By Bob Constanduros
I don’t think I was very surprised that Lewis Hamilton won the US Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas last weekend. It was always going to be a Mercedes victory unless something untoward happened – even if the Red Bulls are closing – and Lewis had undergone the perfect preparation, the kind of preparation he needs before every race.
After Japan, he’d flown straight to the UK with Toto Wolff among others and then spent a couple of days working on race preparation – as well as celebrating Mercedes’s World Constructors’ championship. While he was at Brackley, he worked on the starts which have let him down so often this year, declaring after his 50th Grand Prix victory that he “was 100 percent clear on my start and I knew it was going to turn out that way.” Might he have sought this solution earlier, one wonders?
Championship rival and teammate Nico Rosberg was on the defensive in spite of being on the inside line, second on the grid, for the first corner – from where Lewis had taken the lead in one of the last couple of races at COTA, even giving his poleman teammate a little controversial nudge. The support race starts had shown that the inside line wasn’t such a bad place to be, but Nico seemed to be more concerned as to what was going on behind than in front. Three out of the first four cars were on softs, but Daniel Ricciardo was on supersofts, in theory having more grip and Nico was more concerned with keeping him behind than trying to get by Lewis in front. A change of emphasis?
Nico even lined up slightly angled towards the outside of the first corner, determined to keep the Red Bull behind and it was to Daniel’s consternation that he didn’t have quite the extra grip from the supersofts that he expected and in spite of getting ahead of Rosberg, didn’t get by Hamilton as well.
Thereafter, it wasn’t the greatest of races – the Americans deserved better – but there were some curious events – Raikkonen, Verstappen – and of course Rosberg jumped Ricciardo at the virtual safety car which meant the German driver finished just where he was happy to finish to maintain his championship win. Of course he will want to win, they all do, but it wasn’t a total disaster.
The Mercedes drivers and the Spaniards were the happiest after the race; everyone else had something to complain about. Vettel was involved in the Hulkenberg sandwich at the start of the race and thereafter complained of aero balance, even if he was able to look after his tyres. The Spaniards at least fought through from lower grid positions to satisfactory finishing positions. Massa was barged out after a better-than-usual race from him. Button had a good race and for some reason Verstappen was voted drive of the day; the Dutch must have been out to lunch and just voted for him anyway, even if they hadn’t seen his race.
The weekend was perfect from many points of view, not just the weather which made up big time for last year. All the sessions went according to plan, there was a good atmosphere in the paddock, lots of ‘celebrities’ thanks to sponsors for bringing them, an excellent crowd (47,000 up!) although the Taylor Swift effect was partially to thank for that. Overall, it was a good weekend with an average result, even though eight teams filled the first ten places.
It’s 1214 kms/754 miles from Austin, Texas to Mexico City and as I write this on Wednesday morning, still in Texas, the teams have already been in Mexico for two days. This will be a race of extremes, with thousands of excitable Mexicans cheering on their beloved Checo (all Sergios are called Checo, apparently). I’d like to think that Esteban will get the same treatment, but I’m not certain he will. All he wants is to be confirmed for next year.
At this stage, the weather forecast suggests rain for Sunday which would be interesting. It won’t be as hot as Austin on the previous two days – remember that the city is at 7,350 feet – but that also means that we should see some pretty amazing speeds on that long long straight – it’s nearly 900 meters from pole to the turn one apex. Last year’s record was 366kph for Pastor Maldonado.
It also helps promote overtaking; there are two DRS zones which meant there were nine normal overtaking manoeuvres last year and 12 DRS manoeuvres. Let’s hope there are a few more than that this weekend. There were also 38 pit stops with two Pirelli compounds so how many will there be with three this year? The compounds are the same as in Austin but the tarmac shouldn’t be so aggressive this year having had a year to settle down.
Remember that Rosberg won last year from Hamilton and Bottas. Williams’s lack of drag helped them last year but one wouldn’t expect them to be ahead of Red Bull or Ferrari this weekend, and Perez will work hard to ensure that the Force India versus Williams championship battle remains alive. But what of the potential winners? Will Lewis’s all-important focus remain intact since Austin? We shall see…