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United States GP Paddock Notebook – Sunday

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AUSTIN, Texas – What. A. Day.

If Saturday was a day to remember for all the wrong reasons, or seek to forget as quickly as possible, then Sunday, October 25, 2015, at Circuit of The Americas was a day that will live on in Formula 1 lore for days, months and/or years to come.

A World Champion has been crowned, as Lewis Hamilton has taken a dramatic, emotional victory in the United States Grand Prix to claim his third title – the tenth driver in history to reach that threshold.

Furthermore, Hamilton won it after one of the crazier, more exciting and entertaining Grands Prix in recent memory.

And it happened on a day when both qualifying and the race took place in the same day, adding to the intensity up and down the paddock all day today.

Here’s the roundup from the track:

SESSION REPORTS

PADDOCK NEWS AND FEATURES

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

Hamilton 2, Rosberg 0

When World Championships have been there for the taking, Lewis Hamilton has seized the opportunity ahead of his Mercedes AMG Petronas teammate Nico Rosberg. That sentence crystallizes matters and makes it simpler than it really is. But when it has come to crunch time, Hamilton has delivered while Rosberg has wilted. The moments are too many to count in the last two years, but Hamilton has a clear mental, psychological edge on his teammate… even if recently, Rosberg’s held the upper hand in qualifying. My MotorSportsTalk colleague Luke Smith will undoubtedly have more on Hamilton’s latest World Championship, and the magnitude of what it means.

Hamilton vs. Rosberg…

In a standard, not ridiculously crazy as all-get-out Grand Prix, Hamilton’s forceful pass of Rosberg into Turn 1 off the start might have stood as the sole pass for the lead. But four Safety Cars (two Actual, two Virtual), varying tire strategies and various weather conditions later, it wasn’t the form book-type Grand Prix as you’d come to expect. Rosberg, as you might expect, was pissed at how it all went down. Again, more on this to come in the coming days, too.

…and Rosberg vs. Rosberg

Still, despite all the changing elements of this race, it still shaped up as Rosberg’s to win, and he didn’t pull it off. Rosberg’s rare moment of wheel spin exiting Turn 15, on entry into Turn 16 – the first of the triple-apex right-hand sweeper around the COTA Observation Tower – removed a near-certain victory from his grasp after losing near-three second lead.

The subplot was too sweet to ignore. Here was Rosberg, son of 1982 World Champion Keke, losing his own latest shot at a championship in the same country where his dad won his only title. Thirty-three years later, it’s Rosberg’s teammate who has clinched the title on U.S. soil, the first driver to do so since.

Vettel’s proper post-race decorum

While Rosberg was miffed, Sebastian Vettel had also lost out on the World Championship, and he’d entered the race in second place in points. Yet his demeanor, body language and expression was so much better… even despite being mad at himself for not finishing higher than third.

Yes, it’s easier to be less outwardly pissed when you’ve overachieved expectations in your first year in a new team, and you’ve won four World Championships previously. Or when you haven’t been beaten – again – by your teammate.

But Vettel didn’t have to be as diplomatic, congratulatory or as jovial as he was in the post-race press conference, where he and Hamilton joked about how long they wanted to make their championship-clinching presser. Vettel made several efforts to properly note it was Hamilton’s day. The two were almost bonding as if to troll Rosberg – they have seven championships between them and there was Rosberg, sitting to Hamilton’s right, looking less than thrilled.

We can only hope for a proper Hamilton vs. Vettel World Championship duel next season, provided Ferrari continue to improve.

Mad Max the 18-year-old superstar-in-waiting

Max Verstappen is 18. He is also ridiculously good.

Having had the opportunity now to have seen him on site and in person for the first time, I was simply awed by his racecraft, his poise, and… this will seem strange to say for an 18-year-old, but his maturity. His post-race interview with NBC’s Will Buxton sounded of someone at least three or four years older, and considering how effortless he was in moving through the field while others made some daft, questionable moves, the sky is the limit.

Rossi’s dramatic, glorious, almost-points P12 day

You remember when we wrote in IndyCar that Conor Daly recorded the best 17th place finish in recent memory at Long Beach earlier this year? Probably not.

But was Alexander Rossi’s 12th place in Austin, in his Manor, the best 12th place finish in recent memory in F1? You betcha.

It was ohsoclose to an elusive and incredible point for the team, but it was a near-perfect reward for the hard work, dedication and incredible effort put in by the American on home soil ahead of his home Grand Prix. Credit not just to Rossi, but to the Manor team and all of Rossi’s own personal PR/media team for their efforts during this week.

A day for the midfielders

We haven’t touched on them much in the wake of the title, race and other drama that took place today, but great finishes for all of the runners from fifth through ninth: Sergio Perez, Carlos Sainz Jr., Jenson Button, Pastor Maldonado and Felipe Nasr. For Maldonado, eighth marks his third consecutive points-paying finish, a career first, and for Sainz, it was a nice bounce back after his crash in qualifying, just rewards for his Toro Rosso team.

A great day for the fans

I’ll touch on this more in a post-weekend column, but I was so impressed – and surprised – by the fan turnout today. Certainly more than I would have pegged to show up.

Lewis Hamilton is the undoubted driving star of the USGP weekend, 2015, but the fans are the overall stars.

The other contenders for “overall stars” awards: the corner marshals, the track workers, and the TV crews, who undoubtedly had hours to fill – or if you were a cameraman/woman, torrential conditions to deal with. All the unsung heroes must be the ones celebrated this weekend.

***

I’ll undoubtedly have more to come in the next day or two from COTA.  All told, what a day, what a weekend… and we’re thankful you were there to be a part of it on MotorSportsTalk on NBCSports.com.

Lewis Hamilton aims to match Michael Schumacher’s F1 win record

Lewis Hamilton Schumacher record
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SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton has set many Formula One marks over the years, but few are as significant as the Michael Schumacher record he can match Sunday at the Russian Grand Prix.

Victory for Hamilton at the Sochi Olympic Park would see him draw level with Schumacher at 91 career victories, more than any other driver in the 70-year history of F1.

It also would increase Hamilton’s commanding 55-point lead over teammate Valtteri Bottas in the championship standings, putting him closer to a seventh world championship, matching another Schumacher record.

YOU’RE INVITED: Bubba Wallace hopes to see Lewis Hamilton at Daytona

History is on the side of Hamilton, who won Sept. 13 at Mugello. He’s won four of the six Russian races so far, and all six were won by Mercedes drivers. His closest challenger is likely to be Bottas, who beat Hamilton in the 2017 edition of the Russian Grand Prix.

Elsewhere in the championship hunt, Red Bull driver Max Verstappen’s season has gone up in smoke since his Aug. 9 victory at Silverstone. An overheating engine forced the Dutch driver out of the Sept. 6 race at Monza and then a similar problem struck just before the start at Mugello. Verstappen was far slower off the line than the cars around him and was struck by Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo.

That leaves Verstappen 80 points off Hamilton in the standings and a 25-point deficit to Bottas.

If Hamilton does win to tie Schumachher at Sochi, more fans will see it in person than any other race in a 2020 season mostly run before empty grandstands because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Organizers say the race weekend is sold out but haven’t given final ticket sales figures.

Race promoter Alexei Titov previously told Russian state TV that the stands would be at 50 percent of their capacity, which equates to around 30,000 spectators.

That’s far more than the previous season high of 3,000 fans for the most recent race, the Tuscan Grand Prix at the Mugello circuit.

Unlike at the last two races in Italy, there will be a full entertainment program on offer for fans with concerts featuring some of Russia’s most popular musicians.

Russian organizers say they’re taking precautions to keep fans safe and will have medical staff posted at checkpoints around the venue, and that spectators will have their temperature measured on entry.