Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Circuit of the Americas, 2018

Error-free Raikkonen shows Vettel how it’s done

2018 United States Grand Prix review

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Lewis Hamilton arrived at the Circuit of the Americas aiming for his fifth win in a row this year, his fifth consecutive United States Grand Prix victory and – best of all – his fifth world championship title.

But the stars failed to align for him as Ferrari made a leap forward by taking a step backward. As Sebastian Vettel revealed after the race, the team transformed the performance of their SF71H by removing nearly four months-worth of updates.

That should have given Vettel the platform he needed to deliver a late blow to Hamilton’s bid. Instead he let his title rival off the hook once again.

The prime beneficiary was Vettel’s team mate Kimi Raikkonen, who gladly claimed his first grand prix victory in five-and-a-half years.

Vettel shoots himself in the foot

Start, Circuit of the Americas, 2018
Hamilton couldn’t hold back fast-starting Raikkonen
The front row of the grid should have been the same as last year, with Hamilton on pole position and Vettel alongside. But a three-place grid penalty for a red flag infringement during practice relegated Vettel to fifth.

Vettel was at pains to paint himself as the victim of an over-zealous stewards’ decision. The fact of the matter in the grid penalty he received is exactly the same as what previous drivers got for the same infraction, and is in fact more lenient than the five-place penalty recommended by the FIA’s guidelines.

There were 14 drivers on-track when the red flag came out. The other 13 all reduced their speed as required. Among their number were two test drivers – Lando Norris and Sean Gelael – with limited experience of this level of competition.

If they can do as they are supposed to, a four-times world champion has no excuse for taking almost half a minute to reduce his speed. This is another in a litany of errors by Vettel and Ferrari which have done at least as much damage to their championship position as their recent loss of pace. And it wasn’t his last this weekend.

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Vettel shoots himself in the foot again

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Circuit of the Americas, 2018
Vettel spun himself back around
Just as Vettel did 12 months earlier, Raikkonen dive-bombed Hamilton to take first place when the race started. Ferrari split the tyre strategies between their penalised and unpenalised drivers, and Raikkonen used his softer rubber to great effect.

Further back Vettel was making amends for his practice indiscretion by edging Daniel Ricciardo aside for fourth place. But only temporarily. The Ferrari driver snatched a brake and ran wide at turn 12, allowing Ricciardo back in the fight.

Ricciardo drew alongside Vettel on the outside as they rounded the following corner. The pair banged wheels and Vettel spun – again. This is the third clash this year and the third different rival Vettel’s been up against where he was the one to spin despite holding the inside line.

“I think initially he had a bad exit out of 12 but then I came back,” Vettel explained. “I had the inside but I guess he didn’t see me so we went side-by-side.

“Then it was quite clear he tried to go around the outside and we touched pretty much wheels-on. After the touch I lost the car and spun.”

The midfielders are now well used to Vettel’s number five Ferrari looming in their mirrors during the opening laps, and so by lap 12 he was back up to fifth place. Max Verstappen, who’d started 18th, made it that far by the seventh lap, and was on his way to an excellent result.

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Mercedes’ VSC gamble fails

Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Circuit of the Americas, 2018
Raikkonen held Hamilton back
Hamilton kept Raikkonen in range during the opening laps, hoping the Ferrari drivers’ softer tyres would fade quickly. Track conditions on Sunday were hotter than Saturday, and with no meaningful dry running on Friday teams were in the dark about how their tyres would perform. A pre-race instruction from Pirelli telling teams to increase their rear tyre pressures by 1.5psi further complicated matters.

On lap nine Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull came to a stop – a total power unit shutdown similar to the one he experienced in Bahrain. The Virtual Safety Car was deployed, and Mercedes spied an opportunity.

Hamilton was told to do the “opposite” to Raikkonen at pit entry, and he duly ducked in as Raikkonen continued. He switched from super-softs to softs and rejoined the track in third behind his team mate, Raikkonen just eight seconds ahead.

It seemed a tactical masterstroke, particularly as Bottas was never going to hold him up. But rather than hang back and nurse his tyres to the end, Hamilton pressed on in pursuit of Raikkonen. Were Mercedes planning to pit twice?

By lap 19 Hamilton was all over the Ferrari, but understandably circumspect about getting physical with his championship rival’s team mate. Raikkonen kept it clean and defended smartly. “For sure my purpose is not to be any more aggressive against him than anybody else,” he said afterwards. “I don’t believe in doing crazy things.”

Being bottled up behind Raikkonen wasn’t doing Hamilton’s tyres any good but his options were limited. On lap 21 Raikkonen finally headed for the pits. “At a certain point the tyres are going to fall off and there is not a lot you can do,” he said. “We had a pretty good battle. I tried to stay as far as I could.”

Soon afterwards Hamilton’s tyres began to fade. Then he hit traffic, which made matters work. The blistering on his rear tyres was visible, and as Raikkonen began to draw him back in Mercedes bowed to the inevitable and pitted Hamilton a second time.

Three-way fight for victory

Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Circuit of the Americas, 2018
Hamilton’s attack on Verstappen drew his fire from
This left him behind not just Raikkonen, but also Verstappen, who had jumped Bottas thanks in part to the time the Mercedes driver lost letting his team mate go by. It set up a tense finish to the race as Verstappen, on super-softs, edged closer to Raikkonen while Hamilton gained on the pair of them.

With Vettel only having made it as far as fifth, Hamilton could clinch the title if he dislodged Verstappen from second place. With two laps to go he made his move, drawing Verstappen off-line and diving for the outside through the fast sweep of turns 16, 17 and 18. Verstappen allowed his rival room, but Hamilton had too much momentum for the available grip and took to the run-off.

With that, Hamilton’s title celebrations were put on hold for another week and Raikkonen’s triumph was assured, as Verstappen lost a second to the Ferrari. One the penultimate lap Vettel overtook Bottas for fourth, so even if Hamilton had taken second the championship wouldn’t have been decided.

Afterwards Hamilton felt he could have won the race with a one-stop strategy, but losing the lead to Raikkonen at the start compromised him. “Pace-wise, I think we were very, very close. But the whole deficit, they kept putting me so far behind, I could have told you exactly what was going to happen once we had those big gaps that we had to catch.”

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff admitted they “underestimated how easy or how fast he could overtake”. Aside from Verstappen and Vettel’s recovery drives, there were notably few passes elsewhere in the field.

Disqualifications hit midfield

Esteban Ocon, Force India, Circuit of the Americas, 2018
Ocon was stripped of eighth place
Great starts by the Renault drivers put them on course to grab a ‘best of the rest’ one-two which boosts their chances of holding on to fourth in the constructors’ championship. They were aided by post-race disqualifications for one of each of their principal rivals’ cars, both due to fuel use violations.

Esteban Ocon’s Force India and Kevin Magnussen’s Haas were thrown out after the race. The latter exceeded his maximum allocation of 105kg of fuel, having been urgently warned about his “critical” fuel situation in the final laps. That promoted Sergio Perez to eighth and Brendon Hartley and Marcus Ericsson into the final two points positions.

Fernando Alonso, who won’t be doing quite as much racing in America next year as was first suspected, only managed a single lap before being punted out by Lance Stroll. The McLaren driver has been increasingly vocal in his complaints regarding F1 and this time was no exception as he laid into the quality of driving after another first-lap exit.

While Alonso’s comments may have become rather predictable, it was hard to disagree with him. Stroll launched his Williams at the McLaren in a zero-percent move which the stewards rightly penalised with a drive-through penalty. Stroll, however, couldn’t bring himself to accept his share of the blame: “I had a portion of my car there and I don’t think he saw me,” was his assessment.

Hamilton set for coronation

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Circuit of the Americas, 2018
Hamilton moved closer to the championship
Afterwards Vettel reflected that while Ferrari’s progress was positive, the fact it had come by downgrading their car’s specification showed their development programme had gone seriously awry. This may be true, but his errors have compounded their problems, particularly in recent races.

“For sure once shit hit the fan it didn’t get better,” said Vettel of his first-lap error. “I think there were too many of those incidents.

“I don’t believe in luck or bad luck but surely here and there maybe things didn’t go our way entirely. But it’s how it is.”

While Vettel slipped up again, Raikkonen proved a worthier foe in Austin. But it’s unlikely either will be able to stop Hamilton’s coronation at the next round.

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Quotes: Dieter Rencken

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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63 comments on “Error-free Raikkonen shows Vettel how it’s done”

  1. Brundle has become so insufferable with his commentary. He was berating Ferrari strategists for not pitting Kimi during the VSC period. Can someone tell him that he doesn’t know everything?

    1. @carbon_fibre – I don’t blame Brundle. Sitting next to Crofty for hours on end will turn anyone’s brains to pudding.

    2. Brundle was a mediocre driver and and is now a mediocre commentator. Smarm without the charm.

    3. Commentators don’t get everything right and to be fair, Ferrari has made some awful mistakes with strategy and it seems reasonable to question them. But I’m so happy for Kimi that they got right this time. When you step back a look at Kimi’s record over the this year and last year, he’s been the perfect number 2 driver. I think Ferrari should have kept him for one more year and brought LeClerc in for 2019.

      BTW, I think Brundle is a great commentator. I used to like Crofty years ago but his latest incarnation as bellowing hysteric is just terrible. I say keep Brundle and get Crofty into that game where they kick the round ball around.

      1. I think Brundle is a great commentator

        @partofthepuzzle – I don’t mind Brundle as the pundit in general, he offers good insight into tactics and decisions. Unfortunately, since he comes with Crofty as a package deal, it is a combination to avoid. I prefer C4’s team in comparison – Ben Edwards on commentary, with either DC or Karun Chandok as the pundit.

        That said, Brundle has had a tendency to keep moaning about certain pet peeves of his, which can be a bit of a turn-off.

    4. @carbon_fibre You don’t know everything either so shut your hole.

      Brundle is a great commentator, maybe the best.

      So glad that opinions on this poxy site are basically invisible.

      1. Agreed about Brundle. He and Murray Walker were absolute tops.

    5. @carbon_fibre while I agree that sometimes they talk rubbish, they also don’t have much information… they are commentators, not race strategists.

      And you’re lucky you have Brundle, Crofty and all those guys. Sure some others might be better, but you don’t know how BAD commentary can be. I couldn’t find a proper stream showing SkyF1 last sunday and only managed to catch the Spanish feed… it was HORRIBLE, I just couldn’t bear it, and I spent 15 minutes trying again to find a good SkyF1 stream. I had to mute them, they were talking absolute nonsense and they even took time AT THE BEGINNING OF THE RACE to comment on the quality of the radio messages in Lewis’ Mercedes. And it wasn’t just a single comment, they kept going on and on and on… and when Alonso retired, gosh, they didn’t stop talking about how unfair it was. And it’s the same with the latin american commentators…

      British commentary is by far the best, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t complain, but be grateful you’re not suffering, at least…

      1. Ahaha, sounds funny, would like to hear commentary like it!

    6. to be fair, at the time I thought Mercedes had made the right move in pitting Hamilton. Ultimately it was the worse strategy.

      1. @willbryan I still maintain that Mercedes made the right choice by pitting Hamilton before Raikkonen. How was it not the right call? They went from being 2 seconds behind Raikkonen before the VSC on tyres were struggling with, to basically being right up his gearbox on fresher tyres? How is that the wrong strategy call? Where they messed up was with their other stop. If they had pitted Hamilton 3-4 laps earlier for his final pit stop, he would only have rejoined about 3 behind Raikkonen (and ahead of Verstappen) on fresher tyres. On the flip side, once Hamilton had caught up to the back of Raikkonen at around the lap 20 mark, Mercedes could genuinely have tried the undercut, despite having had pitted only about 9-13 laps earlier. That would have given them track position, and tyres that were only 1 lap more worn than Raikkonen’s. And from that, there’s no way he would lose.

        1. Agreed. And do not forget that by using Bottas again, his chances to keep Ver behind were gone.
          He lost a lot by letting ham pass. And at the end even vet could pass him. A total blackout after the first pitstop for the strategy team.

  2. Nice write-up, Keith, and I enjoyed the humour laced throughout it.

    1. And it’s hard to argue, especially with the Vettel comments. Awful year for him.

  3. Still thinke the VSC gambled played out pretty well. After that Merc failed to pit when Hamilton was 17sec clear of Kimi. He would have entered in new soft or super soft just 3-6sec behind Kimi and would have likely won..

    Merc, just as Ferrari is horrible at strategy, wait till Redbull can compete..

    1. We have it this year often that even mercs have horrible strategy calls- Australia, China and Austria are prime example.

      1. Hindsight is a lovely thing isn’t it.

        Interestingly enough, such a call came after a “secret” team meet where principals *did not* talk about how to spice up the show.

    2. @maxv Facts disagree with your opinion. Mercs were eating their tires at a much faster rate than the Ferraris and RBR’s. Had LH pitted when he was 17 secs in front he would’ve been in all sorts of trouble by the end of the race

      1. @montreal95
        I think Pirelli order to increase rear tyres done its purposed to spice up the race. The tyres degrade faster. It just Merc affected the most from it.

        I like this kind subtle policy that could disrupt teams’ practice and qualifying data. I doesn’t look too artificial.

        1. @ruliemaulana Pirelli said it was because of safety concerns. Whether there really is a hidden purpose of spicing up the racing I don’t know but would not begrudge them if they did.

          Anyway, what I replied to was an opinion that had Lewis pitted when he was still 17 secs off he would’ve won. He might’ve done but it would have been awfully close. In other words, a gamble, same as the decision Mercedes took to extend the 2nd stint

          1. @montreal95 Hamilton would have been in front Max on a lot newer tires and behind Kimi, on newer time as well. The only question would have been if Kimi could keep him behind in the first few laps. He definitely would pocket 2nd. During the race it looked like a no brainer.

          2. In addition it’s one of those tire mess ups by Pirelli again, where Max made the SS last better than the Soft. We have seen that before, weird tires..

  4. Didn’t Hammy make an error trying to pass Verstappen?

    1. Yeah, Keith referred to Hamilton running wide:

      With two laps to go [Hamilton] made his move, drawing Verstappen off-line and diving for the outside through the fast sweep of turns 16, 17 and 18. Verstappen allowed his rival room, but Hamilton had too much momentum for the available grip and took to the run-off.

      1. Hammy made a far bigger error than Vettel.

        I’m not sure I would consider wheel to wheel contact an error. That’s basically racing between two people not giving an inch.

      2. Well at that stage the tires from verstappen were almost gone. He went somewhat wide as a result but his action to lure ham to the dirty side worked. Great defending and a naive move by ham. Together with hams bad tire management he really had a bad day in the fastest car with the best tires.

        1. Problem was the SS were better than the Soft. Max originally was on two stop but was surprised he could make the SS last better than the Soft on the first stint.

    2. * Lewis Hamilton.

  5. This would be a better articlr if it was just a tiny bit about Kimi winning and a tiny bit less about Vettel losing.

    1. Kimi was very lucky that Vettel got the grid penalty. Had Vettel started from P2 Kimi’d have finished behind him.

      1. Yet he did something Vettel has struggled to do recently, staying ahead of the mercs without making mistakes

      2. Kimi wasn’t lucky. He simply drove well in a good car. He obeyed flags in all sessions and didn’t get a penalty. He qualified within 9 thousandths of a second of Vettel. He drove a measured race and fought for the win when he needed to.

        Credit where it is due – he won fair and square.

        1. All credit to to him for not only driving a flawless race but holding off both Lewis and Max. But he was fortunate in that he didn’t have to play wingman to Vettel.

      3. No, if Vettel started from 2nd, he will crash into Hamilton at the first corner.

    2. He is an Alonso man, isn’t he?

      1. Sometimes it feels like people put themselves against a wall just to help the guy.

        Oh no, here we go again…

        (Btw who is that guy that is always complaining about this? I want to tag him here)

    3. @johnmilk well, Kimi winning was a consequence of Vettel not being there to grab the win. Ferrari would’ve made Kimi move over, I’m sure…

      In any case, Kimi winning is just as big as story as Vettel losing it for the 3rd time in 6th races… getting it so wrong during a portion of a season while battling for the championship isn’t that common… Vettel SERIOUSLY dropped the ball, and it’s incredible that he’s been involved in all these incidents.

      Think about it, it’s not just the spins. All of them came after mistakes from Vettel before the race. In Monza he made a couple of mistakes in his fastest lap in qualy, which left him second on the grid and vulnerable to an attack from Lewis. In Suzuka, Ferrari got him on the wrong tyres, but then on his only lap in the dry tyres, he made a mistake again leaving him in the 5th row and needing to catch up. Here, it was the penalty for the red flag infringement… every time he’s finding himself out of position, risking too much and losing it.

      Reminds me of the “Crash Kid” situation, when people were talking that Seb never won outside pole position and he didn’t know how to battle wheel to wheel, back in 2010… nowadays it seems he’s trying harder to get that nickname back…

      I’m glad for Kimi, he deserved it, specially after Monza. But the news for me is Vettel, it’s hard to understand how this championship became a complete walk in the park by Hamilton.

      1. Your comment suffers from the same symptoms I’m afraid.
        Maybe I’m the problem

        1. @johnmilk are you a hardcore Kimi fan? that’d explain :P To be fair, he himself said “it’s not a big deal”, so maybe it really isn’t!

          1. The hardcore part is true, the fan not so much

          2. You know how raikkonen is, it’s a weird character, it’s a big deal for most fans of the sport, even hamilton, wolf and others, just not for raikkonen himself!

  6. The title of this article couldn’t be more accurate. Mercedes will not win both Drivers’ and World Constructors’ Championships in 2018 because they arguably have the best car but because they were the most reliable team and have the most reliable drivers. Ferrari in its tradition has probably made a mistake with Vettel. Imagine if they had supported more Kimi this year! How much different would the championship had been? I honestly hope Vettel uses the time of the winter break to reflect on these last two years. If he doesn’t change his approach, Ferrari will (should?) loose their patience with him. And if Leclerc turns out to beat him next year, a hard task for his first year in Ferrari, then his future is grim

      1. So pleased you are here to spell check the forum.

        1. @darkstar – nice retort :-)

  7. It’s unlikely that Leclerc will challenge Vettel next year. Vettel does not need Leclerc all over his gearbox when he’s fighting Hamilton. Leclerc’s job will be to fight Bottas and Verstappen for Constructor points.

  8. Numerous reports of Kimi breaking the record for most races between two wins overshadow the fact that he broke another – probably more significant – record: longest period between first and last win. Previously held by Schumi at little over 14 years, Kimi beat the record by almost a year and a half. And he can still extend it.

    1. Yes, but schumacher retired prematurely, he was very competitive still in 2006 and could’ve won races (and titles) the next 2 years as well, eventually it’s gonna go to hamilton I guess, really depends on how long he stays, alonso also could’ve done it talent-wise but never had a decent car after leaving ferrari (problem of his own making ofc).

  9. Vettel’s comment about “maybe they want me to slam on my brakes” in reference to the infraction that gave him the grid penalty just cracks me up. In the stewards statement, they noted that he took over 27 seconds to slow down! Maybe that is “slamming on the brakes” to him, and if so, explains some of his collisions.

    1. I’m not a vettel hater like so many people but that is genuinely funny. Hehehe

    2. @waptraveler while i can’t say i am as glad as some of the people on this website here that vettel is making (small) mistakes, i have to say: i was watching the fp1 and vettel was right behind the incident that put gravel on the track; he just passed it, that’s one.

      two: everyone who looked at the data and at his onboard saw he was being safe and did slow down, but he didn’t hit the delta time.

      so he was at fault, but he wasn’t unsafe or unreasonable.

    3. @waptraveler it may have taken him 27 seconds to slow down to the required delta but he actually did slow down immediately, just not enough.

  10. It’s interesting that Vettel’s car has been the one that spun in all 3 collisions/wheel bangs, with 3 different cars.

    Does that suggest an inherent front end instability with the red car. Seems strange that a driver of his caliber can’t control the car after a relatively minor hit, whereas other cars seem to absorb them with relative ease.

  11. I read on another site that Merc had brought a last minute change to the Wheel Rim design following an enqiury from Ferrari. They did not want to risk a Pre-Race protest from the Red Team. The FIA did clear the design but if there was a protest pre-race it would be up to the stewards to determine legality. So that perhaps negatively affected the tyre operation window as well.

    1. Why isn’t anyone questioning Mercedes tricks?

  12. Drive of the Year 2018!

  13. People here seeming to forget that Vettel is still ahead of Kimi by 55 points, and has been by far the better driver and has far more wins than Kimi during their time as team mates. Also, Kimi is turning 40 next year, so he’s not getting any younger.

    Keep Kimi and drop Seb, are you insane.

    1. Kimi is only 55 points behind despite:

      *Suffering 3 DNFs due to:
      -unsafe release in Bahrain (twice in a weekend, Ferrari getting a fine of 5000 euros for the one in practice & 50000 euros for the one during the race that involved the injury of a mechanic)
      -engine failure in Spain (twice in a weekend; the terminal failure of Kimi’s first PU during practice forced Ferrari to give him another Australia spec PU which eventually failed during the race)
      -being crashed into during the opening lap of Spa after being given fuel for only the first half of Q3. (With only one run in Q3 in the wet, Kimi had to return to the garage in the middle of the session and get out of the car while the rest of his rivals went out for their second run with slicks and an improving track)

      *Completing all the races from Australia until Hungary with Australia spec power units, given that Ferrari never gave him the upgraded version introduced for Vettel in Canada. In order to avoid grid penalties for exceeding the number of power units allowed during the year, Kimi had to compete against rivals with upgraded and fresher units. All of it because his first engine broke down in Spain…

      Raikkonen has the same number of podiums (ten) than Vettel despite being given the ‘number two’ driver strategy in most races and with operational shortcomings like the drinking bottle incident in Hungary…

      ‘Not bad for a number two driver’ who is still the Scuderia’s last Champion, don’t you think?

    2. Kimi has had 3 DNF’s not his fault, had to replace version 1 PU with another version 1 PU never getting version 2 so from Spain i think to Spa he was still in version 1, while Vettel got version 2 at Canada.

  14. @ho3n3r Implying that Seb is getting younger…

    Actually you may be right… lmao

    Anyhow, just wanted to say that perhaps it’s for the best that Kimi is leaving for a team closer to home and less politics. He can do what he enjoys and perhaps help Sauber in the long run with his vast experience.

  15. Merc cheating with their deemed-OK-byFIA-yet-withdrawn-for-USGP-after-Ferrari-challenge rear wheel rim concept? If so, what should the appropriate penalty be?

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