AUSTIN – Lewis Hamilton has taken a huge step towards winning his second Formula 1 world championship by winning today’s United States Grand Prix ahead of Mercedes teammate and title rival Nico Rosberg.
The British driver started the race from second place, but managed to find his way past following the first round of pit stops to move into a lead that he would only lose for one lap when pitting.
As a result, Hamilton’s championship lead has now extended to 24 points over Rosberg at the top of the standings.
At the start, Rosberg made a clean getaway to lead into the first corner from Hamilton and the two Williams drivers of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa. Despite coming under pressure from a fast-starting Fernando Alonso, Massa managed to hold onto fourth position as Daniel Ricciardo sought to recover the positions he lost at the start.
However, for the third year in a row, there was an accident on the first lap at COTA as Adrian Sutil once again failed to complete a racing lap. Sergio Perez tried to pass the Sauber with an overzealous move, causing a crash that ended both of their races. A number of drivers took to the pits upon the deployment of the safety car to switch to a different tire strategy, but at the front, it was Rosberg who led from Hamilton for the restart.
In order to change-up his race strategy, Sebastian Vettel pitted twice in the first two laps after starting from the pit lane, leaving him on the prime tire so he could run deeper into the race. He did find himself having to fight his way past the backmarkers though, but his cause was aided when Esteban Gutierrez, Jean-Eric Vergne and Pastor Maldonado were all hit with stop/go penalties for speeding behind the safety car.
Rosberg and Hamilton renewed their usual fight at the front of the field on the restart, with the gap between them rarely exceeding one second during their opening salvo. However, the Briton did lock up his front tires twice, suggesting that the brake issues from qualifying may not have disappeared overnight.
Behind the Mercedes drivers, Felipe Massa found himself in a lonely third place ahead of Bottas and Ricciardo, but was the first of the front-runners to pit on lap 15. His example was soon followed by race leader Rosberg, who upon pitting enjoyed a lead of 2.4 seconds over Hamilton in second place. When the Briton did pit, he emerged in second place, handing the control of the race back to his title rival.
With most of the field taking to the pits, Sebastian Vettel was able to pick up a few positions and move onto the fringes of the top 10. In the sister Red Bull, Ricciardo managed to find a way past Bottas for P4, and duly set his sights on Massa in the final podium position.
Refusing to back down, Hamilton soon found himself on the pace again after switching to the medium compound tire, catching Rosberg at a rapid rate of knots. With his mirrors full of his teammate, Rosberg moved to defend his lead, but was powerless to stop his teammate from passing at the end of the back straight. Now leading, Hamilton put his foot down, laying down an almighty challenge for Rosberg as the race hit half distance.
Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso enjoyed a brilliant battle for seventh position as the latter tried to take advantage of his rival’s faded tires. The Spaniard soon found a way past, with Button then falling into Romain Grosjean’s clutches as the Frenchman gunned for Lotus’ best result of the season so far.
Alonso continued to press on, passing Kevin Magnussen in the other McLaren to move up to sixth place, where he trailed fifth-placed Bottas by some 25 seconds. The Finn’s lead was such that he could pit and come back out still ahead of Alonso, but was unable to pass Ricciardo for fourth through the stops. A slow stop from Felipe Massa allowed the Red Bull driver to move up into P3 behind the Mercedes drivers who were yet to stop.
Hamilton was the first to blink, diving in from the lead on lap 33. Rosberg was told to push to try to cut the gap before coming in just one lap later, but he could not find the time to hold onto the lead, allowing Hamilton to retake the mantle in P1.
Rosberg knew that he had to dig in and find some pace to stand any chance of winning the race, and cut one second out of his teammate’s lead with the fastest lap of the race. Hamilton was quick to respond, but with his teammate hot on his heels, the race was far from over.
Continuing his charge from the back, Sebastian Vettel found his way into the top 10, finding a way past McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen who was on a similar strategy. Just behind, Jenson Button moved up into 10th place after passing Romain Grosjean, with Lotus’ race taking a turn for the worse when Pastor Maldonado received a second stop/go penalty, this time for speeding in the pit lane.
With less than 10 laps to go, Rosberg began his final assault on Hamilton at the front of the field, cutting the gap to under two seconds. However, Hamilton was quick to respond, monitoring the gap to his teammate as Sebastian Vettel threatened to upstage them both by posting the fastest lap of the race following a late switch to the soft compound tire.
Ultimately though, no driver could truly outshine Lewis Hamilton in Austin. The Briton managed to keep his teammate at an arm’s length and dodge a spirited battle among the lapped cars to claim his fifth straight win, enjoying a margin of two seconds at the flag.
Yet again, Rosberg had failed to convert pole position into a race win, meaning that his losing streak now dates back almost four months to the German Grand Prix in July, some seven races ago.
Despite finishing third, Daniel Ricciardo was officially ruled out of contention for the drivers’ championship, as unlikely as a possible victory may have been before. Nevertheless, the result strengthened his stranglehold on P3 in the standings.
Felipe Massa managed to rally to finish fourth, falling just short of the final podium position. Nevertheless, it does match his second-best result of the year so far, with the Brazilian enjoying a margin of four seconds over his teammate Valtteri Bottas at the line.
Fernando Alonso ran well to finish sixth ahead of Sebastian Vettel, who enjoyed a late charge to make up seven positions in the last 10 laps after a very close battle with a number of cars. Kevin Magnussen kept his nose clean to finish eighth ahead of Jean-Eric Vergne, with the latter coming under investigation for a clash with Romain Grosjean. In 10th, Pastor Maldonado claimed his first points of the 2014 season for Lotus.
Ultimately, there was no stopping Hamilton. With five wins in a row, he has extend his championship lead to 24 points, and is quickly making Rosberg’s hopes of a maiden world title increasingly slim.
With this victory, Hamilton becomes the most successful British driver in the history of F1, moving clear of Nigel Mansell’s tally of 31 grand prix victories. On 32, the Briton has drawn level with Fernando Alonso despite making his F1 debut some six years after the Spaniard.
With a 24-point lead, Hamilton cannot win the championship next weekend in Brazil, but the task for Nico Rosberg is looking increasingly impossible as the Formula 1 season enters its final two races.