KIMI Raikkonen took a very popular win in Texas, some 113 races after his last victory in 2013 and, impressively, well over 15 years since the first of his now 21 victories.
That’s staying power for you, the Iceman is clearly one glacier which is not melting.
Another nasty stat, but satisfying moment, was that Kimi made up a place on the opening lap of a race for the first time in close to two years by muscling it out with Lewis Hamilton away from the start and making the best of his ultrasoft tyres.
Behind was general chaos in the midfield with contact between Lance Stroll, Fernando Alonso, Romain Grosjean and Charles Leclerc among other scuffles. Carlos Sainz was penalised for running wide in T1 and gaining a lasting advantage but I couldn’t see what he did differently to some others in the first corner or indeed the first lap.
Meanwhile, Max Verstappen, underlining his new maturity, picked his way through the carnage making up nine places after starting 18th with suspension failure in qualifying and a subsequent gearbox change. He would go on to finish a close second with a brilliantly measured drive. I wondered if he was going to win it for a while but Kimi kept his head and calm.
Unlike his teammate Sebastian Vettel. The three-place grid drop for his red flag speeding misdemeanour in a wet Friday practice was tough but consistent with the rules and other precedents this year. There’s no point rushing a red flag in-lap on a rainy day, or any day, and it must have seemed painfully slow but the other 18 drivers on track managed the information available to them.
Vettel, using the prodigious Ferrari straight-line speed, passed Daniel Ricciardo into Turn 12 but arrived at the apex too hot and ran wide. Side-by-side into Turn 13 they firmly touched and, just as in Monza and Suzuka, Vettel’s Ferrari turned around.
It had been a long time between drinks for Raikkonen.Source:AFP
He might be doing something on a reducing throttle and panic braking as he recognises contact is imminent, causing the front axle to load up and the rear to unload. Or simply the Ferrari’s brake and engine braking/harvesting parameters combine to effectively pull the “handbrake” on. We haven’t seen Raikkonen do that though.
Given Vettel’s pace he could have won the grand prix without this clumsiness. Ferrari went the wrong way with car updates back in Singapore and it’s taken all this time to understand that despite the might of the team and their comprehensive tools and data, and drivers who have over 500 starts combined. That tells us more about the complexity of the cars than anything else.
Ricciardo suffered his seventh retirement of the season and there’s another driver who could have won the race given how close his teammate was from 14 places behind him on the grid. We know him as the smiling honey badger but even some time after his retirement he was angry enough to punch a hole in his changing room wall. I hope his change of team works out for him next year but I don’t have a good feeling about that, although Renault had a fine sixth and seventh albeit a minute behind.
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But then I didn’t have a good feeling when Ferrari failed to pit either car on lap 11 under the virtual safety car (VSC) which generates a “cheap” stop while the others are at heavily reduced pace. However, Ferrari’s confidence and patience worked out well later on so they were right.
Lewis Hamilton had been told to do whatever Kimi didn’t as they circulated slowly towards the pit lane. Kimi cheekily swerved towards the pitlane and then back onto the racing line. Can’t you just imagine the cheeky grin on his face both then and when he was crucially able to hold Lewis up later on while defending the lead on old tyres.
Lewis pitted under the VSC as instructed and it looked inspired by Mercedes. But in the end, Lewis’ first pit stop was too early and his second too late as he started lapping well over 100 seconds when 98 seconds was needed.
Verstappen got the better of Ricciardo in Austin.Source:Getty Images
In the closing stages it became clear that Kimi, Max and Lewis would be on the podium, but we had no idea in which order. You can never have too much Lewis vs Max, and the young Dutchman won this encounter with clever placement of his car, and not the late change of direction tactics he used in his early F1 days. He’s brilliantly established himself in the psyche of others to be approached with caution. Just as Ayrton Senna did.
I’m surprised Lewis admitted in the press conference that he’d given Max too much space, it only underlined the hierarchy on this matter. We may well see some flying carbon fibre as drivers try to mark their territory in future.
As Lewis ran wide in the very corner in which Max was penalised last year for undertaking Kimi, the scene was then set for Kimi to be totally underwhelmed by winning a great race. It was bittersweet for Ferrari, they had a car fast enough to win but their championship contender only finished 4th.
At least that keeps the championship alive for another seven days, with Lewis only needing seventh or better to take his fifth title. I hope he takes the championship with at least a podium, it’s rubbish when you crown a champion as he loiters in the garage or runs back to the pits as in Mexico last year.
Back in 1984 all of my races were deleted from history due to technical infringements with my Tyrrell team, largely due to politics in F1. I still have my Detroit GP second place trophy and a seriously painful left ankle to prove to myself I did actually exist.
The whole saga still hurts and so I have sympathy for Esteban Ocon and Kevin Magnussen who applied their skills, poured the sweat, and risked their lives at COTA only to be disqualified for technical reasons outside their control. The rules have to be applied, you can’t be a little bit tolerant on aspects such as fuel or weight, but as a driver that doesn’t make it any easier.
Don’t miss Mexico, where Red Bull fancy their chances against the Red and Silvers.
This article first appeared on Sky Sports and was republished with permission
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