Lewis Hamilton’s love affair with America continued on Sunday as he won his fourth grand prix at the Circuit of the Americas while Nico Rosberg claimed the P2 he needed towards his title challenge.
Tyre strategies played their part in the race as Hamilton took the lead on his soft tyres while Daniel Ricciardo used his supersofts – the experts reckon worth a car length off the line – to get the jump on Rosberg.
The leading six drivers, all vying for a place on the podium, opted for a mix of strategies with Hamilton swapping soft for soft, Ricciardo supersofts for softs, Rosberg taking on a set of mediums, Max Verstappen softs and Kimi Raikkonen, who had started on the supersofts, putting on a set of softs. His team-mate Sebatian Vettel, who ran a long 15-lap stint on his supersoft to start with, also put on the soft tyres.
As the first round of stops played out Hamilton was four seconds ahead of Ricciardo, who in turn was two ahead of Rosberg. Verstappen overtook Raikkonen into Turn 12 – “that’s how we do it” he enthused – and Vettel was 16s off the pace.
Hamilton set about pulling away from Ricciardo, building up a lead of over nine seconds while the Aussie initially pulled away from Rosberg only to be caught by the German. In contrast Verstappen initially caught Rosberg only to drop four seconds behind him. Vettel caught Raikkonen but didn’t need to make a pass as the Finn was the first of the leading six to pit.
Softs to supers meant Raikkonen would have to pit again, Ricciardo went with the mediums ending his cycle while Verstappen came into the pits without Red Bull being ready. “I thought you boxed me, sorry,” said the Dutchman.
Minutes later Verstappen’s race was over. “I have an engine failure or something,” he reported as he slowly crawled around the circuit. “Something is hitting the engine, the faster I drive the hard it hits,” he added before parking his RB12.
Six became five in the race for the podium while the Virtual Safety Car was brought out to give the marshals time to clear his car. Both Hamilton and Rosberg pitted under the VSC, soft to medium and medium to mediums, which meant they came out 1-2 with the British racer 13s ahead of his team-mate. Ricciardo fell to third, 2s further back.
Raikkonen and Vettel was fourth and fifth but a third stop for the Finn saw the team-mates swap positions only for Raikkonen to add his name to the list of retirements when he left the pits with “a [wheel]gun still attached” and had to stop his car.
Hamilton raced to the victory, his fourth at the Circuit of the Americas and his first win since July’s German Grand Prix, by 4.5 seconds ahead of Rosberg. The victory meant Hamilton closed the gap in the standings to 26 points. Ricciardo joined the team-mates on the podium while Vettel was fourth with a late pitstop.
Fernando Alons benefitted from the VSC and finished P5, his best result of the season, ahead of Carlos Sainz, who he passed on the final lap, and Felipe Massa, who he made contact with as he overtook him. Sergio Perez was eight aghead of Jenson Button while Romain Grosjean scored the final point for Haas at their home race.
Nico Hulkenberg and Valtteri Bottas made contract at the start with the Force India driver limping into the pits where he retired while Bottas pitted for a puncture.
There was more drama for Force India as Sergio Perez was pitched into a spin by Daniil Kvyat with both emerging unscathed. “What an idiot” was Perez’s verdict with Kvyat handed a 10-second time penalty for the incident.
Esteban Gutierrez was the second driver to retire as he appeared to have a brake issue that was causing notable vibrations.
1 Hamilton Mercedes 1:38.12.618
2 Rosberg Mercedes 4.5
3 Ricciardo Red Bull 19.6
4 Vettel Ferrari 43.1
5 Alonso McLaren 93.9
6 Sainz Toro Rosso 96.1
7 Massa Williams 1 lap
8 Perez Force India 1 lap
9 Button McLaren 1 lap
10 Grosjean Haas 1 lap
11 Magnussen Renault 1 lap
12 Kvyat Toro Rosso 1 lap
13 Palmer Renault 1 lap
14 Ericsson Sauber 1 lap
15 Nasr Sauber 1 lap
16 Bottas Williams 1 lap
17 Wehrlein Manor 1 lap
18 Ocon Manor 2 laps
Did not finish
Verstappen Red Bull
Hulkenberg Force Indi