Kimi Räikkönen took a brilliant first win in five years with a carefully managed drive to the flag ahead of Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, as Sebastian Vettel clawed his way back from a first lap spin to take fourth place.
Starting from second on the grid Ferrari’s Räikkönen stole the lead from pole sitter Hamilton into Turn 1 at the start and thereafter balanced pace and race management over a one-stop strategy to hold a narrow lead over Verstappen and Hamilton on the final third of the race. Both attempted to pressurise the Finn but Räikkönen was faultless in the closing stages as he marched to his first victory since the 2013 Australian Grand Prix 113 races ago.
At the start, Räikkönen got the jump on Hamilton and stole the lead as the field made its way through Turn 1. Behind them Daniel Ricciardo held P4 behind Valtteri Bottas but later in the lap was attacked by fifth-on-the-grid Sebastian Vettel. The German got a run on the Red Bull driver into Turn 12 and took the position, but his exit was poor and Ricciardo got a shot at reclaiming fourth as they went into Turn 13. Vettel took a wide line, pushing Ricciardo to the outside of the asphalt. The Australian tried to remain inside the track limits but they banged wheels and Vettel was sent into a spin. The Ferrari driver dropped to P15, but Ricciardo was able to hold fourth place.
Further back, Verstappen was on a charge. After starting from P18 he was 14th by the end of the opening lap, and over the following eight laps rose to fifth place, just under seven seconds behind Red Bull team-mate Ricciardo.
That would become fourth on lap nine. As Ricciardo exited Turn 1 at the start of the lap, he suddenly slowed. The Australian pulled over at the side of the track and stopped, a suspected battery issue ending his race.
The stoppage, at the edge of the track, led to the Virtual Safety Car being deployed and Mercedes took the opportunity to pit Hamilton from P2 on lap 11. The Briton took on soft tyres and emerged just ahead of Verstappen. Hamilton then moved back into second place when Bottas let him past on lap 13.
Vettel, meanwhile, had clawed his way back into contention and by lap 15 had made his way to fifth place, 21.5s behind his race-leading team-mate and 9.0s behind Verstappen.
Ahead and armed with new soft tyres, Hamilton began to quickly close on Räikkönen and on lap 17 he was just 2.4s behind the Finn. However, over the next half dozen laps, Räikkönen defended brilliantly to keep Hamilton at bay, but more importantly he slowed Hamilton’s progress and allowed Vettel to close on the leading pack. When Räikkönen finally surrendered on lap 21 and dived for the pits to shed his starting ultrasofts, Vettel was 12s off new P1 man Hamilton, though he required a pit stop.
Verstappen was next into the pits, taking on soft tyres on lap 22. That put Vettel into second place, but the German was beginning to struggle on his starting supersofts. As such, Räikkönen quickly moved past his team-mate to regain second place and a lap later Verstappen swept past Vettel as the Ferrari man was called to the pits for new tyres. The German took on soft tyres in his stop and rejoined in fifth place. Hamilton now led ahead of Räikkönen, Verstappen, Bottas and Vettel.
Räikkönen’s race then switched to attack mode as he began to edge towards Hamilton and between lap 30 and 33 he turned a 16.3s deficit to the title leader into a 13.7s gap. Verstappen also began to close in on Räikkönen and on lap 35 he was just 3.9s behind the Finn.
Hamilton’s times continued to drop and at the end of lap 37 he dived towards the pits and took on another set of soft tyres. Räikkönen now led again, with Verstappen now in P2 ahead of Bottas. Hamilton rejoined in fourth place ahead of Vettel.
Hamilton was soon setting fastest laps and on lap 41 Bottas slowed and moved aside to allow the Briton to sweep past into third place. He was now just under nine seconds behind Verstappen, who was now just 2.3s behind Räikkönen.
At the front Räikkönen was now attempting to control the gaps, saving tyres and fuel. With five laps remaining, though, the gaps were tight. The Finn was just 1.1s ahead of Verstappen, but the Dutchman was having to keep a close eye on his mirrors, as Hamilton was now inside DRS range. Behind them Vettel was still fifth and could not find a way past Bottas. Hamilton now knew that if he passed Verstappen to take P2 then he would be champion.
He saw a chance to do that on the penultimate lap. Verstappen made a mistake and went wide into Turn 12. Hamilton pounced and the pair battled furiously through the following corners. Verstappen held firm and when Hamilton ran out of grip in Turn 18 and went wide, Verstappen was assured of second. Behind them, on the same lap, Vettel made his move on Bottas, passing the Finn under DRS as the lap started.
Räikkönen then duly took his first win in 113 races, ahead of Verstappen, hamilton and Vettel. Bottas finished fifth ahead of the Renaults of Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz. However, while eighth and ninth places were initially taken by Force India’s Esteban Ocon and Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, both were later disqualified, Ocon for a fuel flow irregularity on the opening lap of the race and Magnussen for using more than the permitted 105kg of fuel across the duration of the race.
The disqualifications meant that Sergio Pérez in the second Force India was promoted to P8, Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley moved to P9 and the final points position was inherited by Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson.
Hamilton’s third place, allied to Vettel’s fourth, means that the title battle continues to the next round in Mexico, with Hamilton taking a 70-point lead to the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in a week’s time.
2018 Formula 1 United States Grand Prix – Race
1 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari -
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1.281
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 2.342
4 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 18.222
5 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 24.744
6 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1:27.210
7 Carlos Sainz Renault 1:34.994
8 Esteban Ocon Force India 1:39.288
9 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:40.657
10 Sergio Perez Force India 1:41.080
11 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso 1L
12 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1L
13 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 1L
14 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 1L
15 Sergey Sirotkin Williams 1L
16 Lance Stroll Williams 2L
Charles Leclerc Sauber
Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing
Romain Grosjean Haas
Fernando Alonso McLaren