On Friday and Saturday race fans would have been cursing the biblical levels of rain that fell over Texas’ Circuit of the Americas. It completely obliterated any opportunity of running in all but one of the practice sessions and forced a postponement of qualifying to Sunday morning.
However, as the weather cleared in time for Sunday’s race it was the changeable conditions that were the catalyst for a frenzied US grand prix. As the start of the race drew closer the rain had ceased its incessant pounding but with the track still mostly wet conditions called for a start on the intermediate tyres for the entire grid.
Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg snatched pole from teammate Lewis Hamilton in a shortened qualifying session while Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat locked out the second row of the grid. Along with Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, who incurred a five place penalty for changing a gearbox, both Ferrari drivers were demoted ten places on the grid for fitting a sixth, upgraded, engine. Sebastian Vettel started in thirteenth while Kimi Raikkonen lined up in eighteenth place.
The start of the race followed a familiar pattern between the two Mercedes drivers. Hamilton took the inside line into turn one and forced Rosberg wide and onto the run-off as the pair bumped wheels. The move, which Rosberg later called “a step too far” dropped the German down to fifth. As Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat hounded the back of Hamilton’s Mercedes for the lead of the race the sister Red Bull was in close attendance in third. But a clash between Sauber teammates Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson left enough debris at turn one for race control to call on the virtual safety car.
As the race restarted the superior performance of the Red Bull on the wearing intermediate tyres was enough for both its drivers to overtake Nico Rosberg. As the circuit dried it was evident that Daniel Ricciardo was able to look after his intermediate tyre slightly better than Hamilton and he took the lead of the race on lap fifteen.
By lap eighteen the circuit had dried enough to change onto slicks. As conditions changed so too the challenge of the Red Bull’s diminished in the dry conditions. With superior pace Nico Rosberg retook the lead of the race and proceeded to build a stunning ten second gap over Hamilton. This was the Nico Rosberg performance we had been waiting to see all season. By this point, it was a strong, determined drive that would delay Hamilton’s winning of the world championship.
On lap twenty-eight the Sauber of Marcus Ericsson grinds to a halt at turn eleven and requires the deployment of the safety car to recover the car. Rosberg’s nearly eleven second lead over Hamilton is completely eradicated. Sebastian Vettel, who has fought his way into fifth, takes the opportunity to fit a set of mediums to see him through to the end of the race. The Ferrari driver makes short work of Kvyat and Ricciardo and moves himself into third place.
It wasn’t long before the virtual safety car was called on again this time to clear the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg. The German driver tried an ambitious move up the inside of Daniel Ricciardo for fourth place but came off second best with fatal damage to his car. It prompted Rosberg to pit as Hamilton took the lead of the race.
By lap forty-two Hamilton had a six second gap over Rosberg and as Red Bull driver Daniil Kvyat clouted the barrier at the final turn, bringing out the safety car, the Brit dived into the pitlane for a new set of tyres. It dropped Hamilton behind Rosberg and it seemed as if he would have to wait at least one more week to secure the title.
However, in a bizarre twist Rosberg ran off the circuit at turn sixteen and gifted the lead of the race to Hamilton. Rosberg just held on for second in the closing stages ahead of Vettel. This ensured that as Hamilton crossed the line he was a three-time world champion.
Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen finished a stunning fourth ahead of Force India’s Sergio Perez in fifth. Jenson Button brought his McLaren home in sixth whilst Carlos Sainz finished seventh in his Toro Rosso. Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado , Sauber Felipe Nasr and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo rounded out the top ten.
Eight cars failed to make it to the chequered flag including Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen who retired with overheating brakes after sliding off the track earlier and colliding with a barrier. For Williams too it was a weekend to forget with a double retirement. Manor Marussia driver Alex Rossi can hold his head high after matching the team’s best result with a twelfth place finish.
In an incredible season Lewis Hamilton has become only the tenth triple world champion in the history of the sport. Yes, Mercedes has provided him with an astonishing car to drive but the knowledge that Hamilton is a racer of the highest calibre has been there since his first lap at the 2007 Australian grand prix. Now, Lewis Hamilton is no longer just on the cusp of greatness.
(All images of Lewis Hamilton courtesy of @MercedesAMGF1)