Merc driver moves closer to world crown in US leg marked by Verstappen controversy
Lewis Hamilton may have partied in Texas with his Mercedes team after his United States Grand Prix triumph, but he has no intention of relaxing as he targets the title in Mexico next weekend.
His fifth win in six races since the end of August has not only propelled him to within comfortable reach of his fourth world crown, but also squeezed the vigour from rival Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari’s challenge.
As Mercedes celebrated their fourth consecutive constructors’ championship triumph following a Hamilton masterclass at the Circuit of the Americas, four-time ex-champion Vettel was left to admit he and his team lacked the speed to match them.
“We were not fast enough and that’s it,” Vettel said, visibly disappointed at failing to mount a challenge for victory once Hamilton had recovered from losing the initiative at the start and passed him on lap six.
Vettel refused to concede that the title race is all but over and talked of doing all that he can in Mexico.
But his body language had already betrayed the feeling that Hamilton’s ninth win of the season, fifth in six visits to Texas and the 62nd of his career, had been a blow of near knockout power.
Hamilton was supremely dominant in Sunday’s eventful race
“It’s not done yet, but it feels great to be in this position,” he said. “I am going to Mexico to win again next weekend. I am so proud of this team. Everyone has worked so hard.”
Vettel admitted he had been unable to suppress the irrepressible.
“I tried to block him and maybe I could have done more, but on the other hand, he was just so much quicker than me and it didn’t matter. He had too much pace – and I had the feeling he had more.”
Hamilton, who on Sunday started from a record 72nd career pole position, was the undoubted star of the show and will be champion again if he finishes in the top five in Mexico.
But he will have been aware also of the impact on and off the circuit made by rising young star 20-year-old Dutchman Max Verstappen, who raced from 16th on the grid to finish fourth.
It was third but a post-race five seconds penalty triggered the demotion of the Red Bull driver to fourth and the elevation of Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari to the podium.
That decision sparked a torrent of angry words from the Red Bull team with many observers joining in, Mercedes non-executive chairman Niki Lauda labelling it the “worst decision I have seen in Formula One”.
“He did nothing wrong,” Lauda said of the driver who had run briefly off the circuit in passing Raikkonen at the final corner on the last lap.
Verstappen had thrilled the crowd and was voted driver of the day by fans. He was then demoted to fourth, for exceeding the track limits to gain an advantage.
Red Bull boss Christian Horner let rip at what he saw as inconsistent behaviour by stewards.
“It is an appalling decision. They have robbed all of the fans here. It was a great grand prix and they have screwed it up,” he said.
“We could pull out five or six different incidents today of cars going off track. Where do you gain an advantage and not gain [one]?”
It was the second time Verstappen was demoted from the podium by stewards post-race, also missing out in Mexico last year for cutting a corner.