2016 US Grand Prix recap
25 Octobre 2016 - Autoblog
We ran into an old friend at the US Grand Prix: an on-form Lewis Hamilton.
Reliability and proper clutch actuation helped the Mercedes-AMG Petronas driver resurrect the kind of performance we haven't seen since July at the German Grand Prix. After demolishing the previous qualifying record around the Circuit of the Americas, he put the field in his mirrors as soon as the lights went out, was never bothered by anyone behind, and crossed the finish line 4.5 seconds ahead of teammate Nico Rosberg. The drive was exactly what Hamilton needed to keep his molecule-thin Championship hopes alive.
Rosberg, however, did exactly what he needed to do as well by finishing second. The German had a sketchier path to the checkered flag than Hamilton, getting pushed back to the third at the start by Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo. Worse, Ricciardo appeared to have the pace to keep Hamilton honest ahead and hold Rosberg behind. Red Bull and Mercedes matched one another's pit stops, and it was clear the German would need more help to pass the Aussie.
Rosberg didn't have to make his own luck, Ricciardo's teammate Max Verstappen made the luck for him. Ricciardo pitted on Lap 26, ceding second position on track to Rosberg. On Lap 30, Verstappen's gearbox failed while headed down the back straight. The Dutch teenager said the team told him to try to get the car back to the pits, so he dawdled through a few corners before following more team orders to pull over and park. Verstappen's parking spot and bad gearbox meant marshals couldn't push the car off the track, they needed to use a crane. That brought out a Virtual Safety Car, slowing the whole race down and allowing Rosberg to run a longer stint while losing less time on old tires. When the German came in for new tires on Lap 31 he emerged ahead of Ricciardo, and they ran that way to the end of the race, much to Ricciardo's disappointment.
Sebastian Vettel claimed fourth for Ferrari, a placing perhaps due only to Verstappen and Kimi Räikkönen retiring from the race. An otherwise anonymous weekend for the scuderia called attention to itself on race day when Räikkönen had to call it a day after a botched pit stop, and Vettel couldn't make any impression on the teams ahead.
Fernando Alonso rode home to a brilliant fifth for McLaren. During the first stint while rummaging around outside the top ten, the Spaniard complained about his lack of pace. By Lap 15 Alonso was tenth, on Lap 34 he was eighth. He pulled off a wheel-banging pass on Felipe Massa in the Williams on Lap 52 of the 56-lap race, and got around Carlos Sainz, Jr's Toro Rosso on Lap 55, belting out a "Yeee-haaaa" after he'd done it. Things continue looking up for McLaren - this weekend was the team's second double points finish in three races.
Sainz, Jr crossed the line in sixth, ahead of Massa, followed by Sergio Perez in the Force India, Jenson Button in the second McLaren, and Romain Grosjean - putting Haas F1 back in the points on home soil.
The situation at the front of the field looks to hold steady for the rest of the season. Hamilton's triumphed at four of the five Formula 1 races held at COTA, and his 50th career victory makes him the third driver in the 50-win club, following Alain Prost and Michael Schumacher. With Ricciardo mathematically eliminated from challenging for the title, the only contention left is between the dueling Silver Arrows.
Bumps remain in the midfield and backfield, though, and on the pit wall. Williams took two points back from Force India in the Constructor's Championship, but the Indian outfit is still eight points ahead of the English. Toro Rosso declared its faith in a resurgent Daniil Kvyat by signing the Russian to drive in 2017 and Williams looks all but certain to name Lance Stroll to the seat vacated by the retiring Massa. Esteban Gutíerrez says negotiations over next year's seat at Haas are "complicated," so anything could happen. Nico Hülkenberg left Force India to move to Renault, so the Indian team needs a driver to pair with Perez. Renault said it's not in a hurry to confirm a second driver, and pundits have connected every free agent name in the paddock with the French team at some point. The latest word is that current driver Kevin Magnussen and Manor driver Esteban Ocon lead the running.
Back-of-house moves could make an even larger impact. There are suggestions that Ron Dennis might give up his role as head of the McLaren F1. Other rumors are that McLaren's chief engineer will leave for Renault next year, that Red Bull and Williams are heavily courting Toro Rosso technical director James Key, and that Paddy Lowe might get shuffled out of Mercedes. The wildest rumor going is that Ferrari plans to ditch team principal Maurizio Arrivabene and replace him with McLaren racing director Eric Boullier.
The Mexican Grand Prix, likely to provide just as many answers as questions about the rest of the season, is a week away. We'll see you then.