Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Brilliant blue skies and shocking Texas sunlight greeted the drivers at the start of the USGP. With the fierce economic battle between the midfield and sharp end laid aside for the moment, the drivers and their machines took center stage for what would prove to be a fascinating and epic struggle up and down the field, decided perhaps by the simple turn of a wrench on the first pit stop. Clean and vicious racing throughout the field defined the contest with a slow and epic grind for P1 and P2 occupying the late laps, before the Button train burst asunder under the pressure of Vettel on brand new tyres with less than 7 laps to go. If ever there were a race to clearly demonstrate that F1 need the midfield and backmarkers, this one was it. It’s unfortunate the top teams have worked themselves into a corner where they feel they can’t publicly admit it, but the fact is it was the midfielders who really made the race, with the action at the top being very limited. At the checkers, it was once again Lewis Hamilton atop the podium, taking sole possession of the record for wins by a British driver, much to the delight of the Sky team. Rosberg did not roll over and give up, but was unable to bridge the gap when it mattered most, though he gave Lewis a good run for his money taking P2 on his way. The yet again surprising Ricciardo gobbled up the final podium spot, taking advantage of his chassis and aggressive strategy to take the fight to Williams.
IT was the early safety car that once again spelled the end for Sutil as well as Perez, and set the stage for Vettel to run the tyres he wanted for most of the race. Despite his early unhappiness with pace, it was clear that by the time the car was light on fuel, he was able to dance gracefully through traffic. Perez meanwhile will have some serious questions to answer as in the same move he managed not only to hit Raikkonen, but Sutil twice (yes really) the second ending both their races and confirming the good doctors off track opinion of his character.
Ricciardo’s start was every bit as bad as one has come to expect , losing 4 places off the line and having to work hard to regain his momentum. Bottas was the other loser off the start, Massa taking advantage of his younger colleague and Alonso putting him under pressure early on, before the tremendous power advantage of the Williams manifested itself. A spate of speeding penalties under the early safety car nullified themselves and Rosberg maintained his advantage on the restart, though not fooling Hamilton in the slightest.
The usual advantage of the Mercs was not apparent, with Red Bull’s cheeky strategy forcing Mercedes to respond with pit stops, though the overall result did not seem in doubt. The interval between the pit stops proved pivotal at the front, though it was Hamilton’s call for two turns on the front wing that may have really made the difference as Nico did not make the adjustment for the harder tyres. Hamilton’s early understeer disappeared and he took it to his teammate from far, far back on lap 24, taking the inside and leaving absolutely no room for Nico to respond in kind. There was no quit in Rosberg however and he staged his own late rally, at one point taking a full second out of Hamilton’s lead, but it wasn’t enough as Lewis had pace in hand and responded accordingly.
Further down the field, Ricciardo took a chance to undercut the Williams and it paid off, with a pass in the pit lane as Williams chose to pit Bottas first and Danny covered him. Massa’s subsequent long stop was all he needed and leaning on the strong chassis, the Colgate Kid extended his advantage given clean air and though Massa made a late charge it was too little too late. But it was Button inadvertently making the race, as his rears went sideways on him he collected a Trulli-worthy train that went ballistic in the last laps, challenging even the fastest fingers to keep up.
With a brutal hill staring at them, one of the most iconic start lines confronted the drivers as the finished their parade lap and took their places on the grid. The pairing of Sutil and Maldonado promised early fireworks, but it was Perez who would prove to be pivotal for the early shape of the race. AS the lights dropped, it was Ricciardo who immediately drove backwards, with the team and driver engaging in a mutual blamefest for the poor off post race. Bottas, too, fell victim to his teammate and very nearly Alonso through the first turns as the chaos typical to the start echoed through the field.
Ricciardo wasted no time in reclaiming P6 from the sad 7th to which he had dropped and Perez took little urging in drawing out the Safety Car, with Sutil and Sauber taking cold comfort in having finished a few more corners than the year before in their quixotic chase of a single championship point before the end of the year. With their hopes dashed, as Gutierrez seemed to be on a split strategy of simply finishing the race without crashing, perhaps it was Monisha rethinking the boycott as it would likely have proved less expensive for them in the long run. With the investigation postponed to the conclusion of the race, it was nonetheless obvious that Sergio would bear the brunt of opprobrium for the incident, as his foolhardy move not only took it to Raikkonen but doubly to Sutil ending both their races prematurely.
Vettel took advantage of the SC to discharge his tyre obligations early on and when on lap 5, when the safety car came in, it was Rosberg backing up the field, but not fooling his teammate at all, who stuck to his rear wing as the track went green, staying well within DRS. Ricciardo took a spot back from Alonso and in a rare display, both Ferrari’s were running near each other. Grosjean and Vergne provided action further down the field in the final points paying positions.
By lap 7, DRS was back on Hamilton was good on fuel to the end and P8-10 were all lingering under a second, with the potentially explosive combination of Grosjean, Vergne and Maldonado all squabbling over the scraps being left behind by Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari. Gutierrez, Button and Maldonado were all being investigated for speeding under the Safety Car, and Vergne was added to the pile a few laps later.
Grosjean began to harry Vergne and lap 10 saw the completion of his move only to lose out as Vergne maintained his hard line and forced himself clear. Sky informed us of the interesting tidbit that the only difference allowed to the Mercs was tyre choice for the second stint, and the Silver Arrows extended their lead over the Williams to nearly 4 seconds. The next lap saw the announcement that Maldonado, Gutierrez and Vergne would all be penalised with a 5 second stop/go penalty, whilst Button would escape punishment.
Hamilton meanwhile had crept back up to 1 second of Rosberg, after having drifted off in the intervening laps . Rosberg radioed in his left front tyre was gone as the cars hit the extended pit window due to the safety car. Bottas locked up his fronts on lap 14, allowing Ricciardo back in to range, but with Massa coming in the following lap Red Bull rolled the dice and brought Danny in to cover. Emerging on the mediums to Massa’s soft, Ricciardo played the waiting game on Bottas, due in next lap as Hamilton began to drift rather far astern of Rosberg.
The next lap, 16, saw Rosberg in for fresh rubber as Red Bull’s strategy paid off with Ricciardo passing Bottas whilst Valterri was in the pits. Alonso, Grosjean and Raikkonen remained the only drivers yet to pit, as Lewis took his turn in pit lane, crucially taking extra time to add two turns to his front wing to combat the understeer that plagued his first stint, a move that eluded Rosberg. Williams 7 mph advantage (sorry, that’s the units they gave) on the straight proved fruitless, as dud Force India’s afternoon with Hulkenberg rolling helplessly back down the hill to an escape road on lap 18, bringing out the yellow and the crane with his engine failure.
Vettel’s early tyre change began to bite as Alonso sailed past and Gutierrez maintained for the moment his position ahead of Grosjean, important since Sutil was already out thanks to Perez’ early misadventures.
As Hamilton began to eat into the lead of Rosberg, Gutierrez momentarily lost concentration, allowing both Grosjean and Vergne past as the yellows cleared for the stricken Force India. Vettel took advantage of a momentary lull to catalogue the shortcomings if his car thus far as his erstwhile teammate further up the field was told to hold up Bottas at all costs for the end of the race. Alonso and Button stole the spotlight as Fernando took it to Jenson. For 3 straight turns they battled, with Alonso looking to have pulled off the move but at the last moment Button used the Merc PU to maximum advantage to hold his line and power past the Ferrari for the moment.
Kvyat ducked into the pits as the battle continued with Button retaining the advantage, and then Lewis surprised everyone, including Rosberg, by coming from easily a mile back to oubrake Nico on the inside, neatly taking the racing line to the edge of the circuit and mercilessly leaving no room whatsoever for his teammate. There was a massive battle between the Sky team and the crowd for biggest reaction, with the crowd neatly edging the Sky team, despite the latter’s broadcasting advantage.
The next lap saw Lewis a second clear as replays of the move demonstrated his utter mastery of the circuit, troubles of qualifying clearly a thing of the past. It looked to be advantage S1 Lewis, S2 Rosberg and S3 a tie.
Vettel came in lap 27 as Alonso passed Magnussen and Massa continued to run in a little bubble of time by himself in P3. Button was teased cruelly as he was told to pit and then told to stay out as a last minute decision to bring Magnussen in first wrong footed the man from Frome. He responded in kind quipping to his engineer if there was anyone else that needed to get in as he came in next lap. Vergne pitted on lap 30 as Grosjean took over 11th place. Bottas followed suit, emerging P5 as Vettel caught back up to Grosjean.
Ricciardo came in next to extend the pit stop dominoes for a set of mediums, and Massa responded on lap 33, but his stop went long and he emerged in Ricciardo’s slipstream which he would be unable to escape, despite his best efforts. Ricardo’s efforts continued to wreak havoc as Mercedes radioed Hamilton to pit and cover the field, cutting short the possibility of any argument about tyre deg from their leader on the track.
Rosberg came in the following lap, this time his stop taking longer, but he emerged well ahead of Ricciardo, who was managing to neatly keep Massa out of DRS range while hovering around 4.5 seconds behind the Merc duo. Vettel snuck past Grosjean as Rosberg was told it was all to play for at the end of the race.
Apparently taking a page out of Hamilton’s playbook. Rosberg responded by taking nearly a second off him on their 37th trip round. An alarmed Hamilton responded to his engineers call by evening the score next time lap but it was clear that Rosberg was ready to lay it all down trying to catch Lewis and their slow motion tug of war would occupy the next ten laps as Nico would edge closer and Lewis would claw back the tenths.
As their epic duel for the cognoscenti continued the rest of the race continued, first with Maldonado getting dinged for speeding in the pit lane. Gutierrez continued his efforts to demonstrate Ericcson’s skill by falling more than 80 seconds adrift of the leaders but sadly was distracted in his efforts by the spectacular failure of Vettel to pass Magnussen, at least momentarily. Taking advantage of this lull, Button lined up Grosjean for P11, forcing him wide through T1.
Having regrouped, Vettel took P8 off Magnussen , his car looking better and better as the fuel burned off. Alonso pitted the following lap, 44, emerging just behind Vettel on the softs. Trying to take advantage, he pressed Seb, but catastrophically locked up and ran wide, granting Vettel a moment’s respite as he fell back to harvest.
The track took a moment to display its finer aspect with the AstroTurf coming up on the exit of T19, highly reminiscent of Korea 2012. Rosberg continued to grind it out, edging below 2 seconds as Alonso used his re-energised ERS to take the fight successfully to Vettel. Grosjean began closing in on Button for P9 as the race entered its final phase.
With 8 laps to go, P9-14 was covered with less than 5 seconds, Kvyat slithered past Raikkonen and Vettel was called in for a last set of fresh tyres to do what damage he could. Hamilton had gradually cranked his lead back up to 2.5 seconds and meanwhile the Button train had “Trulli” coalesced as Jenson struggled to maintain position as the laps counter ticked down.
Massa cracked the 2 second barrier with Ricciardo as Grosjean glued himself to Button’s engine cover, the Lotus man desperate to whet his appetite for more championship points as he battled the McLaren wheel to wheel. Taking advantage of Grosjean’s halted momentum, Vergne banged forcefully past, with Maldonado taking advantage as well since Grosjean was forced wide in his attempt to defend.
Vergne’s antics did not go unnoticed and as he rolled on down the road an investigation was launched on the strength of Grosjean’s histrionics, his “what was that” cry over the radio having garnered the attention of race control.
Thoroughly complicating matters was the impending lapping of the entire bunch by Hamilton and Rosberg, the former still under serious pressure by the latter. Raikkonen was edging closer to Vettel, whilst Sebastian appeared to be biding his time in order to take best advantage of his relatively fresh tyres. Kvyat had run wide meanwhile, having caught a piece of debris from the Grosjean-Vergne tangle. Vergne continued his ruthless forward charge, relieving Button of the burden of 8th place, looking again for the magic 5 seconds should he be penalized.
Not helping to clear things up, Raikkonen pitted on lap 52 (yes, verified on FIA site) as Vettel went past past Grosjean who was now engaged in his own personal form of rallycross having been deprived of a goodly chunk of his front wing courtesy of his countryman. While Grosjean struggled Vettel lined up Button , the hapless McLaren man doing his best to keep himself in the points. A last desperate squeeze was not enough as Vettel retained his line and took the position off the inside the following corner and put himself into the points.
Unleashing all the fury of his asthmatic Renault, Vettel bore down on the competition with seconds a lap in hand. Meanwhile, Hamilton tiptoed past Grosjean and found himself the one place he never wanted to be, stuck between the Scylla of Maldonado ahead and the Charybdis of Rosberg behind. Choosing discretion in this instance, he kept a careful eye on the wing mirrors as his teammate found himself equally disconcerted at trying to negotiate this fierce battle for the final championship points, worth so much more than cold hard cash to the drivers engaged in the struggle.
Vettel carved his way forward, managing to finish P7, catching up and passing both Vergne and Magnussen in the final laps. Vergne and Maldonado raced to the bitter end with Vergne getting the better and Maldonado scoring his first points of the season despite his lingering 5 second penalty. But at the front it was all Lewis, taking the checkers and sole possession of the most wins by a British driver, as well as a commanding lead in the championship from Rosberg.
Ricciardo completed the podium with Massa and Bottas rounding out the top 5. Alonso finished an uncharacteristic 6th, but that really belies just how far the Ferrari was from the leaders. At this point Hamilton need only finish P2 to Rosberg in the final 2 races to claim the championship, but it bears repeating that much of this race was made by and in the midfield, and the absence of Marussia and Caterham had no discernible positive effect on the race, aside from pointing out Gutierrez’ utter lack of pace.
Congratulations to Mercedes, who are now assured of having the WDC as well as the WCC and hats off to Ricciardo who did well despite the handicap of his facial hair to take the final podium spot away from Williams.
|3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||1:45.086||25.5||2|
|7||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull||1:42.564||95.5||3|
|9||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso||1:47.316||103.5||2|
|11||Romain Grosjean||Lotus||1:47.244||1 lap||2|
|12||Jenson Button||McLaren||1:48.842||1 lap||2|
|13||Kimi Raikkonen||Ferrari||1:44.013||1 lap||2|
|14||Esteban Gutierrez||Sauber||1:45.671||1 lap||3|
|15||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||1:44.313||1 lap||1|
|R||Sergio Perez||Force India||RETIRED||1|
|R||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India||RETIRED||1|
World Drivers Championship:
World Constructors Championship: