US Grand Prix Preview: Hamilton’s American dream to finally become reality

Having missed out on winning a dream championship in the ultimate sporting holy grail last year, Lewis Hamilton has a chance to realise this goal 12 months later. He needs just four points this weekend to seal a sixth world championship.

It would make him only the second driver in history to claim six titles, and put him one behind the great Michael Schumacher. What’s more, for the first time in his career he is set to win the championship three years running. He would be one behind Sebastian Vettel for consecutive championships won (2010-2013) and two behind Michael Schumacher (2000-2004).

The stats are both remarkable and stunning. Hamilton is a living legend of the sport right in front of our eyes, but for him, and many others, it is not just about the numbers.

It was evident last year, when Kimi Raikkonen took the win away from Hamilton, that a moment which would have achieved hopes and dreams conceived long ago had escaped Hamilton’s grasp. It was no secret that he would have loved to claim his fifth title at what is considered to be the home of world sport, with some of the most energetic and adoring fans of not just Formula One, but of many others too. To win the championship in the US, like he did in 2015, would be another huge accolade for Hamilton, and it is something that would mean so much to him personally.

His title rival Valtteri Bottas, however, will still be full of belief that he can at least overshadow his team-mate’s inevitable title celebrations with a victory at the 5.5-kilometre-long Circuit of the Americas. While it is almost impossible for him to win the championship from here, Bottas had a positive race in Japan, winning from second on the grid. But a stunning drive from Hamilton in Mexico, out-qualifying Bottas while the Finn’s Mercedes took a huge bite out of the barrier, saw him fend off Sebastian Vettel with a mega second stint to take a well deserved win, and put himself in prime position for the championship this weekend.

2019 Mexican Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

The Mercedes cars are expected to be challenged well again by Ferrari this year. The two teams been typically evenly matched at this circuit in each of the last two seasons, but Ferrari’s advantage in power this year will leave them hopeful of a victory again as they did last year, and team principal Mattia Binotto’s plans for ‘better race management’ in the last three races of the season may aid them achieve a win in what has turned out to be another heart-breaking season for the Scuderia.

The tricky first sector will certainly help to bring the Red Bulls into play, with Alex Albon’s impressive performances seeing him prove his worth at the Austrian team. He has out-scored Verstappen since they have been team-mates, although this has been down to a few slices of misfortune for the Dutchman, as well as one or two clumsy errors. Red Bull, however, should not be expected to challenge for the win, frustrating for them after a thoroughly wasted opportunity by Verstappen in Mexico.

Coming home this weekend are Haas, but we should not expect a particularly happy home-coming for them in what has been a confusing, tiresome and dire year. Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean are really just looking forward to 2020 now, but the home crowd may just inspire a point or two from the French-Danish partnership which has been tested and strained at various different points of the season.

Though Lewis Hamilton’s partnership with race engineer Peter Bonnington will not return until Brazil, Hamilton has no intention of holding back on the title party this weekend, but Valtteri Bottas and Ferrari have no intention of seeing him stand on the top step on race day.

 

[Featured image – Ferrari Media]

Legendary Races Week: 2005 United States Grand Prix

Amid this series of articles on motorsport races that have firmly cemented themselves in history, it perhaps would be short-sighted to look solely at races that are considered legendary for the right reasons. When it comes to races that are considered legendary for the wrong reasons, there is arguably no better place to start, in recent memory at least, than with the 2005 United States Grand Prix.

The drama – or should that be farce? – began during Friday practice, when a tyre failure sent Toyota’s Ralf Schumacher hurtling into the barriers at the banked final corner, the fastest part of the track.

Michelin – who provided tyres to Toyota as well as to McLaren, Williams, BAR, Red Bull, and Sauber – duly conducted an investigation into what had caused the failure. This investigation did not prove fruitful, and so Michelin could not guarantee that their tyres could safely complete the entire race without a similar incident happening again. Michelin boss Pierre Dupasquier even estimated that the tyres would last no more than ten laps, a not insignificant suggestion seeing as tyre changes during a race were banned in the regulations at this point in time.

A meeting was held on Saturday evening to decide what should be done to resolve the issue, with rumours swirling round that over the course of the past couple of years, multiple Michelin tyre failures had occurred that had been caused by the design and construction, but had been instead falsely blamed on ‘outside factors’.

Almost every major player in the paddock was in attendance, including Bernie Ecclestone, two senior Michelin representatives, every team principal bar one, and Indianapolis’ Circuit President, Tony George. Jean Todt, whose Ferrari team was supplied by Bridgestone, declined to attend.

In this meeting, the Michelin representatives suggested that a chicane should be installed at the final corner, to minimise the load placed on the tyres. Ecclestone paused the meeting and left to consult Jean Todt and FIA President Max Mosely, who was not at Indianapolis, and returned to say that Todt had refused to agree to the idea, putting him at odds with the other nine teams, who had all given their consent. What’s more, Max Mosely had apparently implied that if a chicane was installed then the race would no longer be sanctioned by the FIA and thus would become non-championship.

The meeting adjourned with no resolution having been agreed upon and, in an official letter to Charlie Whiting, Pierre Dupasquier said that if the circuit remained unchanged then he could not permit the Michelin teams to race.

The FIA, though, doubted whether Dupasquier would follow through on his warning, and so, come Sunday morning, it was still not 100% clear whether or not the Michelin teams would take part in the race.

Michelin had flown in new tyres of a different specification from their headquarters in Clermont-Ferrand overnight, only to find that they had the same defects and issues as the original batch.

All 20 cars trundled round on the formation lap, with Toyota’s Jarno Trulli having secured the team’s first ever pole position. At the end of the lap, though, all fourteen Michelin-clad cars peeled off into the pits.

This resulted in the absurd sight of only Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello of Ferrari, Narain Karthikeyan and Tiago Monteiro of Jordan, and Christijan Albers and Patrick Friesacher of Minardi lining up for the start of the race. If someone with no interest in or knowledge of the sport was shown a photo of the final grid without any context, they’d be forgiven for thinking someone had photoshopped the other fourteen cars out.

Angry and frustrated fans in the grandstands started booing, with some throwing plastic bottles onto the track to express their displeasure.

Once the race got underway, not much of note occurred, save for Albers and Karthikeyan switching positions a couple of times.

Photo Credit: Ferrari Media

By lap 10, many fans started to leave the grandstands, and reports in some newspapers suggested that the police had had to be called in as crowds surged on Indianapolis’ ticket offices, demanding refunds.

The race went on to be won by Schumahcer, with Barrichello in second and Monteiro in third, but the on-track results faded almost into insignificance.

As soon as the chequered flag fell, the blame game started. Because all 20 cars had taken part in the formation lap, F1 had technically fulfilled its contractual obligation to the Indianapolis circuit, but it was another matter entirely when it came to the fans.

Some argued that Max Mosely had failed to find a compromise that suited all those involved, and had shown a certain lack respect by not attending the race in person to sort the situation out. Furthermore, the FIA had not taken seriously the warning given by Dupasquier that his teams would not take part, essentially calling his bluff and leaving the door wide open for the ensuing debacle to take place.

Others directed their ire at Michelin for not bringing suitable tyres to the weekend with them and, in an attempt to pacify some of this anger, the manufacturer announced that they would give out refunds. They even offered to buy 20,000 tickets for the following year’s race, which would then be handed out for free to any disgruntled fans willing to accept them. Dupasquier would go on to retire later on in 2005, the criticism he faced no doubt still ringing in his ears.

Perhaps the only upside of the whole affair was Tiago Monteiro’s third-place finish. He became the first, and so far only, Portuguese driver to finish on the podium in a Grand Prix.

This small glimmer of salvation aside, the 2005 United States Grand Prix will rightfully go down in motorsport history as one of the most legendary races to have occurred. Its infamy, however, will always be rooted in farce, and the mere mention of its name will forever leave a bitter taste in the mouth.

2018 United States GP Review: The Iceman Returns

The United States Grand Prix had the potential to see the crowning of a five-time world champion. Taking place at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, F1 entered the eighteenth round of the 2018 season with a 67-point difference between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.

With only three races left after this one, it would need a miracle for Vettel to overturn that gap and take his fifth world championship. A win for Hamilton in the US Grand Prix meant that Vettel couldn’t afford to finish third or below, as this would extend the gap to over 75 points and hand the championship to Hamilton. Did the (American) dream end here for Vettel?

In qualifying it was a heated battle up front. Lewis Hamiltom claimed pole, with only seven hundredths of a second covering the top three. Behind him were Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas, with Vettel being demoted to fifth because of a penalty he was given after free practice for failing to slow down sufficiently under a red flag.

One notable name missing from that top ten was Max Verstappen. He set a fast lap in Q1 and advanced to Q2, but broke the rear suspension of the car after he hit a sausage kerb. Red Bull didn’t have enough time to fix the car, and he didn’t set a time. To add insult to injury, Red Bull had to change his gearbox, leaving him with a grid penalty and an eighteenth place starting slot.

Once the lights went out, Räikkönen made a great start and overtook Hamilton on the inside going into turn one, with mayhem breaking out behind them. Vettel tried to overtake Ricciardo, but crashed into the Australian and spun. He rejoined in fourteenth place, behind Vandoorne. He made up some places very quickly, but he still was twenty-two seconds behind his teammate, who was leading the race.

Verstappen was already in seventh place after five laps and was closing on his team-mate, when Ricciardo once again suffered an engine issue and had to come to a stop at the side of the track.

The parked Red Bull brought out the Virtual Safety Car, with Mercedes calling Hamilton in to change from the supersofts onto the softs. He re-emerged in third place, eight seconds behind Raikkonen.

Valtteri Bottas was asked on lap fourteen to let Hamilton through, and Hamilton set about closing the gap to the race leader, who was on the ultrasofts, and eventually catching up on lap nineteen. The Mercedes made it to within DRS range, but couldn’t get past. After defending all the way through sector three, Raikkonen came into the pits and changed onto the softs.

A strange call from the Ferrari team came on lap twenty-five, when Vettel was asked to let his teammate go by. He was then overtaken by Verstappen before he had the chance to go into the pits, and dropped out of the podium positions. By the halfway mark of the race he was 43 seconds behind race-leader Hamilton and in fifth place.

Hamilton started to struggle due to blisters on the rear tyres, allowing Vettel to close the gap back to less than thirty seconds. On lap 37 it became clear Hamilton wouldn’t be able to make it to the end, and he came in for another pit stop. He re-emerged in fourth place, ahead of Vettel and with Raikkonen still leading.

For the second time in the race, Bottas was asked to let Hamilton by, with his team-mate on the fresher tyres and charging his way back up. By lap 45 the top three were very close, with two seconds separating Raikkonen and Vertappen, and another three second gap to Hamilton in third.

By lap fifty Vettel was within DRS range of Bottas in fourth, with the top three now separated by just two and a half seconds. With Vettel where he was, Hamilton needed to finish in second, and that meant getting past Verstappen.

On lap 53, Verstappen made a slight error and gave Hamilton the opportunity to overtake. Verstappen defended and didn’t give the Brit any space, with Hamilton running wide and losing time.

Two laps later, Vettel overtook Bottas for fourth place, meaning that the chance for Hamilton to win the championship this race was gone

After 113 races, Räikkönen finally got another victory. It may certainly be his last for Ferrari, but it was probably one of his best. Verstappen finished in second having started from 18th, a performance which resulted in him deservedly winning Driver of the Day. Behind them, Hamilton finished in third and Vettel in fourth, with Bottas, Hulkenberg, Sainz, Ocon, Magnussen and Perez completing the top ten.

With three races to go, the gap between Hamilton and Vettel is now 70 points. Vettel needs a miracle to happen if he wants to become five-time world champion, whilst Hamilton just needs to defend his major points advantage.

Up next is the Mexican Grand Prix – will Hamilton be crowned five-time world champion there?