Lewis Hamilton has become Britain’s most successful Formula 1 driver and moved one step closer to claiming the 2014 World Championship title with his fifth successive victory.
The Mercedes driver overcame teammate and pole-sitter Nico Rosberg in an action-packed race at the Circuit of the Americas; Daniel Ricciardo recovered from a poor start to complete the podium for Red Bull Racing.
Rosberg managed to convert pole position into an early lead and for the first ten laps, looked to be coasting to an assured victory after retaining his lead after the first round of pit stops.
Hamilton had other ideas in his second stint, increasing his pace while Rosberg’s front tyres began to fade. The Englishman pulled off a decisive overtaking move midway through the race, neatly slicing by the German under braking at the end of the back straight on Lap 24.
From that point he was never headed, and he only briefly came under threat in the final laps as he and Rosberg came up to lap a huge six-car squabble for the last points positions. Victory and an important extra seven-point buffer over Rosberg was his.
The result put him 24 points clear of his teammate with two races to go, and with 75 points up for grabs over the remaining two races – Abu Dhabi’s finale has the controversial ‘double points’ clause – the Drivers’ Championship battle will go down to the wire even if Hamilton fails to score and Rosberg wins next weekend at Interlagos.
Third place went to Ricciardo, who managed his pre-race ambition of jumping both Williams cars. The Australian had a poor getaway and fell to seventh behind the two Ferraris, but managed to jump Kimi Raikkonen with a brilliant move on the first lap, before deposing Fernando Alonso with an equally bold move at Turn 1 that caught the Spaniard completely by surprise.
Ricciardo and the Red Bull Racing team then got the jump on Williams over his two subsequent pit stops, undercutting Valtteri Bottas and then Felipe Massa by pitting a lap earlier than the pair.
Over a minute adrift of race-winner Hamilton, Fernando Alonso finished a distant sixth but the Ferrari driver had no answer, and barely managed to stave off a hard-charging Sebastian Vettel in the final laps after both made late visits to the pits for fresh Soft rubber.
Vettel’s sixth place was a strong result given he started from the pit lane as punishment for having to perform a complete power unit change. The four-time World Champion made four visits to the pits – twice during an early Safety Car to run on both dry-weather tyre compounds – and then struggled to make headway from the back of the field with a long stint on a heavy fuel load.
Eighth place went to McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen – the Woking squad’s only points of the weekend – with teammate Jenson Button fading to finish out of the points after his handling completely fell away in his final stint.
In what was a great race for the Renault runners, Jean-Éric Vergne took ninth in his Toro Rosso thanks to a five-second post-race stop/go penalty was applied to Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado, who finished ahead of the Frenchman on the road thanks to a bold late-race lunge by the Venezuelan. For Maldonado, it marked his first points finish of the season – Lotus’ first since Monaco – in what was easily the South American’s best drive in what has been a poor season to-date.
However, the pair’s positions were switched again thanks to a penalty for Vergne, who was also hit with the same time penalty for making contact with the other Lotus of Romain Grosjean late in the race; the incident deranged Grosjean’s steering and the frustrated Frenchman finished outside of the points despite having Maldonado’s measure for much of the race.
Raikkonen finished out of the points yet again in thirteenth – behind the fading Button – with his Ferrari’s handling diminished thanks to a first-lap hit from behind by Force India’s Sergio Perez, whose lunge saw he and Sauber’s Adrian Sutil eliminated on the spot.
Soon-to-be Red Bull Racing driver Daniil Kvyat finished fifteenth after he too faded in the closing laps, while the second Sauber of Esteban Gutierrez finished just ahead, with the Swiss cars clearly the worst of the field thanks to the absence of the Marussias and Caterhams.
Nico Hülkenberg joined Sutil and team-mate Pérez on the DNF list after 16 laps when his Force India slowed to a halt with a technical problem on the back straight.
Image via XPB Images