A thrilling race at the U.S. Formula 1 Grand Prix saw Lewis Hamilton finishing in third, behind winner Kimi Raikkonen and second place Max Verstappen, and just ahead of his championship rival, Sebastian Vettel, who finished fourth.
The close finish means that Hamilton, who was expected by all accounts to be lifting the World Championship trophy after the race, will have to wait at least another week before he will be able to claim his fifth world title. According to Reuters, the Briton is not particularly heartbroken by the delay.
With Hamilton starting on the pole on Sunday afternoon, all he needed to do was maintain his position there. Vettel would then have had to finish in second to prevent the Mercedes driver from taking the win this weekend. As it happened, Raikkonen, who started alongside Hamilton, got a much better start off the grid, and, despite nearly being pushed off the track by the Brit, managed to get the inside line ahead into the first corner.
A poor strategy from Mercedes also meant that Hamilton was forced to stop twice during the race, while the rest of the front runners only stopped once. Hamilton would have been helped slightly by the fact that Vettel, who started in fifth, spun out in the first lap of the race after contact with Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo, setting him all the way back to 19th and having to fight his way back to the front.
In order for Hamilton to win the title from a third-place finish, Vettel would have had to finish seventh or lower. The Ferrari driver clearly knew what was at stake, as he cut his way through the back of the field, throwing himself into fourth just two laps before the end of the race.
On the podium after the race, Hamilton explained why he didn’t fight harder against Raikkonen and Verstappen in front of him.
“Honestly I was trying to win the race but you look at the two guys next to me, they’re not fighting for a championship so I had to be very, very careful how I navigated around them. Championships are not won by fighting and making silly mistakes.”
In the last two laps, Hamilton tried to make a move on Verstappen, but aware of the Dutchman’s penchant for driving into or forcing others off the track, he was wary and gave the Red Bull driver too much room to maintain the position. Just two weeks ago, Verstappen collided with Vettel, forcing the German driver to fight his way through the pack from the back again.
Despite the delay in the championship title decider, Hamilton is at peace with the overall result, even without the win.
“The key was that I at least finished ahead of Seb and for me it doesn’t matter when you win the championship as long as you get it done. Ultimately we wanted to win the race today and I think going backwards two steps is not a good result but, you can’t win them all, you can’t always get them perfect.”
The result means that Hamilton only has to finish seventh in Mexico next week, even if Vettel wins the race, to take the 2018 title.