If there’s any race weekend where Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton had really had to earn a win, it was this year’s United States Grand Prix. Everything came down to an insane last-lap battle between his teammate Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel, who clawed his way up to a podium finish.
If you missed today’s race because you expected Hamilton to get this championship anyway, stop reading this right now and go watch it.
This was a race weekend that didn’t want to happen. Torrential rains, insane winds and generally unsafe conditions cancelled several run sessions throughout the weekend, and even shut down the track to spectators for half of Saturday.
When qualifying finally happened this morning, Hamilton and Rosberg locked out the front row for Mercedes for the start. What happened afterwards was perhaps the least predictable race of all time. We may not have gotten a rain race, but mixed, drying conditions made this a battle for the ages.
Hamilton pushed over Rosberg in the first turn, claiming the lead from his pole-sitting teammate. Shortly afterwards, though, it was Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo who got out in front with a ridiculous move on the inside of Turn 18, which is at the end of a long right-hander complex and feeds into the fast left-handed Turn 19. That’s right — this was a Red Bull car, from the team that’s rumored to be rage-quitting next year over poor performance out of their Renault power units.
It was beautiful, because under normal, dry conditions, that Red Bull car should not be there. Red Bull qualified well this time — filling out the second row on the grid under nasty conditions — and they’re probably patting themselves on the back for not taking Renault’s latest, greatest power unit this weekend. They didn’t need the extra power after all.
We got an amazing four-car Red Bull/Mercedes battle up front, the likes of which would have been unthinkable at the beginning of the season. Rosberg jumped ahead of the two Red Bulls after a yellow flag period to recapture the lead. Hamilton was then duking it out with young Red Bull pilot Daniil Kvyat, for Pete’s sake. Where has this been all season long?
Meanwhile, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was being his usual beast self, working through traffic like a madman up from a dismal thirteenth place start. Vettel’s teammate Kimi Räikkönen retired early after hitting a wall, but Vettel was keeping the Tifosis’ dream alive. Vettel was on a tear through the field, quickly working towards the front-runners.
Up front, positions swapped so many times that recounting them all here would be a time-consuming exercise in insanity. The number of lead changes and position swaps was more akin to a NASCAR race than Formula One as of late. That, of course, was fantastic!
Vettel eventually worked his way up to second place after Ricciardo collided with Force India’s Nico Hülkenberg.
Tragedy struck one of the Bulls when Kvyat hit a slippery, waterlogged strip of astroturf outside of turn 19, sending him into the metal armco between turns 19 and 20. Fortunately, Kvyat was okay, but this gave Hamilton one crucial break: he could pit for soft tires for one last run to the end under the yellow flag. Vettel came in right after him for softs as well. Both were prepared for one last mad dash.
When the race went green, Rosberg led Hamilton, who led Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen, who was in front of Vettel. Vettel made short work of going around Verstappen, and Rosberg went wide again at the turn 16-17-18 complex, letting Hamilton whiz back through for the lead. Rosberg wanted that lead from Hamilton, but a more pressing concern was the Ferrari on his rear end.
Vettel made a last-ditch effort at getting around Rosberg on the pit straight, but couldn’t pull it off in time. Hamilton won his third grand prix at Circuit of the Americas and became only the tenth driver in history to win three world drivers’ championships. Rosberg finished second, giving Mercedes a 1-2, and Vettel ultimately made up his ten-place grid penalty to finish where he qualified on time: third.
Attrition was high, but so was the action. This race was awesome, and proved that F1 isn’t dead yet. Too many races of 2015 have been almost formulaic: Mercedes gets on pole, Mercedes wins, and few cars can ever catch them. There haven’t been many crazy fights in the front of the field this year.
Today at Circuit of the Americas, there were signs of life from teams long written off as also-rans for the year. Both Red Bulls ran near the front for a good, long time during the race. McLaren’s Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso were running as high as P5 and P6 at one point near the end of the race, and Button brought home a seventh-place finish for the struggling McLaren team. The youngest driver in F1, Max Verstappen, came home in fourth. He’s been hyped all season long, but that’s an insanely good result from a driver on Red Bull’s junior squad. Mixed conditions are a great equalizer, but it’s still good to see these guys battling for points.
Because Vettel couldn’t pass the two Mercedes at the end, this means that Lewis Hamilton now has the third most number of wins in Formula One.
If winning the world drivers’ championship for the second year in a row doesn’t prove that he’s one of the great drivers of our time, that win count certainly does. Alain Prost, your spot’s up next. Between Hamilton and Vettel, one of them will certainly bump the current number two on wins down a bit.
Most of all, as a local, I feel proud that this championship was decided at my home race. It’s neat to see a world championship decided in a venue you know rather well, on a weekend you’ve attended. While I’m always for a good show with a knock-down, drag-out fight to the bitter end, I can’t complain too much with how this race turned out. Sebastian Vettel didn’t postpone the championship decision this time, but everyone at one of my home tracks got to witness history in the making. That’s special.
Congratulations, Lewis Hamilton. Go forth and celebrate. As always, I recommend the queso.
Photo credit: Getty Images
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