F1 didn’t get the head to head showdown it wanted in Texas, or that it desperately built up towards, but there was plenty of on track action to get excited about, along with some traditional postrace controversy. With Mercedes constructors’ champions, all that’s left is for Hamilton to wrap up his fourth drivers’ title, drawing level with Vettel, not to mention unmuddling the mess that’s the midfield between Williams and Haas.
Sainz wins Spanish shootout
Carlos Sainz, Renault F1 Team: Started 7th, Finished 7th
While it’s pretty clear at this point that Carlos Sainz has the talent to compete for world championships in future when given a chance in the right machinery, Sunday was probably his most impressive drive in F1. Older fans of F1 will remember the struggles that both Luca Badoer and more notably Giancarlo Fisichella had stepping into a race-winning Ferrari midway through 2009. With that as context, look at how well Sainz performed in his debut for Renault.
It’s a real shame that we didn’t get a direct comparison with Nico Hülkenberg as the highly-touted German started at the back with a grid penalty and retired after only three laps. From what we did see, Sainz was the main threat for Renault in Texas. In a new car with no testing, Sainz was immediately on the pace and topped Hülkenberg in both Friday sessions - in fact after a huge eight tenths gap in FP1 – and the pair were near inseparable for the rest of practice.
In qualifying, Sainz continued the form, beating Hülkenberg by two tenths, although the German had set his car up for his short-lived race. In fact, Sainz progressed all the way to Q3 and was beaten to best of the rest only by Esteban Ocon, splitting the Force Indias and qualifying a tenth and a half ahead of his hero Alonso.
In a new car with no testing, Sainz was immediately on the pace and topped Hülkenberg in both Friday sessions
Come the race, Sainz lost out to Alonso at the start and was stuck behind the McLaren for the entire first stint, despite the lack of power in the McLaren Honda. Running a long first stint until lap 19 cost the Spaniard as he lost out to Checo Pérez, despite passing Alonso, though he did have far fresher tyres for the rest of the race, after pitting on lap 19. It took until lap 33 for Sainz to get past and then he was able to use his fresher tyres to track down Ocon and secure best of the rest in sixth. Sainz closed the gap to a couple of car lengths within five laps but couldn’t make a move stick and was left to study the Force India rear wing to help Renault develop their car.
Sainz couldn’t have done a better job. While it would have been interesting to see how he would have shaped up to Hülkenberg in a fair fight, the Spaniard has set a standard that will excite Renault and tag them as favourites for fifth in the constructors’ championship.
Mad Max blots copybook after great drive
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing: Started 16th, Finished 4th
Red Bull are making a habit of recovering well from the lowly grid positions as reliability gets the better of them. Verstappen came up with another one to put his name on the big stage in the US. Unfortunately, his last lap attack cost him a spot on the literal big stage of the podium but the first 55 laps of his race shouldn’t be forgotten.
A disappointing qualifying saw him finish sixth as Red Bull focused on the race but once Sunday came, he was back to his aggressive, on-the-edge best. By lap four he was in the points and up to ninth with a fighting chance of competing with the rest of the top six. By lap 10, he had passed Sainz, Alonso and Ocon to make it back into the top six. He had a good strategy to compete as well having started on the supersoft tyres.
Verstappen was able to run until lap 24, dropping from second to fifth, and then, fitted with the softs, he had the hope of running until the end and having more life in tyres. The plan changed though, Verstappen had nothing to lose and pitted again on lap 37 to return to supersofts, despite having ultrasofts spare. Suddenly Max was the quickest on the track, taking over a second a lap out of the gap to the lead. It forced Vettel to pit in response, and now they were a team. The flying Dutchman passed Bottas on lap 52 and started chasing the Ferraris for a podium. With good tactical work from Ferrari, Verstappen was left with one opportunity to pass Räikkönen around the long right hander. The Red Bull man took it to the limit and literally went over the line in getting past for third, resulting in a penalty as the stewards enforced track limits and an angry Dutchman.
Regardless, Verstappen’s drive was impressive and rescued a tough day for Red Bull.
Toro Rosso drivers show off their talent
Daniil Kvyat & Brendon Hartley, Scuderia Toro Rosso: Started 11th & 19th, Finished 10th & 13th
Surely that was Daniil Kvyat’s last F1 drive? Certainly, for a Red Bull affiliated team. That being said, the Russian does deserve credit for his drive in America and showed that he is very talented, even if he was broken by the Red Bull driver program. Kvyat was on a strong pace and got the most out of the Toro Rosso package in Texas. He lost out to Verstappen at the start but used a one-stop strategy to perfection, helping him to jump Massa, with the retirements of Ricciardo and Alonso securing his third points finish of the season, his best result since Spain.
The New Zealander used an aggressive strategy with a two stopper that gave him great pace at the end
On the other side of the garage was an F1 rookie who earned a longer term audition. Hartley’s challenge was made tougher as he had to start from the back after power unit penalties.
The New Zealander used an aggressive strategy with a two stopper that gave him great pace at the end. With new supersofts on and having maintained good fuel efficiency from his WEC experience, Hartley starred in the final stint, passing Magnussen, Ericsson and Grosjean, finishing just behind Stroll and Vandoorne.