Lewis Hamilton takes sixth USGP win to stand on brink of F1 title (VIDEO)

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Lewis Hamilton fought back from a sluggish start to claim his sixth United States Grand Prix victory on Sunday at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, putting himself on the brink of a fourth Formula 1 world title win.

Hamilton entered the race weekend requiring a 16-point swing over Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel to clinch the drivers’ crown in Austin, the site of his most recent success back in 2015.

While he was unable to finish the job on Sunday as Vettel finished second, Hamilton’s ninth win of the season makes a title win likely next weekend in Mexico City, with his points lead growing to 66 ahead of the final three races.

A slick getaway from P2 on the grid saw Vettel dive up the inside of pole-sitter Hamilton on the steep run up to Turn 1 at COTA, forcing his title rival out wide and cutting him off to seize the lead of the race.

Daniel Ricciardo attempted to follow Vettel’s lead by also passing a Mercedes in the shape of Valtteri Bottas for P3, attempting dive-bomb moves on consecutive laps, only for some astute defense from the Finn to force the Red Bull racer to settle down in fourth after a tight wheel-to-wheel battle.

Hamilton was able to stay in sight of Vettel at the front through the opening laps before closing up with some help from DRS. After a series of quick sectors, Hamilton was able to tuck in behind Vettel and make a pass on the back straight on Lap 6, taking to the inside and defending well to seize the lead from his championship rival.

Further back, Max Verstappen had been quietly picking his way through the order after starting 16th due to a grid penalty for engine changes on Saturday. The Dutchman was predicted by Red Bull to take P6 at the checkered flag, but was able to run that high after just 11 laps at COTA, completing his rise past the midfield runners with a slick pass on Esteban Ocon.

Verstappen gained another position when Red Bull teammate Ricciardo pitted early, taking on a set of super-softs and pumping in a series of quick times to try and get the undercut on the front-runners. However, the Australian’s hopes were dashed on Lap 16 when he suffered a loss of engine power, forcing him to park up at the side of the track and retire from the race.

Despite there being no safety car, Ferrari opted to bring Vettel in just moments later, fitting the German with a set of soft tires that would take him to the end of the race. Like Ricciardo, Vettel pushed hard to try and get the undercut on Hamilton at the front and claw back some of the four-second deficit as Mercedes kept its title hopeful out for an extended stint.

The strategy worked wonders for Ferrari to bring Vettel back into contention, with Hamilton’s lead being cut to less than a car length when he emerged from the pits after stopping at the end of Lap 19. Hamilton was able to quickly pull clear again, but asked Mercedes why they had allowed Vettel to get so close. Vettel, meanwhile, vented his frustration after running wide at the final corner, potentially costing him the net lead.

Vettel had a sniff of challenging for the lead again five laps later as Hamilton tried to pass Verstappen, who had risen to the front thanks to his long first stint on the super-soft tire. Despite the Red Bull driver’s best efforts to keep Hamilton back, the Briton was able to make a clean pass through the final sector, regaining the lead once again.

Verstappen pitted soon after losing the lead from Hamilton, moving onto a set of soft tires as he emerged back out in fifth place with 30 laps to try and catch Raikkonen some nine seconds up the road.

The race to top the midfield at COTA took a twist at half-distance when Fernando Alonso was forced into a frustrating retirement after an engine issue. The McLaren driver had been poised to end a points drought dating back to Hungary, and made no secret of his annoyance over team radio.

As Hamilton continued to dominate up front and pull out a healthy lead over Vettel, Ferrari was started to get nervous as its title contender started losing time to Bottas and teammate Kimi Raikkonen behind, with the pair catching and closing to within a couple of seconds. Vettel asked Ferrari to think about “plan B”, but the team kept him out as he pulled out a gap over the battling Finns again.

Verstappen continued to put pressure on the trio by catching rapidly, with Red Bull then taking the bold call to bring the Dutchman in for a second stop at the end of Lap 37, trying to force the cars ahead into pitting again.

Ferrari did not wish to take any risks, pitting Vettel just one lap later, yet Verstappen was able to close right up on the German with a rapid out lap, leaving less than a second separating them on-track. Vettel was able to open up a gap once again, with both setting their sights on the leading trio, all of whom opted to stay out.

Both were gaining time on Bottas and Raikkonen as they scrapped for position, with the latter sliding up into second with a tidy move at the end of the back straight on Lap 42, splitting the Mercedes drivers at the front.

Vettel and Verstappen continued to make inroads on the Finns in second and third, but neither had any hope of catching Hamilton at the front, who crossed the line after 56 laps to secure his sixth United States Grand Prix win, five of which have come at COTA.

The victory also confirmed Mercedes as F1 constructors’ champions for the fourth consecutive year, with the German marque moving into an unassailable lead in the teams’ standings with three races to go.

Vettel was able to fight his way back up to P2, passing Bottas with a classy move around the outside of Turn 1 before then easing past teammate Raikkonen, ensuring the title fight will continue to the next race in Mexico.

Verstappen completed the podium for Red Bull after passing both Bottas and Raikkonen late on, with his final move for P3 coming on the final lap after riding across the kerb in the final sector. As bold as the move was, the stewards quickly handed the Dutchman a five-second time penalty, stripping him of the podium and leaving him fourth behind Raikkonen.

Verstappen was therefore classified ahead of Bottas in fifth, the latter making a late stop due to fears about his tire life. Nevertheless, the result was enough for Mercedes to wrap up the constructors’ title.

Esteban Ocon finished as the top midfielder in P6 for Force India following a late fight with Carlos Sainz Jr., who delivered one of the drives of the season on debut for Renault en route to seventh. The highlight was an overtake around the outside of Sergio Perez through the long right-hander in the final sector, with the move likely to feature in many a showreel come the end of the season.

Perez held on to eighth despite coming under pressure from Felipe Massa late on, leaving the Brazilian to settle for P9. Daniil Kvyat picked up a point on his return to F1 after two races away, taking 10th for Toro Rosso.

Lance Stroll crossed the line 11th for Williams ahead of McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne, while Brendon Hartley took 13th on his F1 debut with a solid display.

Haas had a difficult home race as Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen finished 14th and 16th respectively, the latter losing places late on after a tangle with Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, who split the temamates in 15th at the checkered flag.

F1 returns next weekend with the Mexican Grand Prix at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

F1 Preview – 2018 French Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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It’s hard to believe that the French Grand Prix, the oldest grand prix event on the planet, as it dates back to June of 1906, was ever removed from the Formula 1 calendar.

Alas, not since 2008 at Magny-Cours has Formula 1 held a race on French soil. Yet, that all changes this weekend, as Formula 1 visits the Circuit Paul Ricard for its first French race in a decade.

Formula 1 teams are not strangers to Paul Ricard. It has been a popular testing facility for years, as evidenced by the below photo from 2016, featuring Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari in a wet tire test.

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – JANUARY 26: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Scuderia Ferrari drives during wet weather tire testing at Circuit Paul Ricard on January 26, 2016 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

However, in terms of racing, Paul Ricard has also been absent from the calendar for quite a long time – the last time Formula 1 race at Paul Ricard was in 1990. Alain Prost won for Ferrari that day.

1990: Alain Prost of France punches the air in celebration after passing the chequered flag in his Scuderia Ferrari to win the French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard circuit in Le Beausset, France. Mandatory Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport

As such, despite being a known quantity as a testing facility, how a race weekend will shake out is anybody’s guess.

And what’s more, it marks the beginning of three consecutive race weekends – The French Grand Prix, The Austrian Grand Prix, and The British Grand Prix – which F1 teams and drivers are calling “the triple header.”

Talking points ahead of the French Grand Prix are below.

A Journey Into the Unknown?

Like all new venues, or resurrected and refurbished ones in this case, the Circuit Paul Ricard represents somewhat of an unknown, as there’s no available race data to make predictions off of.

And the 3.61-mile, 15-turn track itself represents a range of challenges. It has fast corners, like Turns 1 and 2 (S de la Verrerie), a technical section between Turns 3 and 7 (Virage de l’Hotel through the Mistral Straight Start), and a 1.1-mile straightaway in the Mistral Straight, though it is separated by a chicane (Turns 8 and 9).

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff discussed the challenge of the circuit, highlighting the lack of data to build off of as well the tough three-race stretch ahead as especially challenging, in a preview on Formula 1’s website.

“France should be an interesting race. We don’t often get to race on a track where we have little to no historical data. It makes preparing for the weekend a bit trickier than usual, but that element of the unknown also adds to the challenge. The French Grand Prix marks the first race of the triple header, which will test all F1 teams to their limits, but also offers the chance to score a lot of points over the course of three weeks – which is precisely what we’re setting out to do,” said Wolff.

That element of the unknown makes Paul Ricard one of the biggest wildcards on the 2018 F1 calendar, and a championship shake up could be in the cards as a result.

Ferrari, Mercedes Continue Their Back and Forth

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari and Mercedes have traded jabs throughout the 2018 season, with neither able to pull away from the other so far through seven races.

Sebastian Vettel enters the French Grand Prix with a one-point lead over Lewis Hamilton, and holds a slight edge in victories – three to Hamilton’s two – and comes off a thorough domination of the Canadian Grand Prix.

Vettel led every lap at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on his way to victory, while Valtteri Bottas had to carry the Mercedes flag in finishing second. Hamilton languished in fifth, a surprising and disappointing result given his previous success there.

The aforementioned Toto Wolff described it as a “wake up call,” though Mercedes will roll out a power unit upgrade this weekend – Ferrari and Renault, which also powers Red Bull Racing, rolled out upgrades of their own in Canada.

With four long straightaways present at Paul Ricard, power will certainly be at a premium, so such upgrades will be vital in giving Mercedes a chance to make amends after Canada’s disappointment.

Trio of French Drivers Look to Impress on Home Soil

It comes hardly as a surprise that the three French drivers – Romain Grosjean, Pierre Gasly, and Esteban Ocon – are keen to make an impression at their home race.

And all three could certainly use a boost. Gasly has only one finish inside the points (seventh in the Monaco Grand Prix) since his stellar fourth place effort in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ocon is coming off back-to-back points finishes (sixth in Monaco, ninth in Canada), but he has only one other finish inside the points this year (tenth, in Bahrain). And Grosjean, despite showing the speed to finish in the points, is yet to score any in 2018.

As such, all three are hoping for big things in their home race this weekend.

“I want to get a good weekend, have some luck, get my first points of the season, and get a lot of support from the fans,” said Grosjean. “I think we should be in a nice place at Paul Ricard. I’m always looking forward to jumping back in the car. I just love driving an F1 car.”

Ocon, who has raced and won at Paul Ricard in the past, expects his prior experience could be a big help.

“I did race at Paul Ricard early in my career – it was actually where I had my first victory in single seaters in 2013 so I have some fantastic memories of the place,” Ocon described. “I hope we can add some more success this weekend. Having been there in the junior categories makes getting used to a new track in a Formula One car much easier. I think I will find my rhythm quite quickly.”

Gasly’s excitement level obviously matches that of his French compatriots, with the added bonus that the return coincides with his rookie F1 effort.

“For me it will be absolutely incredible that my first full season of Formula 1 coincides with the return of a French Grand Prix to the calendar for the first time in 10 years,” said Gasly. “That has to be a reason for me to be very happy and I’m really excited to be racing in my home country. I can tell it will be a special feeling going out on track and actually, I have spoken to Jean Alesi and Alain Prost about it and they both told me that it will feel really special and something that you really have to experience as a Frenchman racing in France.”

Qualifying for The French Grand Prix begins at 9:55 a.m. ET on Saturday, with Sunday’s race at 9:30 a.m. ET.

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