Paddock Notebook

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United States GP Paddock Notebook – Sunday

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AUSTIN, Texas – A near perfect weekend from Circuit of The Americas featured not the most scintillating United States Grand Prix, but still packed enough moments from the race and the last few days to make it memorable.

A year after hailing his 2015 win in Austin “the best day of his life” and securing this third FIA Formula 1 World Championship, Lewis Hamilton was more relieved to have a clean, trouble-free race en route to his first race victory since July in Germany on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Nico Rosberg performed a decent bit of damage limitation to come second after a tougher weekend. Daniel Ricciardo matched his car number in a perhaps unlucky third, but still created a lot of smiles with his Aussie-Texan hybrid accent in various interviews throughout the weekend, and his getting Gerard Butler to do a “Red Bull Shoey” on the podium.

Here’s a roundup of today’s posts, features and analysis from Sunday at Circuit of The Americas:

SESSION REPORTS

RACE BREAKOUTS

PADDOCK NEWS AND FEATURES

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

Hamilton in “cool” mode

Lewis Hamilton was back to a cool, stealthy mode this weekend that he hasn’t been in for a while. We’ve written about it quite a bit this weekend but it felt as though he was the USGP favorite from the outset, and it would have taken a perfect performance to beat him. With an amazing pole lap on Saturday and a peerless drive on Sunday, Hamilton cruised to his 50th career win, and has entered the record books as only the third driver in F1 history to achieve that milestone.

Strategic chess match more than an outright thriller

I’ll have more on this in a column tomorrow looking back on the weekend as a whole, but last year’s USGP at COTA felt as though it was a race to save a weekend of frustration, given the onslaught of rain that hit Austin like a tidal wave. This year’s race was not nearly as good as last year’s; that said, it had its moments, and the upside of the weekend being so much better on the whole prior to the race itself was that it didn’t need the race to be a thriller.

All about the strategy and reacting to it

With both Mercedes drivers and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen starting on Pirelli’s soft tires, rather than supersofts as the rest of the top 11 drivers on the grid did, how the tire strategies played out over the race would prove pivotal to watch.

Indeed it was such that with Verstappen pitting early, it forced Mercedes to react. Rosberg’s move then onto mediums forced him to “play the long game,” but his race came back around courtesy of the Virtual Safety Car that cost Ricciardo later in the race.

There were other pit mistakes too, with Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen’s races both ending shortly after bad stops. Verstappen pitted what seemed to be too early, then made into his box before resuming and having an engine issue a couple laps later. Raikkonen’s race ended after a wheel wasn’t secure, and he stopped at pit out.

Races where you have to follow the strategy closer don’t necessarily play to rave reviews on TV as much as daring passes too. But if you’re a more introspective fan or observer, these races have their place, and today was one of them.

Retirements/setbacks promote a number of surprise drivers into points

From fifth-placed Fernando Alonso through to 10th-placed Romain Grosjean, a number of drivers who started either lower in the top-10 to well outside it made the points.

Alonso, Carlos Sainz Jr., Felipe Massa, Sergio Perez, Jenson Button and Grosjean started 12th, 10th, ninth, 11th, 19th and 17th, respectively, and all made it into the points.

Granted, roughly four of those openings were created by retirements for Nico Hulkenberg, Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen and an early delay for Valtteri Bottas. But nonetheless, it was cool to see a few somewhat surprising faces – at least from their qualifying positions – make it into the top-10.

Recapping the post-race penalties

Two were assessed:

  • Raikkonen’s Scuderia Ferrari outfit has been fined 5,000 Euros as his car was released in an unsafe condition just prior to his retirement. Per the FIA, the car was released before all mechanics had finished fitting all the wheels correctly. The fine is imposed since the car was not classified. After a reprimand for Sebastian Vettel on Friday, that’s two “oopsies” in the same weekend for the Scuderia.
  • Renault’s Kevin Magnussen got a five-second time penalty added for exceeding track limits to make a move on Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat for 11th place in the waning laps. That said, the position swap didn’t affect either in the grand scheme of things since it was outside the points. Neither Renault driver – Magnussen nor Jolyon Palmer – had a good weekend with the pressure on between them to see if either will stay alongside Hulkenberg next year.

Alonso’s forceful pass of Massa for sixth place at Turn 15 triggered no further action from the race stewards, although Massa was less than pleased and had a puncture.

Improved COTA crowd

Buoyed in large part by the Taylor Swift concert – Circuit of The Americas revealed a crowd number of 83,000 for it although estimates varied to run a bit higher or lower depending on who you talked to – the crowd felt up in a big way both on Saturday and then into race day on Sunday.

The number was then announced as 269,889 for the weekend on Sunday afternoon, and marks a COTA official attendance record.

While ordinarily I’m a bit skeptical of COTA attendance release numbers – sports car weekends here in the past have seen an allegedly disproportionate amount noted from the track versus what it’s felt like actually on the ground – there’s good reason to believe this high number is closer to the mark.

I checked out the line on Saturday afternoon from about 4 p.m. local time onwards and it was a bit crazy, but crazy good if I’m honest. Once the gates opened to get in line at 5:30, the line stretched from where I was standing outside the Esses at Turn 7, back to the Fly Emirates-backed spectator bridge just after corner exit at Turn 2, with more people coming across the bridge as the time went on. It figured that there’d be a bigger number of folks making the rounds here, and that was just it.

Recap of the remainder of the weekend festivities

Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup crowned its champion at Circuit of The Americas for the third year in a row, with the series running its only doubleheader round of the season.

Sven Mueller led fellow Porsche Junior Matteo Cairoli by two points (135-133) going into the weekend, but with Mueller finishing in second place and Cairoli retiring in the first race, it gave Mueller a near clinch of the title going into Sunday’s finale.

With eighth place in the finale on Sunday, Mueller has secured this year’s Porsche Supercup title, following Phillip Eng and Earl Bamber having clinched it the last two years. Mueller has also won the Porsche Carrera Cup Deutschland title this season.

I had a catch-up with Mueller prior to Sunday’s race, and a Q&A with him will follow on NBCSports.com in the coming days.

Lest Mueller and Cairoli have been the only Porsche Juniors in the spotlight, the third member of the Porsche Junior team in Supercup, Mathieu Jaminet, had a dream weekend to end the season. Jaminet swept both races for his second and third wins of the season.

Of note, Americans Alec Udell and Will Hardeman impressed for the local Moorespeed team. Udell, the 2016 Pirelli World Challenge GT Cup class champion, finished 11th on Saturday and a sterling seventh today in his Supercup debut. Hardeman’s 11th place today was a good shout for him, and he had Bamber coaching him this weekend.

In total, the Porsche Juniors swept the 10-race season amongst themselves. Cairoli won four races to Mueller’s three, and now Jaminet’s three.

Masters Historic Racing also fielded a wealth of old F1 cars in two 10-lap races. Katsuaki Kubota (No. 12 Gunnar Nilsson John Player Lotus 78) and Charles Nearburg (No. 27 Alan Jones Leyland TAG Williams Fw07B) won the pair of races. Cars entered were run from 1971 (Tyrrell 002) through 1983 (Tyrrell 011 and RAM March).