He didn't get it easy, but Kimi Raikkonen has finally won again, taking victory at COTA for the United States Grand Prix. The Finn had to stay cool against intense pressure from Verstappen and Hamilton in the final 10 laps, but he made no mistakes to win a tense race and his first victory of the season.
The sun was at the party for the 2018 United States Grand Prix, in which lots of things happened before the start of the race.
Vettel qualified 2nd, but due to a penalty - for speeding under a red flag in FP2 - started from 5th on the grid. Max Verstappen has a suspension failure during qualifying, and a subsequent gearbox change made sure he had to start down in 18th position. Gasly and Hartley started from the back after Honda change the engines on both cars, updating the new specification from Suzuka after the company found "some concerns".
And, at the very front, Bottas and Hamilton had new water pumps fitted on their cars, after the team found a leakage on Bottas's car, and a potential issue for Hamilton, based on the data. They both held their positions, with Hamilton launching from pole, ahead of Raikkonen on the softer ultra soft tyres.
As the lights went out, Raikkonen had an impressive launch and dove into the first corner ahead of Hamilton, despite the latter's attempts to stay ahead of Raikkonen. Behind them, Bottas and Ricciardo has clean starts, while Vettel seemed a bit wild in the first lap until coming together with Ricciardo, sending the Ferrari driver into a spin yet again, dropping him down into 18th.
The first corner was particularly fierceful in the midfield, with Grosjean going wide and hitting Leclerc, requiring a pitstop for both. For Alonso, the trouble happened even earlier on, as he found a Williams front wheel into his right sidepod through Turn 4. The Spaniard closed the corner due to having someone on his left as well, but Stroll, unwilling to lift, was subsequently squeezed and badly damaged the McLaren in return. Alonso pitted, but just like Grosjean, he retired early on. Stroll was later handed a drive-through penalty for causing the collision.
By Lap 6, Verstappen had moved up into 6th position, with one factory Renault car ahead and one behind him. Ocon in 8th led Vettel and Perez, only to be passed by the Ferrari one lap later. At the front, Raikkonen asked for some car checks, but all was good, resulting in his 2.4s lead over Hamilton. Bottas followed at 5.5s, with Ricciardo another 1.5s further down.
Three laps later, when Verstappen had just moved up into 5th, Ricciardo's Red Bull had enough, after which he parked his car, handing Verstappen 4th place. A seemingly electronic issue was to be blamed, as his engine was still running, but his steering wheel completely blank when he pulled over. Ricciardo was extremely disappointed and wandered about until a scooter came to pick him up.
The full track VSC period that was created triggered some pitstops, including tyre changes for Sirotkin, Vandoorne and Gasly. Hamilton also pitted, at the time extremely close to the back of Raikkonen's Ferrari. He rejoined the track in third place, 3.5s down on Bottas, and 8 down on Raikkonen.
Soon after his stop, the track was green again, and Hamilton set off for a series for fastest laps, overtaking Bottas 3 laps later, after the latter was told not to hinder Hamilton. Hamilton really put up the pressure to Raikkonen in front, and after two laps of intense defensive driving of Raikkonen, the Finn pitted on lap 22 to change to soft tyres. He came back out on track 4.5s down on Vettel.
Verstappen pitted one lap later, but switched from soft to new super soft. He returned to the track in 5th, 5s behind Raikkonen. Bottas pitted another lap later, rejoining behind Verstappen in 5th.
On lap 26, Vettel pitted, having lost positions to Raikkonen and Verstappen in the previous laps, and reporting "my rears are done". He switched to soft tyres and got back out in 5th place, 19 seconds down the road of Bottas after a far from perfect pitstop.
By lap 34, Hamilton's advantage was starting to melt away rapidly, with blisters appearing on his rear tyres, and several lapped cars causing the race leader some trouble. Hamilton's advantage had reduced to 11 seconds, after several laps that were nearly 2s down on all 4 cars behind him.
One lap later, Hamilton was pitted to take on a new set of soft tyres. The Brit returned on track in 4th, ahead of Vettel. When Verstappen was told about the stop, he swiftly replied "yeah, the soft is not a fantastic tyre". However, Mercedes still opted to take on a set of softs for the final stint as it had no remaining new super softs left.
Hamilton certainly put the hammer down in the laps after his stop. Verstappen similarly upped his pace, making sure the top three were getting closer to each from lap 38 onwards. By lap 43, Raikkonen held 2s over Verstappen, and another 3.4s over Hamilton. Bottas meanwhile dropped into the 1:40s due to blistering as well, allowing Vettel to catch up with him.
The fight at the front continued to be really close, but only heated up 2 laps from the end when Hamilton enjoyed DRS on the back straight, and Verstappen made a slight mistake under braking. Hamilton briefly, and repeatedly got ahead, but Verstappen had the better line through Turn 13 and stayed ahead.
Meanwhile, Vettel finally got ahead of Bottas for 4th, having trailed him closely for numerous laps. The Finn defended well, but was caught out by the dust on the track off the racing line, hence missing his braking point and giving the position to Vettel.
|2||33||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer||56||+1.281s||18|
|8||31||Esteban Ocon||Force India Mercedes||56||+99.288s||4|
|9||20||Kevin Magnussen||Haas Ferrari||56||+100.657s||2|
|10||11||Sergio Perez||Force India Mercedes||56||+101.080s||1|
|11||28||Brendon Hartley||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda||55||+1 lap||0|
|12||9||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber Ferrari||55||+1 lap||0|
|13||2||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren Renault||55||+1 lap||0|
|14||10||Pierre Gasly||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda||55||+1 lap||0|
|15||35||Sergey Sirotkin||Williams Mercedes||55||+1 lap||0|
|16||18||Lance Stroll||Williams Mercedes||54||+2 laps||0|
|NC||16||Charles Leclerc||Sauber Ferrari||31||DNF||0|
|NC||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer||8||DNF||0|
|NC||8||Romain Grosjean||Haas Ferrari||2||DNF||0|
|NC||14||Fernando Alonso||McLaren Renault||1||DNF||0|