Karun's verdict: Title No. 6 proves Hamilton is one of the greatest of all time
The Mercedes master is certainly the best driver of his generation
Karun Chandhok is a former Formula 1 driver who is now an expert analyst and pundit for Sky Sports F1 and DriveTribe.
The US Grand Prix weekend is one of my favourites. Austin is a great city, we get a huge crowd who are loving F1 more and more and the atmosphere at the track is fantastic. It was also a very busy weekend with lots of news and gossip outside of the track action.
Things kicked off on Thursday with our first look into the future of the sport from 2021 and beyond. On the whole, my first impressions are positive and Ross Brawn and Nikolas Tombazis from the FIA presented a very logical and data driven set of rules which seemed to make a lot of sense.
The most important thing is the focus on the ‘raceability’ and making it easier for the cars to follow each other closely without losing too much downforce and therefore be in a better position to overtake.
Currently, the car following closely behind their competitor loses about 45 per cent of their downforce which is what stops them from following too closely and overtaking. The new rules are meant to allow cars to follow and only lose about 20 per cent of their downforce, which will be a significant improvement.
Yes, the top three teams are very concerned about the way the rules are restricting their design creativity but ultimately for the show, the FIA and F1 need to do what’s best for all ten teams and also entice other new ones in.
They are also looking at several ways of reducing the costs involved and are aiming to create a set of rules that reward people who spend their money wisely, not necessarily the people who spend the most amount of money. This of course will mean that the big teams will end up losing people as they scale back their work loads, but the hope is that we will be able to entice new teams to F1 and these people will get jobs with the new teams.
The bumps around the Circuit of the Americas were a big talking point as well.
I drove several laps around there in a road car over the weekend and there’s no question that some of the bumps were really quite extreme and beyond anything we see in F1 nowadays. I’m a fan of bumps on a track as I think they give it character but this was a bit over the top in some places. I think it’s a fair assumption that this contributed to Sebastian Vettel’s suspension failure in the race.
There was a really tense undercurrent throughout the sharp end of the paddock from Saturday morning this weekend, when the FIA issued a clarification to the teams about the measurement of the fuel flow and any potential interference with the signal that allows the sensors and the measurement system to work properly.
It’s not right for me to comment on the rumours and whispers because unless there’s something in black and white from the FIA then, it’s not fair to really say anything speculative. However, what did seem evident looking at the GPS data this weekend is that unlike what we’ve seen in recent races, including at a similar downforce level and track configuration in Suzuka, is that Ferrari did not have as big an advantage on the straights in comparison to the Mercedes or Red Bull cars.
As I said before, I’m not going to get into the game of speculation as to why this was the case, but I get the feeling that this issue could rumble on for a little while longer.
The race itself was won by the fastest driver over the weekend – and it wasn’t necessarily the one we would have all expected. Lewis Hamilton has been exceptional around the COTA circuit since we first came here in 2012, winning five times in seven years but when it came to crunch time in Qualifying, it was his team-mate Valtteri Bottas who delivered a stellar lap to take pole.
Bottas nailed pole position in qualifying – and US racing legend Mario Andretti was on hand to congratulate him
Qualifying was unbelievably close this weekend, with the top three drivers from three teams within a tenth of a second, but also the top five within just three tenths of a second. With a long lap and lots of high energy changes of direction, this is a hard track for the tyres and I thought Valtteri did a very good job of making sure he had the grip he needed for the final sector of the lap.
You could see that other drivers were struggling more and more with rear end grip as the lap unfolded but even at the final corner, the Finn seemed to have the rear end of the car under control which was impressive to watch.
In the race, the Ferraris really struggled in the opening stint on the medium compound tyres. For whatever reason, their pace was way off anything that the Mercedes drivers or Max could do and that’s something they need to really work out. Once Leclerc put the harder tyres on, his pace seemed fine but it was too late to do anything about the leaders.
We had an interesting strategic contest for the win, with Hamilton managing his tyres to do a one stop race against Valtteri on a two stop.
Bottas followed up pole with an impressive victory over Hamilton
In terms of strategy, I don’t think there was much in it today as we have to remember that Lewis started further behind from Valtteri and Lewis on a one stop was able to get in front of a two stopping Verstappen.
Max and Red Bull will be reasonably pleased to finish within five seconds of the winner. Christian Horner told me that the Dutchman picked up some front wing damage on the opening lap which hurt his race and therefore finishing within a few seconds of the winning car was a good result for them.
But ultimately, at the end of it all, the biggest story of the weekend was of course Lewis winning his sixth World Championship.
I remember when I was growing up that everyone thought Fangio’s record of five titles would never be beaten. Then we thought that Michael’s record of seven championships would stand forever and really as recently as 2013, that seemed to be the case. But now, it looks very likely that Lewis is going to beat that record which is an amazing feat.
He’s clearly someone who divides fans. There are several people who love him, but equally there are people who just can’t warm to him. Drivers like Senna, Mansell, Schumacher and Alonso garnered nationalistic support from their home countries on a level that Lewis has never been able to achieve for some reason.
But love him or not, one thing you cannot question is that he’s an exceptional racing driver, the best of his generation and certainly one of the greatest of all time. So I’m going to finish by saying, congratulations Lewis – it’s been a pleasure to watch greatness unfold on the track.