Lewis, Lewis, Oh, Baby!

 
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A lot has happened in the Formula One world since last we spoke. In fact, some of those happenings have been truly momentous.

The Americas leg of the Formula One season has been, perhaps, the most eventful portion of the season so far. (Just for the tally books, the Americas leg encompasses the United States, Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix. Don’t ask me why they don’t include the Canadian Grand Prix as part of the Americas because I simply don’t know. Any F1 fans out there know why?) So far, we’ve had the US Grand Prix and the Mexican Grand Prix. 

 Shot of the Circuit of the Americas race track. 

Shot of the Circuit of the Americas race track. 

The Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas provided a stimulating race for the Formula One community. (Not to mention that the track itself is absolutely beautiful.) After the Qualifying sessions, there was talk aplenty about how this race could be the race where Lewis Hamilton cinched the World Championship. However, the Mercedes driver quickly doused the hyperbole with a good dose of common sense, saying, 

It’s unlikely unless Sebastian makes a mistake - and he’s a four-time world champion. 

Take it from a 3x World Champion. At this stage in the game, with so much riding on the outcome, Sebastian Vettel was unlikely to make risky moves that would cost him the championship. And, as the results showed, with excellent pace and driving all out, Sebastian Vettel finished on podium in second. Hamilton took first in Texas, extending his points lead from 59 to 66. 

Third place was contested. On the final lap, in a bold maneuver, Redbull’s Max Verstappen squeezed up the inside and overtook Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen for third. However, Verstappen was thrown out of the podium room and demoted to fourth when he was slapped with a five second penalty. Why? Well, when he was passing Raikkonen, he left the track and that maneuver allowed for what was deemed ‘an unfair advantage.’ Redbull team boss, Christian Horner- who maintains his composure through a lot of volatile circumstances- was furious, saying, 

They have been driving off track all weekend, Max made a fair move. It is an appalling decision. They have robbed all of the fans here. It was a great grand prix and they have screwed it up.

Regardless, Hamilton was thrilled to take first and Vettel was ecstatic that he was alive to face another race and extend his championship chances. 

Entering the Mexican Grand Prix, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel knew one thing: he needed to finish 1st or 2nd. If that happened, then Vettel remained a contender for the World Championship. If it didn’t, then Lewis Hamilton would walk away from the Mexican Grand Prix having clinched the Driver’s World Championship.

The stakes were high riding into the weekend. Vettel showed up strong, taking pole during qualifying, and demonstrating by his pace that he had every intention to extend the fight for the World Championship into the next race. However, where Vettel exercised reserve and caution in the US Grand Prix, he succumbed to recklessness in Mexico. 

On the first lap of the Grand Prix, Vettel was immediately challenged on the first turn by Redbull’s plucky Max Verstappen who overtook for first. Vettel, who tried to crowd Verstappen off track in order to maintain his advantage, ended up contacting the 20-year-old’s right rear tire, doing minor damage to his left wing. If this were not egregious enough, Vettel now had to deal with Lewis Hamilton who had made an excellent start and was capitalizing on the fact that Verstappen and Vettel’s interchange had slowed both drivers down. Coming up the outside, Hamilton was in the prime position to overtake both drivers for first position. The maneuver was almost textbook perfect. He had given Vettel enough room and was starting to come along side Verstappen. All of this seemed to unhinge Vettel. He ran wide over the curb, catching a bit of the speed bump which destabilized his vehicle. Then, attempting to recover while simultaneously throttling, he oversteered into Hamilton’s left rear tire, puncturing it as well as massively damaging his wing. While I have heard some people offer supposition that Vettel ran into Hamilton on purpose, I have to agree with Driver 61’s Scott Mansell’s analysis: 

Usually when contact is made like this the front wing comes off worse than the rear tire of the car ahead or the car that is being made contact with. And it’s too much of a risk for Vettel to take it, at this point in the race, when he’s more likely to come off worse than Lewis. So, from my point of view as a driver, I think it’s Sebastian’s fault that they made contact because he should have been able to control the car at the apex of turn three. Now it was all very close, all very fine and mistakes can happen so that’s why the officials put it down to a racing incident, but it was really Vettel’s responsibility to control his car.

Regardless whether Vettel contacted Hamilton’s racers on purpose or by accident, the damage was truly done. Both drivers had to pit. Vettel’s wing was replaced quickly while Hamilton limped around the track on his flat tire. Vettel rejoined the race rather swiftly, having fallen to 16th position. Hamilton’s pit took a bit longer because the pit crew needed to inspect the the vehicle for any damage to the undercarriage before letting him back on track. He re-entered the race dead last in 19th place. From there, it was a fight for both championship contenders. 

While Vettel fought from 16th to finish 4th, Hamilton proved the slogan emblazoned on the back of his helmet and tattooed across his shoulders: Still I Rise. From 19th to 9th, Hamilton climbed and by the last lap, he had taken the World Championship. 

Mercedes team boss, Toto Wolff said it best:

Not the race we wanted, but who cares?

Now the British Mercedes driver has entered the elite echelon of drivers who have won four World Championships: Alain Prost, Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel, and Juan Manuel Fangio. Grinning in a post-race interview, Hamilton said,

Four is a great number, but I want number five now.

Could it be that Hamilton is intent on overtaking Michael Schumacher’s record of seven world championships? Only time will tell. As for this season, though two races still remain, the World Championship belongs to the intrepid Lewis Hamilton. 

While I am happy to see Lewis win (see the reasons why in these posts here and here), I am sad to see the World Championship celebrations ensue before the conclusion of the season. However, we still have two races. Brazil is always fun to watch and Abu Dhabi is spectacular with a host of issues unique to the venue that require precision and expertise be on display from all drivers. (I also adore the Abu Dhabi track because I had to study it out in-depth for my novel, I’m Glad There Is You. I almost feel like I could drive it myself, if only I knew how to actually driver a Formula One racer, which is decidedly a horse of different color where cars are concerned.)

So, dear readers, now it’s your turn to weigh in. Are you happy Lewis won? Do you think he’ll try and challenge Schumacher’s championship tally? Do you think Sebastian Vettel made contact with Hamilton on Lap One on purpose? Do you think the officials were too hard on Max Verstappen in the US Grand Prix? Who do you think will win this weekend in Brazil? 

(Oh, and Max Verstappen won the Mexican Grand Prix with Valtteri Bottas at second and Kimi Raikkonen at third. Just so you know… their victories got somewhat eclipses by Hamilton’s Championship celebrations.) 

UPDATE: This post was originally scheduled for last Friday but got pre-empted by Veterans Day. This past weekend was the Brazilian Grand Prix, where much more than racing went down. How's being robbed at gunpoint for a little shake-up to the Formula One season? Everyone at the Mercedes AMG team is safe and unharmed, but their post-practice return to the hotel provided the sort of adventure I'm sure they all could have lived without. Have no fear, I'll have more about this and what all else transpired this last weekend later next week as we gear up for the final race of the season.