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Happy Hamilton Wins Formula 1 Race At COTA

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 23 2017

Once again, it was Lewis Hamilton driving a Mercedes that won the Formula One race at Circuit of the Americas. (Photo courtesy of Circuit of the Americas)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

As has become the norm at Circuit of The Americas, the eyes of Texas squarely were upon Lewis Hamilton at the conclusion of Sunday’s Formula One United States Grand Prix.

Hamilton scored his fifth victory in the six-year history of the FIA Formula One World Championship event in Austin, Texas, a result that pushed the Mercedes AMG ace’s point lead over Sebastian Vettel of Scuderia Ferrari to 66 with three races remaining. Hamilton will become a four-time World Driving Champion with a result of fifth or better _regardless of where Vettel finishes _ in the Mexican Grand Prix Oct. 27-29 at Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez.

“At the moment, I’m just focused on winning, clearly, and I’m enjoying driving more than ever,” Hamilton said after notching his 62nd career victory. “I just really…the challenge, the pressure’s intense. Just always want to elevate yourself and shine brighter each time you get in the car.

“Today I had to make a couple of changes; adjustments with the temperature ramping up as it did. I just got it right on-point. I guess all the experience of all the years really came into play because I got the balance just perfect. If I hadn’t made those changes I probably would have gone backwards.

“Yeah, so, there’s still three races to go. In my mind, I’ve still got three races to win. Still a lot of points available. So I don’t think until it’s ever properly done and sealed you can ever get ahead of yourself.”

Hamilton’s fourth consecutive victory on COTA’s 3.426-mile/5.513-kilometer/20-turn layout helped Mercedes AMG clinch a fourth consecutive constructors’ title with 575 points to Ferrari’s 428, Red Bull Racing’s 315 and Force India’s 159.

“I want to say a big congratulations to everyone in the team, all the partners, everyone back at the factory and everyone here,” Hamilton said after his ninth victory of the season and second in a row. “There has been an incredible push for this kind of performance this year. We’ve really pulled together more than I’ve experienced or seen over the last five years this year to really pull together and create something quite special.

“So, really proud for everyone, especially in going from one era of car to another, which has not been done before, just shows strength and depth and I’m really proud to be part of it. The race was great. I have to say probably one of the most fun races that I’ve had for a while.”

Hamilton has won all but one United States Grand Prix at COTA _ 2013, when Vettel prevailed for Red Bull. Hamilton’s margin of victory was a massive 10.143-seconds over Vettel, who led the opening five laps of the 56-lapper. But when Hamilton sliced decisively down the inside of the four-time world champion on Lap 6, the outcome basically was settled.

“Yeah. Started off well with a great start but then we were just not quick enough,” Vettel said. “Obviously, I felt the car and the (Pirelli) tires suffering quite a lot after three or four laps only, and Lewis was easily able to stay with us, close the gap and easily get into DRS, which usually is not easy after the fast section, so he was just quicker. I tried to block. Maybe I could have done a bit more _ but on the other hand I think he was just so much quicker that it didn’t really matter.

“Disappointing to lose the lead when you have it but I think with the difference in pace they had on us today, it wasn’t probably our race to win.”

Meanwhile, Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen ultimately clinched third after a dramatic last-lap pass by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was deemed illegal. Verstappen, who started 16th, was hit with a five-second time penalty for making a pass with all four wheels off the track to gain an advantage around the 2007 world champion. Verstappen missed the podium by 0.9-seconds.

“Obviously I was half-surprised,” Raikkonen said. “I saw him in the mirror and I tried to slow down the whole thing before the previous corners just to try to save enough fuel to be honest and then I thought I had enough cover on that corner. I lifted because for the obvious reason that I said but suddenly I saw a bit of him in the mirror and I was a bit surprised.

“But at that speed I was more looking forward than rearwards so I was pretty pissed off that he got past me but I didn’t have a chance and I slowed down. But let’s say I was utterly surprised that I got to go on the podium. It was part of the whole story but I don’t really know where he went. Apart from he got past me in the third-last corner but, to be honest, my car has been all day very good.”

Led by an angry Verstappen, Red Bull circled its wagons and reacted by criticizing what it viewed as an inconsistency of stewarding. Verstappen awkwardly was informed of the reversal while chatting with Vettel in the post-race “cool down” room, moments after Raikkonen was escorted in by officials.

“The whole weekend you can run off-track wherever you want,” Verstappen said. “That’s fine if it’s like that  _ it’s the same for everyone so you can do your thing. I had a good fight with Bottas where he ran off-track, came back on in front of me and I had to overtake him afterwards but there are no penalties given.

“Be clear about it _ If you say we have to stay between the white lines, we’ll stay within the white lines. It’s very simple. We need more consistency. At the end of the day let us race _ it’s five centimeters over. Everyone was loving it _ it was a great show. Like I said, be consistent. If it’s not allowed then I understand and I finish fourth. But don’t say to everyone else you can run off the track wherever you like, because they never gave any penalties and then I do it and they give me a penalty.”

Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner noted that similar incidents have appeared to go unpunished. “For me it was hard, fair racing,” Horner said. “That’s bad judgment from the stewards to have made that call. (Max) did it the hard way; we’ve seen cars off-track all day today, all weekend. To penalize him at this stage, that’s not right.

“Max drove a fantastic grand prix today, I mean he was outstanding. What really disappoints me is that all weekend we’ve seen drivers abusing track limits. They’re told in the briefing there’s no issues with track limits. Then in the grand prix we have incidents like with Valtteri and Daniel (Ricciardo) _ up and down the field there are cars running on and off the track. We finally get a grandstand finish for a podium and suddenly track limits jumps up. You can see Kimi has a bit of a wobble into the right hander _ Max could have said I was trying to avoid him for example. (The stewards) haven’t even given him the right of reply.

“After Mexico (in 2016, where Verstappen lost third place to a similar post-race penalty) they said they wouldn’t make that hasty decision again. They said they’d look at all the facts, listen to the drivers and then make a decision. And what’s happened? They’ve made an instant decision, and I think it’s a shocking decision. They’ve robbed the fans of the podium that should have been today.”

Valtteri Bottas placed fifth for Mercedes, followed by the Force Indias of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez, split by Renault newcomer Carlos Sainz. Williams’ Felipe Massa and Toro Rosso returnee Daniil Kvyat completed the top-10, the latter’s rookie teammate Brendon Hartley taking the flag 13th in his F1 debut.

The pre-race introductions _ which included the drivers walking through a line of Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders _ were emceed by famed boxing announcer Michael Buffer, who waxed long and loud on each of the 20 starters. Finally, he famously implored the field to “Let’s get ready to ruuuummmm-ble!

“I think it was amazing,” Hamilton said. “There was a little bit of waiting in the hallway, waiting for everyone to go out. That part felt a little bit long but I think they just made the Super Bowl here, they made the race. I think the entertainment was the best I think we’ve seen, with the drum line, the whole band. It was great to see something different.

“For many many years, the whole 10 years, it’s been the same old boring thing on the grid except for now you have the national anthem but not really too exciting. I think this one was just much more like an NFL game which is exciting, with the fireworks and everything. I think they did a really great job and I think even from this they will learn and grow from that. We also had such a great turnout today.

“Not quite sure there’s such a great reception here in Austin but the fans, that big grandstand and up into Turn 1, they really make the atmosphere. When I’m driving down that straight, I can see them, also when you come down to Turn 12, massive grandstand, that makes you feel like you’re in the most exciting arena. Then they let them all out on the track…immediately after this I’m going to see everyone.”

Vettel said the intros were “a nice idea” and uniquely American. “For me, I like jumping in the car and racing,” the German said. “I’m not a big showman.”

Haas F1 Team drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen finished 14th and 16th, respectively, in the American-owned organization’s second start at COTA. Frenchman Grosjean started 12th and ran as high as ninth from Laps 15 to 16. Magnussen started 17th and also worked his way up the leader board, earning his best running position of 11th from Laps 30 to 31.

Both drivers went into the race with a one-stop strategy, although Magnussen’s came much earlier than planned. The Dane suffered a left-front tire puncture on the opening lap after contact with the Sauber of Pascal Wehrlein. Forced to pit, Magnussen changed from the Pirelli P Zero Red supersoft tires he started the race with to Yellow softs. With only one lap on the supersofts, Magnussen would try to make his softs last the remaining 55 laps.

Grosjean made his scheduled stop on Lap 16, swapping his Purple ultrasofts for a set of Yellow softs. Their timely stops combined with the attrition of others allowed Grosjean and Magnussen to gain positions. Grosjean cracked the top-10 on Lap 15 and Magnussen rallied from 20th after his early pit stop. The strategy that allowed both drivers to gain track position meant they had to squeeze all the performance from their tires. But with 17 laps remaining, the well was nearly dry.

Williams’ Felipe Massa caught Grosjean on Lap 39 and passed him for 10th. Magnussen, meanwhile, had fallen to 13th. Seven laps later and with the leaders bearing down on him, Magnussen was spun by the Sauber of Marcus Ericsson in Turn 12. The incident dropped Magnussen to 16th and with no one left to overtake him, he pitted for a new set of supersofts that would take him to the checkered flag.

“Not the best day for us, but the car was actually better from qualifying,” Magnussen said. “We just had to pit at the first lap, so our tires _ we tried to do the whole race on softs, but not quite possible. We had to try. It was the only thing we could try in that situation. So, onto the next one.” 

While the finish was still a little ways off, the tires on Grosjean’s car were done. He fell to 14th in the waning laps nursing his Haas VF-17 to conclusion.

Not much pace in the car, and massive tire degradation on my front-left tire,” Grosjean said. “I was trying to hang in there, but the last few laps I felt it was pretty dangerous. Off track the weekend’s been great with the fans. I’m very sorry we couldn’t put on a better show from the team. We’re all going to work hard. We know Mexico was tough on us last year but, hopefully, we find some solutions. We’re going to work hard, but right now it’s disappointing not to put on a better show at home.”

Seventeen rounds into the 20-race schedule, Haas F1 Team is eighth in the constructors standings with 43 points, five behind seventh-place Renault and 10 behind sixth-place Toro Rosso. A 20-point cushion over ninth-place McLaren remains. Grosjean is 13th in the championship standings with 28 points and Magnussen is 14th with 15 points.

“Obviously, a tough weekend for the whole team,” said Guenther Steiner, team principal. “We were just not fast enough. We had every issue you can have. I think it went over the whole weekend, but today we had hoped to get something back and we didn’t.”

Haas F1 Team debuted in the FIA Formula One World Championship in 2016, becoming the first American F1 team since 1986. Founded by industrialist Gene Haas, Haas F1 Team is based in the United States on the same Kannapolis, N.C., campus as his championship-winning NASCAR team, Stewart-Haas Racing. Haas is the founder of Haas Automation, largest CNC machine tool builder in North America, and chairman of Haas F1 Team.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 23 2017
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