A tense last US GP In Austin, Texas, saw a very popular win going to veteran Kimi Raikkonen in the Ferrari, making the Finn – at 39 years of age – the oldest winner of a Grand Prix since Nigel Mansell in Australia, 1994.
Raikkonen started the race on the front row after a thrilling qualifying session saw Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes take pole position from Sebastian Vettel and Raikkonen’s Ferraris by the merest of margins. Vettel, however, was pushed back three places for an infringement during qualifying.
At the start, Hamilton got away well but immediately Raikkonen was showing measured yet forceful aggression, and managed to take the lead. Further back a number of cars were involved in collisions, including Vettel who tangled with Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull and found himself among the backmarkers.
At the front, Raikkonen settled down in the lead and extended it to 2 seconds in the next few laps. Hamilton was on the radio early telling the team he was struggling, and in lap nine Ricciardo’s Red Bull pulls to the side of the track, the engine dead, instigating a virtual safety car period.
Pit Stop Gamble
Hamilton took the opportunity to pit for the soft tyre; Ferrari took a gamble at the point and left Raikkonen – on the ultra-soft – out on track. Once the VSC was withdrawn, Hamilton overtook team mate Valtteri Bottas in a controlled move, and set about chasing down Raikkonen.
His tyres wearing fast, Raikkonen reports that he will not be able to keep the fast-closing Hamilton behind, and the team call him in for new tyres on lap 21. In the next few laps Bottas, Max Verstappen in the Red Bull and Vettel would all pit. With the first pit stops over, at lap 30 Hamilton led Raikkonen by 16 seconds, with Verstappen, Bottas and Vettel next in the order.
The question now was whether Hamilton and Raikkonen would have to stop again – the answer was yes to one, and no to the other.
Tense Final Laps
Hamilton’s tyres visibly blistered as the race went on, with Raikkonen calmly reeling him in behind. On lap 37 Hamilton has to pit, taking on new tyres, and rejoins the race in 4th position. At lap 40, with 18 to go, Raikkonen was out front with a very fast Verstappen just 2.2 seconds down, Hamilton and Bottas next, and then Vettel.
There are two races going on here; one for victory in the USA, and the other for the world championship, which Hamilton can seal here if he scores 8 points more than Vettel. In the later stages of the race Bottas’s tyres were wearing very thin, allowing Vettel to close and eventually pass the Mercedes for 4th place – enough to keep the title race alive for at least one more race.
At the front, Raikkonen drove superbly and without error, having been told by the team that he would be caught in the final few laps. He was, but not by enough, as behind him Verstappen and Hamilton are having their own private battle. A wonderful example of top class racing follows where Hamilton and Verstappen went side by side through a series of corners, the Dutchman holding on to his second place.
Raikkonen’s win is a popular one with the fans as well as Ferrari, with Verstappens drive a stunning effort from 18th on the grid. Hamilton did all he could for third place, and Vettel keeps his very slim hopes alive.
Behind these, Bottas took a disappointed 5th place, Nico Hulkenberg drove another good race to 6th place in the Renault, and his team mate Carlos Sainz took 7th place. Esteban Ocon, in the Force India, finished 8th on the road but was subsequently disqualified from the results for breaching the fuel flow rules, while Haas’s Kevin Magnussen was similarly removed from 9th position for a different fuel-related irregularity. Thus, Sergio Perez took 8th for Force India, Brendon Hartley 9th in the Toro Rosso, and Marcus Ericsson the final point for Sauber.
The win gives Raikkonen the distinction of having the longest gap between first and last wins in World Championship Grands Prix, and also means he is the only driver to have won Grands Prix in cars powered by V10, V8 and V6 engines.