It had to happen at some point: Tristan Vautier’s excellent start to his IndyCar career hit a few speed bumps during the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
In a first, Vautier failed to advance from Q1 (and for that matter, into the Firestone Fast Six) for the first time in two races with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. To make matters worse, the team changed engines and thus what was already going to be a struggle from 19th on the grid became 27th and last, thanks to IndyCar’s 10-spot grid penalty rule enforced for unapproved engine changes.
Vautier, ambitious at the start, made contact with Scott Dixon going into Turn 6. That earned him a penalty for avoidable contact.
But Vautier moved forward, both with a great car on restarts and a good strategy to climb into the top-five later in the race. He was on pace for what could have been his best result before the last pit stop sequence, when he was released into Will Power’s path as the Australian entered his pits on lap 51.
That, although not Vautier’s fault, earned the French rookie his second penalty of the day. He eventually ended behind Power in 17th.
“We had an amazing car today, so thanks to the team for that. I made a mistake at the beginning of the race with Scott Dixon, and I’m sorry about that to him and his crew,” said Vautier. “I got pretty familiar with pit lane after serving my drive thru penalty for the incident, but we got back out on the track and my pace was amazing.
“We really made the most of the restarts. I think we gained five positions on each of them. It felt great to run up in podium position for awhile. Unfortunately in the pits I got sent out and made contact with Will Power’s car. We had some communication issues as a team, but we’re all learning to work together and things happen.”
Sunday’s United States Grand Prix could go down as a memorable race in Formula 1 history as both Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes bid to clinch their fourth world championships (live on NBC and NBC Sports app from 2pm ET).
Hamilton gave his chances of wrapping up the drivers’ title and re-claiming the crown he lost to Nico Rosberg in 2016 a world of good by charging to pole position on Saturday at the Circuit of The Americas.
However, with chief rival Sebastian Vettel starting second for Ferrari and a 16-point swing required, it seems likely that the title race could continue to next weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix.
Nevertheless, here are the permutations for Lewis Hamilton to win his fourth F1 world title on Sunday in Austin, Texas.
- If Lewis Hamilton wins the race (25 points) and Sebastian Vettel finishes sixth or lower (maximum eight points), he is world champion.
- If Hamilton finishes second (18 points), Sebastian Vettel finishes ninth or lower (maximum two points), and Valtteri Bottas does not win the race, he is world champion.
While Hamilton’s coronation seems likely to be postponed until the next race in Mexico, Mercedes looks nailed-on to wrap up its fourth consecutive constructors’ championship in Sunday’s USGP.
The German marque currently leads Ferrari by 145 points in the teams’ standings, and requires a lead of 129 after the race to clinch the crown.
As a result, a double top-four finish from Hamilton and Bottas would be enough for Mercedes to wrap up the title, regardless of how Ferrari fares.
The success would see Mercedes become just the fourth team in F1 history take four straight constructors’ titles, following Red Bull (2010 to 2013), Ferrari (1999 to 2004) and McLaren (1988 to 1991).
The United States Grand Prix is live on NBC and the NBC Sports app from 2pm ET on Sunday.