United States Grand Prix: Winners and Losers

United States Grand Prix: Winners and Losers

23 October 2017 – Lewis Hamilton put himself on the brink of a fourth world title, some midfield drivers starred, while a controversial penalty changed the order. GPUpdate.net presents its winners and losers from the US Grand Prix.

Winners

This was sheer brilliance from a driver-team combination operating at a near-impregnable level. No-one is unstoppable in sport, but Lewis Hamilton is in the form of his life, as displayed at the Circuit of the Americas, a venue where he typically thrives. Hamilton flew through practice, romped to pole position, and remained unflustered after a so-so getaway enabled Sebastian Vettel to grab the lead. "I was behind Sebastian but even though he got me at the start I was like, 'Okay, I'm going to get him'," said Hamilton post-race. "I just tried to stay on him, I saw him pushing a lot, was like, 'He's going to kill his tyres, I'll wait for a second', and he did." Hamilton's DRS-assisted manoeuvre was decisive and thereafter he was in a league of his own, despite a brief post-stop scare, when the undercut left Vettel deceptively close. This was Hamilton at his best. Barring a disaster, he will be crowned champion in Mexico on Sunday.

Carlos Sainz Jr. stepped out of the Toro Rosso, climbed into the Renault, and immediately underlined just why the manufacturer moved to acquire his services. In just a solitary race he put in a more spectacular display than Jolyon Palmer managed during his entire Renault career, and was on the pace all weekend. Despite his inexperience in the R.S.17, Sainz Jr. made Q3 and recovered from a less-than-stellar first lap, the highlight an utterly inspired move on Sergio Pérez around the outside of Turns 17/18. It resulted in seventh place – a fine reward for his weekend's efforts. A direct comparison with Nico Hülkenberg is impossible due to the German's non-participation in Q2, owing to engine changes, and subsequent retirement, but Sainz Jr.'s display will have made Hülkenberg sit up and take notice – and that can only be positive for Renault.

The rise of Esteban Ocon has been one of the encouraging subplots in 2017 and he was impeccable in Austin, overcoming illness during qualifying and a pre-race power unit scare to collect sixth place. This was a measured, low-key drive, but exactly the sort of performance required by a midfield team – and in doing so prompted Pérez to again attempt to exert his authority with a mid-race radio message inferring, incorrectly, that he was the quickest Force India driver. Ocon's result ensured that he has scored in 16 of this year's 17 races – only Hamilton has a better record – and has finished his first 26 F1 races, a new record. Reliability and speed is a potent combination – and he is only getting better with each passing race. Daniil Kvyat, meanwhile, also warrants a shout out, after taking a point on his return, after a weekend which included missing FP1/3, and suffering from power issues in the race.

Losers

You are reading a motorsport-dedicated website, you know what happened, you know the fallout. Max Verstappen was penalised through the letter of the law, and the decision of the stewards is justifiable. However, the Dutchman has reason to feel aggrieved. This situation has arisen through poor track design, allied to inconsistent stewarding, leaving drivers uncertain of the rules. More work is required from various sides to avoid a repeat; track limits should be strictly regulated – and with a clear (and obviously safe) grass/gravel deterrent to deter dubious manoeuvres, as opposed to the current painted tarmac which has become the dominant feature on the inside, and outside, of many new-build circuits. Rather than merely pontificate on one incident, this should be used as the catalyst to completely overhaul the system, be self-critical, revise the culture and the approach – regulatory application and stewarding should be high on the agenda – to ensure that matters change for the positive, and Formula 1 does not get stuck in this cycle of conflict.

On home ground, this was an abject display from Haas. The team's performance has fluctuated wildly this season – almost as dramatically as in its rookie campaign – and at Austin it was towards its lowest ebb. Failing to get the tyres into the correct window hindered the team once more in qualifying, while a basic miscommunication would have cost Kevin Magnussen, though ironically an absence of pace meant his penalty was meaningless. Magnussen, having described his new tyres as "like a used set" in qualifying, stumbled into Pascal Wehrlein on the opening lap and was later spun by the other Sauber of Marcus Ericsson at the same spot. Grosjean, meanwhile, tried a one-stop strategy but described the last few laps as "pretty dangerous", amid deteriorating pace, and was never realistically in contention for points.

Is it fair to label Fernando Alonso a loser? On the basis of his performance, absolutely not, but in the grand scheme of race results, undoubtedly so – though it was not remotely his fault. Alonso, perhaps fuelled by his Indianapolis 500 experience, embraced the weekend's off-track action with a crowd-pleasing show at the Fan Forum, and used the helmet design he sported at the iconic 500-mile event. On-track he was sublime, as he made Q3, fought hard to maintain his position early on, and was on course for seventh when an MGU-H failure reared its head. "In the last few races we have lost so many points – possibly 15 or 20 – which probably could have helped our position in the championship for myself and also the team," rued Alonso, and not without merit. Next year cannot come soon enough.

Written by: Phillip Horton

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