstappen. By lap 50 of 56, all three were within about two seconds of each other, snaking through the turns like a string of connected train cars. It took Hamilton until lap 53 to catch Verstappen, stalking him through the corners until the time came for him to make the move. Hamilton went for it, several times, and it even looked like he closed the door at one point—but Verstappen defended hard and Hamilton ran wide into the off-line debris, forcing him into the red-white-and-blue runoff area.
All of the real-time math and predicting the possibilities went out the window at that point, because it was obvious this title fight would go to the Mexican Grand Prix next weekend.
Hamilton rejoined the field, still in third, and almost like a magic mirror, the nearly identical Mercedes car of Bottas ran off while battling Vettel. That gave Vettel the fourth position, and he stayed there.
Raikkonen crossed the line first, with Verstappen, Hamilton, Vettel and Bottas following. He got out of the race car after his first win since 2013 for a television interview, and one of the first questions was about his winless streak—his fans were surely happy, the interviewer said, but not quite as happy as he could be.
“Who knows,” Raikkonen said, in typical Raikkonen fashion. “Maybe happier.”
But he must be pumped up, the interviewer said.
“Obviously, I’m much happier than finishing second,” Raikkonen said.
Meanwhile, Hamilton, who finished third, took questions about not clinching the 2018 championship title in the post-race press conference—the title that will stay undecided at least until next week in Mexico.
“For me, it doesn’t matter when you win the championship as long as you get it done,” Hamilton said.
Correction, Monday, Oct. 22, 2018 at 2:42 p.m. ET: This story originally said Raikkonen started third. He qualified third, but moved up when Vettel got a grid penalty. We regret the error.