Lewis swoops yet further
Lewis swoops yet further
It was just like qualifying, only very different.
Just like in Austin’s qualifying session we were reminded starkly on the United States Grand Prix race day of things we perhaps too readily forgot. Particularly in thinking we knew what the final act contained in advance. But it couldn’t have been more different as matters at the sharp end were turned utterly on their head.
Things looked good for Nico Rosberg in advance of Sunday’s action, him having the day before taken a fine pole position with a time close to four tenths ahead of his (admittedly bad brake-hobbled) team mate and title antagonist Lewis Hamilton. But delving deeper there where causes for his concern, and not just that Lewis – and Lewis with a healthier car – was likely to be a formidable foe. Of Nico’s nine poles this year only twice has he converted it to a win. And this was a statistic he didn’t improve on.
Early in the race things looked good though. Lewis was indeed up to speed but in the first stint on soft tyres Nico was able to just stay at arm’s length up the road. Indeed Lewis hit the cliff with his tyres slightly earlier and as is his right as the one ahead Nico pitted first, and after this had all shaken out his advantage was a balmy three seconds.
But even at this point Nico had problems, experiencing understeer, and on the medium tyres it really manifested itself in lap time. Lewis – aided by a front wing tweak at his first stop – took chunks out of his lead, rapidly was in DRS range then before we knew it, just shy of half distance, had crisply outbraked him at the end of the long straight.
From them on the result didn’t look in much doubt. Nico did get back with the programme, and was able to match Lewis as well as on occasion take a bite from his advantage. But Lewis was able to respond every time. Come the end he fishtailed past the flag 4.3 seconds prior to Nico. In a weekend of twists Lewis fifth win on the bounce was one thing that had immense familiarity.
We have seen repeatedly that Lewis when hunting down his prey is not easily repelled, but Nico’s difficulties in converting fine qualifying pace to a similarly fine race result is becoming a pattern. As outlined the statistics are by now overwhelming. If he does indeed lose out on this year’s title this – never mind Spa or whatever other shenanigan of choice – will be the greatest contributor.
And it is no exaggeration that this was a vital weekend for Nico’s title hopes. Now with a 24 point advantage Lewis has the luxury of cruising in behind Nico in the final two rounds to win the championship. Realistically this means unreliability or some other severe delay or random event is all that can scupper him. Nico is now needing snookers. No wonder he wasn’t thrilled afterwards. Indeed he showed some of the exterior of a beaten man.
Yet as Martin Brundle noted ‘Lewis doesn’t do second very well’. And for this reason, as well as that his approach his serving him very nicely right now thanks very much, Lewis will likely for the season’s remainder keep doing exactly what he’s doing.
Indeed the man himself said as much: ‘If the racing points were normal (it) could be a different feeling, now I’m going into these next races and I’ve got to attack. I need those 25 points in the next one and I want the 50 points in the last one.’
Lewis is correct that the double points that await in Abu Dhabi makes matters a lot more open than it would have been ordinarily. Without it Lewis finishing ahead of Nico in Brazil would have wrapped things up there and then, but with it the championship goes into the mixer of the Abu Double whatever happens in Interlagos next weekend. And with ten wins now to his name if Lewis does indeed miss out of the title it would break that particularly record for individual triumphs in a season without the title to smithereens.
Nico though was impressively lucid afterwards, not seeking to obfuscate as to where the responsibility lay: ‘Just didn’t drive well enough today’ he explained candidly, ‘it took too long to get my rhythm.
‘F1 is always about adapting, no situations are ever the same. And getting into the race everything was different to qualifying. It took too long (for me to adapt). When Lewis got past, five or eight laps later I started to nail it, but too late.’
When asked to elaborate on all of this, Nico explained that it was ‘two main things – one is over-driving the front tyres, because with the Pirelli tyres if you exaggerate and they overheat in a corner and just lose complete grip. And you need to be very very careful with them and I didn’t notice that early enough. And the other thing is then with all the settings in the car you can really massively influence the car, and it took me a long time to sort them out.’
Nico added later that a fumbling on his part meant he didn’t have full ERS power at the vital moment when Lewis passed either.
Lewis meanwhile was serene: ‘There was no doubt in my mind’ he said. ‘Practice was really good, but qualifying I really didn’t get into a rhythm but I knew I had the pace, but Nico’s lap was fantastic…And then going into the race there wasn’t a second or a moment that I didn’t feel I could win. The opportunity’s going to be in there somewhere so I just needed to keep working and pushing and eventually it presented itself.
‘At the moment I’m just enjoying the moment, today it feels great…I wanted it that bad and I got it and it felt fantastic when I came across the line.’
As for the rest, the two Williams and Daniel Ricciardo were impressive in the extent that they kept the mighty Silver Arrows in sight and once again Ricciardo was particularly so. Third place was his reward this time, having ambushed one Williams of Valtteri Bottas in stop one and the other of Felipe Massa in stop two (aided by a tardy in-lap, tardy stop as well as a tardy getaway for the Brazilian). In another recurring pattern for this season both Daniel and his RB10 seemed to grow in competitiveness as the race went on. It seemed a little inappropriate that today was the day that his remote title prospects officially evaporated.
The rest were way back, though there were plenty of adventures among them. Fernando Alonso pedalled hard as always, though for the most part he had a rather lonely existence somewhere between the top five and the warring pack behind. Towards the end though his lap times fluctuated incredibly (his penultimate lap was nine seconds off his best), as it transpired due to front vibrations which led the Spaniard to seek to allow the gap to the car behind the fall as much as possible.
Sebastian Vettel also had a variable time of it. For the first half of the race he gave the impression of one not wanting to be there, but gradually as the race went on he came alive. And he really came alive in a late five-lap sprint on soft tyres that vaulted him from P14 to seventh at the end, and oh-so nearly bagged him Alonso’s scalp too. Alonso was just about able to muster enough from his wayward machine to hold on for sixth though.
There was lots of spirited fighting behind also, so after last year’s tepid Texan race the locals had plenty to look at on this occasion.
The main thing to look at though, and not for the first time at this venue, was Lewis Hamilton swooping on victory like a hawk to a glove and discarding an opponent firmly along the way. And his progress towards the title is establishing the same characteristics. In an appropriate place, given Austin prides itself on being weird, Lewis Hamilton ensured that now only the weird can deprive him of the 2014 World Drivers’ Championship.
Author: Graham Keilloh
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