The plan for Lewis Hamilton is quite simple. All he can do at this point is win every race from here to the end of the season and hope for some luck to go his way. For Nico Rosberg, the counterattack is also quite simple. Finish first or second from now through Abu Dhabi and he wins his first World Drivers’ Championship. Both men did what they needed to in Austin, Texas, at the US GP but that means that it’s still advantage Rosberg.
The race started with both Mercedes locking out the front row of the grid and starting the race on soft tyres from Q2. Unfortunately for Rosberg, he was starting the dirty side of the grid which compromised his start. He was level with Hamilton at the start but Daniel Ricciardo was able to take advantage of a clean grid slot from 3rd and super-soft tyres to get into second.
With Ricciardo unable to catch and pass Hamilton for the lead, it was thought that his super-softs would melt in the Texan sun and drop him down the field. Instead, the super-softs turned out to be smart because the softs also melted at COTA which meant that the undercut was especially powerful. While Ricciardo stopped after eight laps for new tyres. Rosberg followed just two laps later and put on mediums to play the long game against the Red Bull.
It was strategy misfortunes that also affected the result of the race. Possibly as a result of having a 12-second pitstop after mistakenly thinking that he was called into pit when he was actually told to speed up, Max Verstappen ground to a halt on the run-off of Turn 17 with a transmission failure and forced a Virtual Safety Car. Ricciardo just pitted and Mercedes used the slow pace to gain a position for Rosberg by pitting for fresh mediums which allowed him to jump his way into second. The original plan for Rosberg was a short stint on softs at the end to catch Hamilton but the call was made for a safe second place.
So it was a coast to the victory for Lewis Hamilton as he won his 50th grand prix and closed the gap in the WDC to only 26 point. Rosberg did what he needed to do with a second place. Daniel Ricciardo completed the podium and had a special Red Bull shoey for podium interviewer / actor Gerard Butler who doesn’t drink alcohol so he couldn’t do the champagne shoey.
After Kimi Raikkonen retired to a botched pitstop, Sebastian Vettel was the lone Ferrari, finishing in 4th. Fernando Alonso might have complained about his engine early in the race but found his way to 5th in the end. To do so, he won an epic last lap battle with Carlos Sainz who crossed the line by 6th. Felipe Massa also had a battle with Alonso near the mid-point of the race and ended his last US GP in 7th. Sergio Perez had a collision with Daniil Kvyat on the first lap but recovered to 8th. Jenson Button made it another double-points race for McLaren in 9th. And Romain Grosjean scored points for the home team as he brought Haas home in 10th.
Silly season got a lot more interesting in the run up to Austin so we’ve got a lot to recap when it comes to the midfield runners.
The biggest domino to fall for next season with Kimi staying at the Scuderia was the seats at Renault as the French manufacturer was willing to throw money to score a top driver for their once-again factory team. After not landing numerous drivers (including reports of coveting Sergio Perez, Felipe Massa and Carlos Sainz), they finally signed Nico Hulkenberg away from Force India.
Now, the dominoes start falling quickly. Force India and Renault both have free seats. The contenders for the second seat at Renault aren’t as interesting as Force India’s so let’s start in Enstone. Renault’s second seat appears to be coming down to Esteban Ocon, who has been tipped for that seat for a while, and Kevin Magnussen, who is currently the lead driver. Magnussen is also reportedly under consideration for the #26 car at Andretti Autosport in IndyCar though he denies any interest.
Meanwhile, Force India has a few drivers that are interested and that they are interested in. Mercedes development drivers Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon are near the top of the list for FI. Jolyon Palmer is said to be getting a look from both Renault and Force India. The surprise name on Force India’s shortlist is Felipe Nasr. The Brazilian driver was rumoured for a move back to Williams but he might be able to take himself and his sponsors to Force India, whose principal owners are becoming familiar with the Indian judicial system. Nasr’s sponsorship money might help him into that better seat and we can see how he stacks up in the midfield.
Over at Williams, Valtteri Bottas was confirmed for 2017 after Renault made a play to sign him away from the Grove outfit. So it will be Bottas driving alongside Canadian driver Lance Stroll. Stroll was a former Ferrari Academy driver and this year’s European F3 champion. It’s not like he’s not got talent but you have to be a little concerned that he’s rushing a little quickly into F1. If he wasn’t paying his way into Williams next year, would Williams prefer to season him in GP2/3 for a season or two before jumping him into the hot seat.
And Toro Rosso confirmed that they will retain the same lineup for 2017. Pierre Gasly, who is 7 points off the GP2 championship lead, won’t be getting the expected promotion to replace Daniil Kvyat. Prior to this announcement, the Kvyat to Force India rumours were picking up steam so Kvyat’s signing could be as much a knock on Gasly as it was a move to keep him away from a competitive team.
Gasly’s employment next season may very much depend on his GP2 championship campaign. A championship victory forces him out of the series per the rules. There are seats likely to be open or up for grabs at Sauber and/or Manor that he can move to but that would depend on how much backing he has besides Red Bull. Stoffel Vandoorne went to Japan for Super Formula this season to hone his racecraft. There’s always IndyCar, WEC and DTM as viable holding stations should that be Red Bull’s preferred way to keep him in a car prior to a 2018 promotion to F1. Granted, rumours suggest that Red Bull isn’t as high on Gasly as previous junior drivers so maybe that call to STR isn’t coming.
And the 2018 silly season is already starting. A report late on Sunday said that the long partnership between Sauber and Ferrari will end after next season. For 2017, the Swiss operation will run the 2016 Ferrari power unit but 2018 will see the team become the first Honda customer team.
The report from Motorsport that the team’s owners, Longbow Finance, are focused on long-term planning for the team and that has included negotiations with Honda over engine supply. In return for the Honda engines, Sauber will be turned into something of a junior team to bring Japanese drivers into F1. It’s believed that current GP2 driver Nobuharu Matsushita and GP3 driver Nirei Fukuzumi, who are both Honda-backed, would be considered for a jump to F1 with Sauber-Honda in 2018.
The big challenge for Sauber might still be finances. Even if Honda eats the cost of the engines, Sauber started the season hurting for money and will need money to develop a car to keep them off the tail of the grid. Granted, they’re just ahead of Manor right now but that’s most likely not going to be the case in 2017 and who knows how development of the 2017 and 2018 chassis will go given the cost of developing for a new engine formula.
The next round of the 2016 Formula One World Championship is next week. Wall or no wall, the F1 circus is going to head just south of Austin, Texas, to Mexico City, Mexico, for the Mexican Grand Prix at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in the heart of the city.
Nico won the race last year and is another Lewis slip at the start away from repeating this year. Pulling that trick off would probably all but clinch the World Drivers’ Championship for him so his priority is matching his 2015 result. For Lewis, he can’t afford to lose a race so he’s got to bring his A-game for this and the subsequent two Grands Prix.
If there’s a track that I can’t see Red Bull playing spoiler on, it’s got to be in Mexico. The high altitude of the city and track saps the engines of power so the Renault power disadvantage should be exacerbated here which plays into Nico’s hands. He’ll have to watch for them in Brazil but should be safely in the top two in Mexico.