INCREDIBLE racing in the USA produced one of the most thrilling races of the season with Ferrari favourite Kimi Raikkonen living up to expectations when he refused to change his customary laconic style after claiming his first win wince 2013.
Raikkonen enjoyed his first F1 win in 113 races and his first since returning to Ferrari from Lotus four years ago, while Red Bull’s Max Verstappen came from 18th on the grid to finish second.
Hamilton had to make do with another podium finish at the Circuit of Americas in Texas, one place ahead of title challenger Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari.
“Thank you, f****** finally!” Raikkonen said as he crossed the line.
But the 39-year-old Finn could not resist an ultra-dry riposte at the expense of Lewis Hamilton in the post race presser.
Raikkonen was out to upset Hamilton's party
Sitting in the green pre-podium room after the race, he leaned across to speak to the Briton, who was frustrated in his bid to clinch a fifth title and finished third.
“So, did you win the championship today?” asked the Ferrari man, who will be leaving for Sauber next year.
The delivery was so deadpan that the Mercedes driver was caught off-guard and muttered only a brief response.
It was a classic addition to Raikkonen’s collected quotations, a list that included his radio response to a Renault engineer: “Leave me alone, I know what I am doing.” Raikkonen and Hamilton may both have been unaware of it, but Sunday’s race came exactly 11 years after the Finn’s victory and drivers’ title triumph for Ferrari in Brazil in Hamilton’s 2007 debut season.
Assessing his race, Raikkonen added: “I got a good start and I needed to push hard, in the end the tyres were not in the best shape but it was the same for Max.
“I just tried to keep the tyres alive. It’s been a long time. I’m much happier than finishing second. I am happy.
NOT AGAIN: RICCIARDO’S RACE ENDED EARLY
“It was a balancing act but we did it well. It was a good battle and that’s what we all want.”
Asked if he feared he wouldn’t steal another win before his time with Ferrari ends (at the end of this season) Raikkonen responded with a typical nonchalant tone.
“It’s not like I never won a race of a title,” he said. “I never made a thing out of it (the record).
“This wouldn’t have changed my life to win one more with Ferrari or not. It’s nice for sure.
“We always come to the race trying to do our best and fight for the win. Today we had a good day, I felt confident and this is how it worked out.
Hamilton started from pole but the race began well for Ferrari with Raikkonen on ultra-soft tyres getting past the Briton at the start.
However, Vettel spun off before lap two after he had overtaken Ricciardo before their cars touched while trying to defend a counter attack, an incident which shoved the German back to 15th.
Happy times, Kimi back in the winning spot on the podium
Hamilton took the lead when Raikkonen pitted for new tyres on lap 21. With blistering tyres, Hamilton was in the pits again on lap 37, but probably a shade too late, to emerge fourth, teammate Bottas then soon making way for him.
The race and the title was fully in the balance as it went into a tense last 10 laps, with Raikkonen, Verstappen and Hamilton close together, and Vettel moving up on Bottas.
The top three remained unchanged but Vettel was successful in overtaking Bottas. Raikkonen winning his 21st grand prix victory, ending a winless run of 113 races.
The result means the gap between Hamilton and Vettel in the race for the title is 70 points. As such, the German driver must win the remaining four races to have a chances of claiming the title.
Despite not winning the title in Austin, Hamilton was thrilled with the weekend.
It was epic, I really enjoyed the race,” he said. “It wasn’t where I wanted to finish but the battle was awesome. It’s what I dream of, it’s what people watching TV want to see.
“We should be able to be dicing between each other like that more.
“They were quicker today (Ferrari) congratulations to Kimi I’m really happy for him he gives me confidence I can still go for a long time – I won’t go to his age but…”
Daniel Ricciardo’s race was ended prematurely due to engine failure – and Christian Horner couldn’t resist a little dig at Renault, Red Bull’s current engine providers and the Aussie’s next employer.
“It was a crying shame for Daniel and I feel so sorry for him,” Horner told Sky.
It was Kimi's first win in five years
“It looks like the identical power issue from Bahrain. He was driving a strong race, it’s so frustrating for him.
“I hope no more penalties, we should have enough components for him not to. I’m sure he will have a word with his future employers about this because it’s so frustrating losing him from races.”
Ricciardo’s teammate Verstappen meanwhile drove one of the most impressive races we have seen in the USA, starting 18th on the grid to finish on the podium.
“It’s a bit unexpected but I got a good start and very quickly got back into things,” he said afterwards.
“We followed the leaders and had good pace. In the end we put some pressure on but I ran out of tyres.
“I’m very happy, I destroyed my shoe from pushing so hard.”
Horner was equally thrilled with his 21-year-old prodigy.
Daniel Ricciardo's race was ended early on by engine failure
“What a drive from 18th! Perhaps without Lewis that close in the final laps he could have had a go (for the win). It was vintage Max,” Horner said.
“If he hasn’t got driver of the day he should have. Everything pointed to these tyres not making it to the end of the race.”
There was a post-race disqualification after stewards ruled that Force India driver Esteban Ocon and Haas’ Kevin Magnussen had breached fuel regulations.
Ocon was eighth in the race and Magnussen ninth.
Their exits will see Sergio Pérez in a Force India and Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley promoted in the standings.
1. Kimi Raikkonen (FIN/FER) 1hr 34min 19.000sec
2. Max Verstappen (NED/RBR) +1.281
3. Lewis Hamilton (ENG/MER) 2.342
4. Sebastian Vettel (GER/FER) 18.222
5. Valtteri Bottas (FIN/MER) 24.744
6. Nico Hulkenberg (GER/REN) 1min 27.210
7. Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP/REN) 1min 34.994
8. Esteban Ocon (FRA/RAC) 1min 39.288
9. Kevin Magnussen (DEN/HAA) 1min 40.657
10. Sergio Perez (MEX/RAC) 1min 41.080
11. Brendon Hartley (NZL/STR) 1 lap
12. Marcus Ericsson (SWE/SAU) 1 lap
13. Stoffel Vandoorne (BEL/MCL) 1 lap
14. Pierre Gasly (FRA/STR) 1 lap
15. Sergey Sirotkin (RUS/WIL) 1 lap
16. Lance Stroll (CAN/WIL) 2 laps
Charles Leclerc (MON/SAU) 25 laps
Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/RBR) 48 laps
Romain Grosjean (FRA/HAA) 54 laps
Fernando Alonso (ESP/MCL) 55 laps AAP
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