Like a page-turner that keeps you awake at night
It’s a 13-hour time difference between Texas and Manila, so I stayed up in the wee hours of Monday morning to catch the race live on television. I needed a precautionary cup of coffee just to make certain that I wouldn’t be dozing off while watching the race, something which I admit to be privy to, at least for other racing series other than F1. On hindsight, I might not have actually needed the coffee as I was treated to a thriller at the Circuit of the Americas with lots of overtaking and driver-versus-own-car fighting on a track that was still drying and draining the copious amounts of rain that fell upon it throughout the weekend. On the heels of Hurricane Patricia, this year’s United States Grand Prix had all the elements to be remembered as a classic and when the checkered flag was waved, a champion was crowned.
Lewis wins his third career World Title
With three races to spare, Lewis Hamilton clinched the 2015 World Title. It’s been a stellar past three weekends for Mercedes, having won the F1 Constructors’ Title two weeks ago in Sochi and having crowned the youngest DTM champion with Mercedes F1 reserve driver Pascal Wehrlein just last week, the German manufacturer produced another champion of their own, with Lewis winning his second consecutive World Championship, the third of his career, equaling Sir Jackie Stewart for the most F1 championships won by a British driver.
His teammate Nico Rosberg looked set to win the race but a very rare mistake made by the German when, late in the race, he spun his rear tires accelerating out of a corner and almost lost control of his car, gave Lewis the race lead and eventually the win. Nico was visibly and understandably upset over his own mistake but still managed to gracefully congratulate his triumphant teammate (and rival) in the waiting room before the podium ceremony. However, while Nico was evidently in a somber mood sitting down at a chair, Lewis, perhaps still excited with his race victory and freshly-clinched championship, tossed Nico the cap worn by the 2nd place driver. The German threw the cap back at his teammate, visibly unimpressed by Lewis’s antics.
I understand Nico’s frustrations but I think it was unnecessary for Lewis to toss him the 2nd place hat when Nico was clearly in a serious mood. With that, I won’t blame Nico for the hat-throwing incident. But that’s just my opinion and I hope this incident doesn’t get further blown out of proportion by the media and that both gentlemen put this behind them and continue as formidable teammates and competitive rivals.
Rosberg conceded that he lost the race fairly but was still brooding over Hamilton’s aggressive maneuver on the first turn of the opening lap when, similar to what happened in Japan a few weeks ago, Lewis forced Nico out of the track. Although he dropped back a couple of places, Rosberg systematically fought his way back to the race lead, passing Hamilton at right around the halfway mark. Furthermore, Rosberg seemed to have the stronger race, managing his tires better than Hamilton, as evidenced by the comparative lap times after the first series of pit stops, pointed out by Fox Sports Asia analyst and ex-F1 driver Alex Yoong. All drivers started the race on Intermediate tires due to the damp track and switched to racing slicks starting from about Lap 20. Rosberg and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel pitted a lap earlier than Hamilton and the two were able to quickly decrease their lap times in fewer laps than Hamilton did. On the restart after the second Safety Car period, Rosberg pulled away out front from his teammate and built a safe gap until his untimely error cost him the lead and eventually the win. Without the error, Rosberg would have easily been the one cruising to victory for the final eight laps instead of Hamilton.
Taking nothing away from the newly-crowned champion, Lewis drove a mistake-free race unlike his teammate, albeit struggling with slick tires on the challenging track conditions and of course, his questionable shoulder block-like move on Nico in the first lap. Lewis couldn’t have clinched the championship in a better way than standing on the top step of the podium at the Circuit of the Americas. Congratulations to Lewis, no less.
A recap of the midfield
Hamilton, Rosberg, and Vettel in that order rounded out the podium. Behind them, it was a joy to watch the middle of the pack scrap it out, as two Virtual Safety Car periods and two Safety Car periods helped bunch the field up to the extent that home country hero Alexander Rossi, effectively last place with his Manor MR03B at P12 after an abundance of retirements, finished on the lead lap.
In the opening stages of the race, the battle for the lead was intriguing, initially involving the two Red Bulls of Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo ganging up on Hamilton. Evidently looking very strong running Intermediate tires on the wet track, the Red Bulls eventually dropped down when the track dried and everyone changed to slicks. Ricciardo tangled with Nico Hulkenberg in the middle of the race while Kvyat crashed to the inside wall at the exit of Turn 19–the incident which brought the second and final Safety Car period.
P4 and P5 respectively belonged to Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez after they both drove steady, controlled races. McLaren was supposed to be set for a strong finish when Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button were running P5 and P6. Alonso struggled with his tires and finished out of the points at P11 despite the upgraded Honda engine that he ran while Button, not running an upgraded engine, weathered his pursuers to finish P6 ahead of Carlos Sainz, Pastor Maldonado, Felipe Nasr, and Ricciardo, rounding out the top ten finishers.
Alonso and, as mentioned previously, Rossi were the only two non-points-scoring finishers after the race saw eight retirements, including both Williams drivers Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa, as well as Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. It was disappointing to see Hulkenberg retire after what seemed to be a promising race weekend, when he showed how skillful a driver he is in wet conditions during the practice sessions and driving a strong race up until his front wing broke just before he attempted his overtake on Ricciardo, which resulted in contact.
The Toro Rosso boys continue to shine
On a few occasions, Verstappen found himself in P3 but his Renault-powered Toro Rosso proved no match to either Mercedes or Ferrari–no shame in that. Verstappen’s teammate Sainz drove a phenomenal race finishing P7 after starting from the very back of the grid. Sainz was opportunistic and scrappy yet patient, driving like a man on a mission, competitively challenging experienced veterans Raikkonen, Alonso, and Button throughout the race. The young Toro Rosso driver seems unfazed by his recent crashes in FP3 and the race in Russia and in Qualifying just a few hours before this race, turning in spectacular comeback performances. His attempt in Russia was curtailed by a brake failure but this time out in Austin, the young stud nailed it, bringing home with him a strong points-scoring finish, and perhaps some more bragging rights.
Between the Toro Rosso drivers, Verstappen has stolen the spotlight early in the season with his audacious overtaking while Sainz was plagued with reliability issues. Having recently gained the luck that seemed to elude him, Sainz has made the most out of it by demonstrating that he is arguably as equally spectacular a racer as his 18-year old teammate.
Racing comes in the blood for these two young men. Sainz is the son of World Rally legend Carlos Sr., while Max is the son of former F1 driver Jos. In the junior ranks, Verstappen dominated Formula 3 and eventually gained backing from Red Bull close to his Toro Rosso debut at FP1 in Suzuka last year. On the other hand, Sainz has been backed by Red Bull for years and was last year’s Formula Renault 3.5 champion, earning his F1 promotion when Toro Rosso let go of veteran Jean-Eric Vergne. At the start of this season, Sainz was 20 and Verstappen was 17, although they have both celebrated their birthdays recently.
The Toro Rosso boys are bullish racers, to put it on apt terms. As seen in the Singapore Grand Prix where they ganged up overtaking the Lotus drivers, the two of them working in tandem proves to be fearsome despite being the youngest pair among all teams this year. Both still very young drivers at the pinnacle of motorsport, they have showed that they can compete with F1’s seasoned veterans and future legends. I expect a bright future indeed for both Sainz and Verstappen.