Masterful Raikkonen lassos Texas win

2018-10-24 06:03

THE United States Grand Prix weekend produced a race for every F1 fan to relish, regardless of where loyalties may lie.

Torrential rain-washed out Friday’s free practice sessions. This ultimately meant that drivers and teams were in unknown territory as far as tyre degradation was concerned.

On Saturday, qualifying went the way of Lewis Hamilton but the top three were covered by less than a tenth of a second.

While Sebastian Vettel qualified a mere 0.060 off Hamilton, Vettel was demoted three places on the grid as a result of speeding under the red flag during Friday’s practice session.

This promoted Kimi Raikkonen, who was only 0.071 adrift, onto the front row. While Valtteri Bottas shared the second row of the starting grid with Daniel Ricciardo, the sister Red Bull of Max Verstappen was all the way down in 18th after having broken the rear-suspension in the first session of qualifying.

With Vettel in fifth, Hamilton seemed set for victory and a fifth world title. But Raikkonen swooped into the lead and held off the Merc relatively easily. But as Raikkonen seized the lead of the race Vettel, once again, found himself spinning on the first lap after banging wheels with Ricciardo. It dropped the German down to 15th and seemingly handed the title to Hamilton.

Verstappen, true to form, roared back into contention and ran comfortably in the top six.

Under the virtual safety car, Hamilton pitted while Raikkonen carried on. Because of the reduced speed of the cars on track during the VSC, Hamilton effectively gained nine seconds on Raikkonen. Hamilton closed down Raikkonen by two seconds a lap. But the Finn is by far one of the most experienced and savvy drivers on the grid and was able to hold off Hamilton and cost him a significant amount of time.

Hamilton dived into the pits for a second stop on lap 38. He rejoined in fourth behind teammate Bottas and Red Bull’s Verstappen while Raikkonen took back the lead of the race. Meanwhile Vettel had recovered to fifth and was closing down Bottas, who ceded position to Hamilton, at a rate of knots.

What followed was, arguably, the best 11 laps of racing that the 2018 season has seen so far. Hamilton demolished the 12-second gap to Verstappen who in turn was never more than 1.5 seconds behind Raikkonen. But the Brit could go no further once he ran into the Dutch roadblock in the shape of Verstappen. The penultimate lap was the closest Hamilton came to second-place as he went wheel-to-wheel with Verstappen for several corners.

But the resolute defending of the Red Bull driver was enough to keep Hamilton in third where he eventually finished.

The Verstappen/Hamilton fight afforded Raikkonen some breathing room as he went on to take the chequered flag in what is undoubtedly a popular win.

So spectacular was the race that even Hamilton, who started from pole and finished third, was clearly chuffed with the day’s racing in the post-race interview.

Verstappen too was thrilled with yet another stunning drive through the field to the podium.

Where has Ferrari’s sudden resurgence come from? It turns out that the upgrade package, introduced in Singapore, was the catalyst for the team’s downturn in pace over the last three races. It was only on Friday in Texas that Ferrari reverted to the car they ran in Belgium that the pace reappeared.

It’s a case of too little, too late for the Italian team though as Hamilton needs to outscore Vettel by only five points to win the 2018 title.

This victory for Raikkonen has been a long time coming and it put on display the best of his considerable talents. It’s even more poetic when you consider that on the very same day in 2007 he became world champion. Those who are more than casual viewers of the sport will recognise that, at the age of 39, Raikkonen clearly hasn’t lost any of his skill or speed.

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