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Winners and Spinners - United States Grand Prix

This could prove to be a crucial race in deciding the title as Max extends his lead and Mercedes take a hit in the constructors'.

4w ago


Max Verstappen - With the final three races of the season forecast to be Mercedes strong points, it's critical that Max and the Red Bull team bag what they can now, and pull out as much of an advantage as they can. Perhaps it was this that saw Max challenge through turn one on the opening lap, but challenge differently to how we've seen Lewis and he barrel into T1 previously. Max's process in how he chooses to fight seems to have changed a little bit which is quite wise.

If we pull apart the numbers and said, what if Max fought Lewis through T1 and they both retired, while he'd retain his place leading the Championship, there's the risk of damage, penalties from new parts, and it puts a greater onus on the remaining races, only two of which are predicted to be Red Bull favourites, Middle Eastern trio that'll round out this season are assumed to be Mercedes territory. In our fictional world, that'd only give Max two races to build a buffer strong enough to withstand three races of Mercedes domination. The USGP counted.

Equally, if he were to lose out in T1 and take a retirement, could the following five races of winning six points at a time over Lewis (assuming Max wins, Lewis second and fastest lap) be enough to recoup his win. It'd come down to the wire in Abu Dhabi. Not the sort of pressure anyone wants. With a lead built up, it's proving crucial that Max doesn't let it slip away. 12 points are all that now separates Lewis and Max. If Max suffered one non-scoring race, all Lewis would need is a 4th or better to draw level or take the lead. It could happen and given how this season has panned out so far, I wouldn't be surprised if something of that nature happened.

With that in mind, it's easy to see why Max, possibly guided by his team, raced the race he did. In a weird way, we could see the season take an about-turn with Lewis possibly making some more aggressive moves to try and push Max into a mistake. While Dallas has given Max some breathing room, he's not home and dry just yet, and he might not be until we see the chequered flag come out at Yas Marina.

Sergio Perez - While he wasn't on the tail of Max much throughout the race, Sergio put in an incredible drive this weekend. He's finally found his feet in his chassis, helped along by no longer copypasting Max's setups instead of building his own. While he's still not quite up alongside Max through the races, his turns of speed in qualifying have possibly been forcing Mercedes to play a different game come to the race to protect from the threat of a pincer movement. Sergio had Mercedes fretting about the risk of a double overcut, a double undercut, or a hedged bet, one of one and one of the other.

Add in the lack of hydration through the race, which Sergio said proved to be a major setback with regards to his physical performance and it's quite impressive how he managed to have such a competent drive given that. He spoke in an interview with the Chequered Flag podcast saying how he was losing strength in his hands and feet as the race wore on. His thirst was also beginning to impact his vision he said. So kudos to him for pushing through that and bringing home a points haul that Red Bull needed right now to fight back against Mercedes. While his drive was a little unremarkable as he couldn't keep the pace of the racing pair of Lewis and Max (who can?) his clean and tidy race was a good indicator of how comfortable he is with his new setup.

Ferrari - Aside from their bizarre idea of starting Carlos on the soft compound, on a track where tyre degradation is high and the temperature higher; their race was strong. That call may well have cost Carlos two places and four points. Given how well the SF21 was set up for the circuit, Charles was able to retain his 4th place from lights out to chequered flag, largely untouched by the McLaren cars behind. If Carlos had been on the same competitive strategy then it could have tipped the Constructors' champ into the favour of Ferrari, even if only by two points.

Charles meanwhile was pretty much untouched by Danny Ric behind. His race was careful, conservative and quiet. Arguably one of the best sorts of races to have when you're trying to hoover up points.

Daniel Ricciardo - Texas does funny things to Danny Ric, he comes out of his already pretty empty shell and just knocks it up a gear. Last time out in America he was on fire in his R.S. 19 and came home head and shoulders above Nico in the other Renault. And again, we've seen Danny Ric back onto a form that we love to see. He was able to run his papaya car right up against what should have been the more competitive pairing of the Ferraris.

With one hobbled by a poor tyre choice, Daniel was able to capitalise on the situation and early on in an aggressive move with Lando, split the Ferrari's up. In doing so, reduced the work the McLaren team needed to do to lessen the impact of a track that wasn't going to go in their favour. Four of his last six races have been points scoring outings, and all of them in the top five. The Australian seems to have finally cracked his MCL35M chassis and found what makes it sing.

Yuki Tsunoda - Yuki has found his form once more and proved Turkey wasn't a one-off. He made it into Q3, although failed to show the same pace that Gasly had, but in his defence, he'd only ever driven this circuit on simulators before Friday. A steep learning curve and a fast grid behind him should have meant that the odds were stacked against him on Sunday, and still he didn't just cope, he drove well.

By the end of lap one, he'd passed both Pierre and Bottas and was working at solidly embedding himself into the top ten. Another Mercedes attack from behind, this time Bottas pushing his way forward was dealt with tidily. He worked his way back up to 8th after his first stop and held off a charging Bottas for a lap before running what would go on to be a purely defensive race. Vettel was able to outpace him at one point, before dropping behind the young Japanese driver. Yuki didn't have the pace to catch Norris ahead but still put on a competent show and bagged some well-earned points.

Antonio Giovinazzi - Antonio still doesn't have a drive next year. There's still an empty seat next to Bottas in the Alfa Romeo garage (can we call it Andretti Sauber yet or is that not a thing). Maybe it'll go to Schwartzman. Maybe it'll go to Gio. Who knows. But this weekend was a good weekend to be Antonio Giovinazzi. He had something to prove and he proved it.

Fending off attacks from two-time and four-time world champions in a car that's largely been panned this season is no mean feat. Close to a point-scoring finish, he was inevitably denied it by Seb and Kimi so sadly has little to show for his effort. All in though, this was one of Antonio's better Sundays. He's had good Saturdays, but this was a good Sunday for him. Now if he could put the two together and give us something really impressive to write home about I'd be dead happy.

Sebastian Vettel - From the back of the grid to a points position is Winners accolade worthy. I suppose. The Aston Martin didn't look to be a very competitive car this weekend, so making up what he could in a chassis that didn't seem as suited to the circuit as the Alfa Romeos is worth a nod. Even if Kimi did hand him his sole point with that strange spin coming through turn two.


Nikita Mazepin - If this column gave credit for trying, Nikita Mazepin would be a worthy recipient. But we don't. So he isn't. The reality is that his performance this weekend has left me, and no doubt many others pondering why he is still in Formula One. Let's take a look at the data and this nifty graph produced by Keith Collantine over at Race Fans.

What we have is the driver's pace compared to that of the race leader at each lap. I'll allow that sudden drop off from the pack initially due to Mazepin no doubt suffering from the spin of Lance Stroll holding up the back of the field. But beyond that we never see him come back into the fray. Ocon and Latifi both pit early, hence why their pace is down compared to the Russian's, but then they get back on it and return to form. Mazepin's pace deficit to the other runners in this section of the field is so significant that he's clearly diverging from his teammate after about 14 laps of running. Mick is keeping a close rhythm with Ocon and Latifi while his teammate drifts off into the nothingness. By lap 18, Nikita is around 1 minute and 40 seconds off the pace of the leader of the race. And it gets worse from there, by the end of the race he's 293 seconds off of the speed of Max Verstappen. In contrast, Schumacher is 205 seconds off, and Latifi is 193 seconds off.

Nikita's headrest came loose early on in the race necessitating his lap 2 pit stop. And he never recovered his pace from there.

Nikita's headrest came loose early on in the race necessitating his lap 2 pit stop. And he never recovered his pace from there.

Nikita's inability to drive that car in a competitive manner was plain to see on track as even once Alonso retired, Mazepin had been lapped so many times, by so many drivers that he then had to unlap himself from a retired car. And it still took him around two minutes to do that. Mazepin finished the race two laps down on the field. The only other driver to do that was his teammate, who was only lapped for the second time in the last two corners. Mazepin meanwhile had been lapped long before. His lack of ability and speed in the VF21 has gone beyond being comical at this point and is practically dangerous.

More numbers, his fastest lap? 1:42.886, a whopping 4.401 seconds slower than Lewis' fastest lap of 1:38.485. I'll admit that's not very representative, so how about compared to his teammate? Mick managed a 1:41.395, which isn't quite a second and a half quicker, but still a sizable pace gulf. The two drivers set those times on lap 42 for Mazepin and 36 for Schumacher, so we can largely discount fuel loads and with similar tyres around this point in the race, those times are quite appropriate as a measure of ability.

I shan't question why or how he has a seat next year as it's quite obvious at this point. But this performance really hammers home how infuriating it is to see a seat being taken up by someone so effete and impotent; especially when it could be being filled by someone who deserves a chance to prove themselves in the top flight of single-seater racing. Callum Illot is a name that immediately comes to mind, Robert Schwartzman would be an ideal candidate once he wraps up F2. A graduate of the Ferrari Driver Acadamy, in a Ferrari powered car in F1. Even for a year, it'd give him a shot. Or even if it could be wangled, Piastri or Zhou, while both Alpine drivers would no doubt benefit from a season in F1 if they are to stand any chance of competing in the main team when the time comes. Selfishly, Mazepin is denying others a chance at achieving their dream. It doesn't sit well with me.

Alpine - 10 points are now all that divide Alpine and Alpha Tauri. A race where they scored nothing could be a race to rue come to the end of the season. While Yuki only bought home two points this weekend, it could be part of a slow march that sees the fight for fifth go down to the wire in Abu Dhabi. The team is being quite coy about what went wrong with their cars, Ocon's issue only being listed as 'mechanical' and Alonso's rear wing failing? It'll be interesting to see if any more is said on this. Their only saving grace was the suspension failure that struck Pierre Gasly who had been running comfortably inside the points with his teammate. Had it been a double points finish for Alpha Tauri this would be a very different story for Alpine indeed.

Lewis Hamilton - Hear me out, this isn't Hamilton Hate. This is more concern for how much pressure is being loaded onto him to try and pull a win out of the bag for the champs. Mercedes looked strong coming into this weekend but failed to capitalise on this. Red Bull turned up the wick and they couldn't dial the car in to keep up with them without sacrificing sector times. Even with their 'collapsing suspension' which would break Article 10.1.3; Any suspension system fitted to the rear wheels must be so arranged that its response results only from changes in load applied to the rear wheels in the technical regs. It'd also infringe on 10.2.3; No adjustment may be made to any suspension system while the car is in motion. So whatever Mercedes have fitted to the W12 has to be legal.

My crackpot theory at this point is that Mercedes have figured out how soft they need the suspension on the car to be that the rear wing can compress it sufficiently to just begin to stall out the wing and thus reduce a bit of drag. I'm not smart enough to know how that could work, if at all. So we'll head back to pulling apart why I've put a seven-time world champion in the spinners section.

Well, as I've explained with Max, the last few races of this season are going to no doubt be critical to establishing the winner. And with two races ahead of us that are likely going to be Red Bull strong-holds, Mercedes needed to do what they could at COTA to reduce the advantage Red Bull would have going into them. What has actually happened is Red Bull have nibbled at their constructors' advantage and increased Max's lead over Lewis. Was some of this down to Lewis? I don't think so. I feel this was Mercedes not wanting to pull the trigger on an undercut and instead favouring Lewis having stronger tyres at the end of the race. While Lewis might have had a tyre advantage, the Mercedes came a cropper to its one weakness, following another car.

Trying to get past Max in the closing laps of the race proved to be too much for Lewis, while his squatting Mercedes was able to close the gap with its straight-line speed advantage, through the turns it couldn't keep within that one second mark. The result, Max romps home with the victory and Lewis sat just in his wash. Next year, this might not be the case and we could have a different, but probably no less interesting battle. So was this result Lewis' fault or the fault of his team? A bit of one, but more of the other. Lewis did his best, but given the circumstances, the conditions and his opponent, his best today wasn't enough.

The Rest

Lando Norris - This is a tricky one to unpick. Has Lando set his bar so high that it's becoming unattainable? Are we only considering Lando against other drivers and his teammates? What is it that causes Lando to have a dud race?

Let's answer all of those. Yes. Yes. Tracks that don't suit the McLaren chassis and his relative inexperience to work around those. A case reinforced by the second question a little, where here Daniel's wealth of experience and now a click with his car means he can be a strong rival to Lando.

Norris through this season, stood on his own, has proven to be a simply incredible driver who at his peak can hook up his car and put on a series of laps that are untouchable by a great many. Think his blitz in Austria last year, think smashing home a 4th out of the box in Bahrain, think his raw speed at Imola. At the overwhelming majority of races this season there's been an aspect of Norris that's come bubbling up. More often than otherwise, there's been a positive takeaway about Lando's performance at a race. His competency and consistency have made a rod for his own back. Now when he has a slightly off week we come at him for it. I know I've been quite scathing on the occasion that he hasn't stormed home a victory over Daniel.

And there we have it, back to his teammate as I break his back over a bar, I, an idiot with a laptop, deem that he himself had set too high. This weekend has been another of those where Lando's performance was the effervescent spectacle of Imola, Monza or Spa. But equally, it was competent and quite probably what the team needed of him. Daniel had the advantage, Lando worked as a support driver, they bagged points and lessened Ferrari's dent in their standings. He did his job as best he could, but it wasn't anything that stood out.

Pierre Gasly - F's in the chat for Pierre. The covers were off on the grid, which is never a promising start to a Sunday, and then his suspension failed. He'd qualified well, the Alpha Tauri had shown some pace through the weekend, but then the rough curbs and bumps of COTA destroyed his suspension and cut his race, sadly, short.

Valtteri Bottas - A bit of a nowhere race. There was a few of them this week. Bottas' could prove to be the most problematic of the nowhere races. With Perez only 35 points off of him in the standings, that's just seven points per race to draw equal, or the same result for Perez and Bottas as we've just seen. I don't think it could be too much of a call to say it'll be close come to the final race. Especially if Bottas has another duffer.

Williams - Now American backed, Williams was looking to put on a good show for Dorilton but didn't live up to their expectations. Latifi's contact with Stroll didn't help matters. George had a better go of it working his way up the grid from last at the start. He was dicing around the midfield by the end of the race; impressive given how badly suited to the circuit the Williams was looking. George's skill was there to undo the impact of his engine penalty, but there was a major ceiling held in place by the car's ability. It was one of those races that show up the differences in track specificity on show in the Alfas and the Williams. One might be good in one place, the other stronger elsewhere. This weekend Williams weren't on form, the track wasn't one for them.

Mick Schumacher - This weekend can be seen as holding a lot of positives for Mick Schumacher. His pace was stellar compared to his teammate and was only lapped for a second time on the penultimate lap. Something that'd happened a lot earlier for Nikita. Mick's confidence in his chassis has visibly grown in the past few races, a brilliant qualifying in Turkey and a strong drive in COTA show this. Hopefully, he'll be able to keep up this growing momentum and bring home some stronger results through the tail end of the season.

Lance Stroll - A race that could have been. While Lance's pace overall wasn't stunning, he was knobbled early on with his spin in turn one. The AMR21 seemed to be a capable chassis this weekend with Seb managing a back to points drive. So with a stronger grid position from the off, it's a fair assumption that Lance could well have been in with a points finish had he not suffered early on. Especially when you take out Gasly and the two Alpines, opening up some spaces further up the grid. All in, not a terrible drive but we saw so little of it on the telly that it's tricky to come to much more of a conclusion.

Kimi Rรคikkรถnen - Kimi will be kicking himself for that spin late on in the race. He'd had a tough run all the way through, battling his teammate, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel. It wasn't going to be an easy weekend on track for him, and then his problems were compounded when trying to clear some distance from Vettel behind he dropped the car coming through sector one. It would have been a sole point for the Finn which would have been enough to put him on par with Nicholas Latifi but not enough to close the teams battle with 7th place Williams.

Shameless Plug

And if you fancy some more American action and culture, be sure to check out this week's edition of Formula Food on YouTube and Foodtribe.

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Comments (8)

  • Quite a shame for what happened to kimi or what he did to himself in the closing stages

      1 month ago
  • Hereโ€™s Billington with the full billing

      1 month ago
  • We are the biggest winners

      1 month ago
  • Ferrari didn't choose to start Carlos's on softs that's what his best time in Q2 was set on

      1 month ago
    • But knowing the conditions on track and how fragile the soft was looking under race conditions would they have been better off opting for the medium and a more competitive first stint where he could have regained any positions he didnโ€™t have...

      Read more
        1 month ago