A delighted Lewis Hamilton jumped for joy and then promised he will fight all the way to retain his world championship this year after he kept alive his bid for a fourth title by winning Sunday’s United States Grand Prix.
The 31-year-old Briton claimed his first win in six races and the 50th of his Formula One career with a flawless drive from his 58th pole position in front of an enthusiastic crowd at the Circuit of the Americas.
His win enabled him to trim Mercedes team-mate Geman Nico Rosberg’s lead in the title race from 33 points to 26 with three races remaining. Rosberg, who started second, finished second.
“What an incredible crowd,” said Hamilton during interviews on the victors’ podium conducted by Hollywood film star Gerard Butler. “I feel so good here – this has always been a good hunting ground for me.
“It always feels like home and the crowd really makes this a great race. My team did a great job to put both of us up here and I am very proud of that – and, finally, my 50th win.
“As to the championship? All I can do is my best just like I have done here. Nico has been driving fantastically well, so our battle will continue. And I will be going for it all the way.”
Rosberg finished second after slipping to third at the first corner when Australian Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull passed him by taking the inside line with his grippier ‘super-soft’ tyres. But he regained his place, much to Ricciardo’s disappointment, thanks to a ‘free’ pit stop during a Virtual Safety Car (VSC) intervention later in the race.
Rosberg said: “I lost out a bit at the start, but I gave everything to come back and I was going flat out all the way right to the end. I wanted to win – second is not my target at all, even though I know it may be enough in the championship.”
He finished five seconds behind Hamilton, who started the race 33 points adrift of his team-mate with four races remaining, and who controlled the race from lights to flag.
Ricciardo, at his most ebullient, revelled in his podium appearance and, as has become his habit, forced a laughing Butler to drink an energy drink (Red Bull) from his racing shoe in front of the crowd. The Scottish actor told him “I hate you!” and then revealed: “Actually, quite tasty -- it’s not so bad.”
Ricciardo said his race was affected by the late VSC. “It is what it is,” he said. “It’s a bit of a frustrating one sometimes… Nico was able to jump me through that procedure.”
It was Hamilton’s seventh win this season, but his first since the German Grand Prix in July since when Rosberg has grabbed the momentum with four wins in five races.
Four-time champion German Sebastian Vettel came home fourth for Ferrari after team-mate Finn Kimi Raikkonen had been forced into a bizarre retirement when he left the pits with a loose rear wheel and a wheel-gun still partially attached.
Ricciardo’s feisty Red Bull team-mate Dutch teenager Max Verstappen also retired after a gearbox failure, leaving the way open for two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso to seize fifth for McLaren-Honda after a last lap attack on compatriot Carlos Sainz.
Sainz came home sixth, equalling his career best effort, for Toro Rosso ahead of Brazilian Felipe Massa of Williams, Mexican Sergio Perez of Force India, Briton Jenson Button in the second McLaren and Frenchman Romain Grosjean who marked his 100th race by scoring a point for the popular American Haas team on their home soil.
It was Hamilton’s fourth win at the Circuit of the Americas in Texas and his fifth United States Grand Prix win, equalling the record set by seven-time champion German Michael Schumacher.
But as he admitted afterwards, he spent most of the race worrying about the possibility of another reliability issue. “I just couldn’t get it out of my mind,” he said. “I knew my engine was down on power after having a new fuel-injection system fitted on Friday night and I could not stop thinking of it. I just wanted to get through and I am very happy to have a solid weekend again at last.”
Despite that encouragement, Hamilton knows that if he is forced to retire in next weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix, Rosberg would be able to clinch his maiden title triumph if he wins the race.