Four time constructors champions. That’s what Lewis Hamiltons win on Sunday for the United States Grand Prix signified, as he took the chequered flag after a masterful weekend at Austin.
I said in the last weekend wrap that Hamilton will be cemented as one of the all-time greats with a fourth drivers championship, but even without it he’s still joined the club of drivers who have been able to achieve four back-to-back championships with their team – a feat only most recently accomplished by none other than Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull.
Hamilton and Mercedes have been stronger than ever this year, with the departure of Nico Rosberg he has been able to assume the title of team leader which is perhaps why Valtteri Bottas always seems like a backup option during the races. The team were clearly not that fussed about pitting Bottas earlier than Hamilton during the race, and then again later on when he had to defend from Kimi Raikkonen.
Had Bottas been more conservative with his tyres you could probably argue that Mercedes would have got third place back in the end, with Ferrari having to severely manage fuel on both cars towards the end. Instead it was a fairly lacklustre fifth place for Bottas, after a qualifying performance that put him four tenths off Hamilton on the grid.
The scenes at the end of the race on Sunday reminded me of what happened nearly twelve months ago at Mexico, once again involving the young Max Verstappen as he made a controversial move on Raikkonen to take the final podium place on the final lap of the race. We ended up with three different drivers in third place that afternoon because the stewards got it so horribly wrong.
In this instance Verstappen clearly cut the corner when overtaking Raikkonen which resulted in an advantage being gained, but it seems fans are not happy with how track limits were being policed throughout the weekend. It was the same in Mexico last year when Hamilton got away with cutting the first corner on the first lap, but Verstappen got penalised for doing the same thing in the closing stages of the race.
The stewards were very hasty with their decision which ultimately ended up with the Red Bull driver being ejected from the pre-podium room, something they said they wouldn’t do again with the preference of taking both viewpoints of each driver before making a judgement. This time around the move was more clear cut; Verstappen did put all four wheels over the white line in order to complete his overtaking manoeuvre. But that was not consistent with lack of investigations where other drivers clearly did the same thing, in order to get alongside another car for track position.
We don’t want to discourage the drivers from racing each other because it’s overtaking moves like that in the closing stages of a race which make us jump with excitement, but at the same time they do have to be done within the limits of the race track. By not clearly defining those limits, the stewards have opened up a can of worms which can only be solved with clear directives which the drivers must adhere to.
Carlos Sainz redeemed himself after a rather embarrassing last race with Toro Rosso which lasted for corners in Japan, with a rather commanding drive in the Renault. Him and Hulkenberg are the right pair for that team, and it’s looking like they will challenge Force India during the last few races which could change the constructors championship landscape in the midfield.
It seems both Force India drivers still can’t race each other on track, which is perhaps what gave Sainz a shot at Esteban Ocon towards the end. The team were pretty confident about their pace, but it did allow Perez to be overtaken in what was the move of the race.
Daniel Kvyat will not be retained for Mexico next weekend, which is a shame as he did get points for Toro Rosso. Even though Brendon Hartley did a solid job all weekend, it seems the decision is based more on the amount of Super Licence points Kvyat has accumulated – which is just one away from a race ban.
Helmut Marko did say Red Bull are evaluating their options for 2018, so it will be interesting to see if Hartley is able to step up in the next few remaining races. As for Kvyat, I’m not overly a fan of how he’s been treated by the ruthless programme. Red Bull need to decide whether or not they want to keep or release him, as I’m sure he will be looking at other options.
It didn’t get any better for Kvyat when they announced him on as “The Torpedo” in the pre-race driver announcements. It was proper NASCAR/Indy 500 style from Michael Buffer with the drivers emerging to a soundtrack before the national anthem, with the customary “drivers start your engines” followed by “lets get ready to rumble!” All seemed a bit daft but I thought it added to the show, and crucially it allowed the ‘casual’ fans to see who the likes of Marcus Ericsson and Ocon are since most tend to only know of Hamilton, Vettel and Raikkonen.
I wouldn’t want it at every race mind as it get old very fast, but for some of F1’s more ‘jubilee’ events it would make sense to include driver introductions. Those of you who were watching with eagle eyes will have also seen the Drivers Championship trophy, which opens up the possibility of Hamilton being presented with it should he win the championship this weekend. For years the drivers championship trophy has been presented in a private ceremony for no good reason, will the fans finally get to see it?