United States GP: Team-by-team analysis
The US GP turned into a fabulously exciting race, with fortunes ebbing and flowing not just between the two Mercedes drivers, but with the Red Bull guys and Sebastian Vettel also joining the party. Here’s what happened to the 10 teams this weekend:
Nico Rosberg was fastest in FP1 but then crashed early in FP3, although he was able to run again later in the session. Come Sunday morning’s qualifying session the German was on great form, securing what turned out to be pole by topping Q2. Fastest on Saturday, Lewis Hamilton had a big spin in Q2, and had to settle for second place. Hamilton muscled his way past Rosberg at the start but thereafter it was anything but a straightforward afternoon, as he had to fight with the Red Bull and his teammate. At one point it appeared that Rosberg had the upper hand on strategy, but then a safety car allowed Lewis to get a free pit stop. He won the 10-lap sprint to the flag as Rosberg had to settle for second after a late off track trip cost him the lead.
In part because of the predicted wet weather, Red Bull opted not to use the latest Renault upgrade and take grid penalties, and it was good move as the cars were quick throughout in the rain. Daniel Ricciardo was fastest in Q1 and ultimately took third in Q2 and thus on the grid, while teammate Dany Kvyat was alongside in fourth. The wet conditions at the start proved to be ideal for the car, and both men were flying. Indeed, at one stage, Ricciardo led in some style. However, in the dry things began to unravel. Kvyat eventually crashed out after running wide onto Astroturf while Ricciardo scraped home with just a point for 10th place after his race unraveled in the second half.
Williams has not been particularly competitive in the wet this year and that was apparent once again when it mattered in Austin. Felipe Massa was only ninth and Valtteri Bottas 12th after a suspension problem in Q2, but both men then gained two places from the Ferrari grid penalties. The race turned into a near disaster for the team. Bottas damaged his nose in the first corner incident and when he pitted changed to slicks. The decision proved so premature that he had to come in and change back to inters, but after just five laps he had to retire anyway. Massa was also involved in the first lap mess and he also ultimately had to retire after 23 laps – both cars had suspension issues.
The Ferrari drivers came to Austin knowing they would have their work cut out as the team made a scheduled engine change, giving both Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen grid penalties. Vettel was as high as second in FP3, but contact with the barrier in Q1 spoiled the German’s qualifying session. He still made it to fifth, but the penalties then dropped him to 14th, and Kimi from eighth to 18th. Vettel emerged as one of the stars of the race, and he quickly charged up the order. At one point strategy appeared to be going his way after a bold tire call but in the end he had to settle for third on Rosberg’s tail. Raikkonen crashed out after going to slicks, and later he was forced to retire due to brake overheating.
Fernando Alonso still had the latest upgraded Honda and it proved its worth when he was fastest than his teammate. The Ferrari penalties moved the Spaniard from 11th – the team’s best Q2 result of the year – to ninth, while Jenson Button rose to 11th on the final grid. The difficult conditions allowed the cars to put in a solid performance, and Button ultimately earned a good sixth place. Alonso’s race was spoiled when he was spun round after first corner contact, which led to a stop with a puncture. He recovered well but he felt a loss of power and he dropped down to 11th.
The wet conditions suited Force India and Nico Hulkenberg was among the pacesetters in FP3. In Q2 he was pipped to sixth by teammate Sergio Perez, and after Vettel was penalized they both moved up a spot to fill the third row in what was a fine team performance. The cars ran strongly in the early stages, but lost a bit of ground later in the race. However, as others retired Perez fought back and finished in a strong fifth place. Hulkenberg was charging in the latter half but he collided with Ricciardo while challenging for fifth when his wing failed as he tried a passing move, and he retired after 35 laps.
Engines problems left Max Verstappen last on Friday but come qualifying his team mate Carlos Sainz was the man in trouble, crashing heavily at the start of Q1 before he’d even set a time. Verstappen meanwhile put in a good effort to take 10th, which became eighth after the Ferraris dropped back. Both drivers enjoyed really strong races, with Sainz making good progress from the back in the early stages. Verstappen was as high as third before the final restart, but it was impossible to hold off Vettel, and he settled for fourth. Sainz picked up a five-second penalty for speeding in the pits but was still classified seventh after a good drive.
With no news forthcoming on the Renault takeover Lotus struggled for pace in the difficult wet conditions in Austin, much like Williams. Romain Grosjean took 13th spot and Pastor Maldonado was 15th and last in Q2, although grid penalties for Vettel and Raikkonen moved them up a couple of spots. Grosjean’s race was ruined right at the start, when he was delayed by first corner contact and had to pit straight away. Brake duct damaged then caused overheating and he had to retire after 10 laps. Meanwhile, Maldonado managed to stay out of trouble in a difficult race and came home in eighth.
With local hero Alexander Rossi onboard, Austin was a big race for Manor, and the team even added the American flag to the rear wing end plates! Come qualifying Rossi beat his teammate Will Stevens, but the latter had 20 places of power unit grid penalties, so it didn’t make much difference as they lined up 18th and 19th. It proved to be a short race for Stevens, who retired almost immediately after he was hit by his teammate on the first lap. In contrast Rossi survived the difficult conditions in the early stages and, helped by the attrition ahead, he was able to cross the line in a respectable 12th place.
Felipe Nasr didn’t get to run at all on Friday as test driver Marciello was in his car for the only session, so he had a lot of catching up to do. Neither driver made it out of Q1, with Marcus Ericsson pipping Nasr. The Ferrari penalties helped, so they started 15th and 16th. That proximity caused early difficulties when the two drivers collided, and Nasr had to put for a new nose. He had a lot of catching up to do but eventually made it to ninth place. Ericsson was the first driver to make slicks work on the drying track but later an electrical problem led to his retirement after 25 laps.