Lewis Hamilton moved a step closer to his fourth world championship on Sunday when he won the United States Grand Prix, coming home ahead of his nearest title rival Sebastian Vettel.
The 32-year-old Briton, who started from a record 72nd pole position, recovered after losing his advantage at the start to regain the lead and steer his Mercedes to his ninth win this year, his fifth in Texas and the 62nd of his career.
Four-time champion German Vettel came home second for Ferrari and with three races remaining trails Hamilton by 66 points in the drivers’ title race.
If Hamilton wins, or finishes anywhere in the top five, in Mexico City next weekend, he will be champion.
Hamilton’s victory, with Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas finishing fifth, confirmed the team as constructors champions for 2017 and for the fourth consecutive season.
Dutchman Max Verstappen crossed the line in third place after a controversial final corner passing move that saw his Red Bull car run off track as he swept beyond Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari.
The move was investigated immediately by the stewards who gave Verstappen, who had already gone to the podium ceremony waiting room, a five seconds penalty that cost him third and lifted Raikkonen back to third for Ferrari.
All this meant that Verstappen finished fourth ahead of Bottas, Frenchman Esteban Ocon of Force India and Spaniard Carlos Sainz who finished seventh on his debut with Renault following his move from Toro Rosso.
Brazilian Felipe Massa finished ninth for Williams and Russian Daniil Kvyat 10th in the second Toro Rosso.
When the lights went out, it was Vettel who had the best getaway and he held off Hamilton, who had been on pole, as he tried to respond into Turn One.
The Ferrari soon pulled clear to lead by 0.8 seconds and increased it to a second by the end of lap two with Bottas scrapping hard to resist a determined Daniel Ricciardo to retain third.
After a few laps reassessing his position, Hamilton picked up his pace and clocked fastest laps before regaining the lead on lap six with a move that appeared to catch Vettel by surprise.
He surged into position and then with the aid of his Drag Reduction System (DRS) outpaced him at the end of the back straight.
Further back in the field, Verstappen, who started 16th, rose to eighth and was carving through the traffic, soon reaching sixth place by lap ten.
Red Bull teamate Ricciardo suffered an engine failure which ended his race after 16 laps.
World championship leader Lewis Hamilton roared to the 72nd pole position of his record-breaking career on Saturday and then forecast that he is unlikely to clinch his fourth world title in Sunday’s United States Grand Prix.
The 32-year-old Briton, who can take the championship if he wins for Mercedes and title rival Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari fails to finish in the top five, claimed his 11th pole of the season with a crushing display of pure speed.
But, he said, it is not likely to be enough for him to join Vettel as a four-time champion unless the German, who starts alongside him at the front of the grid, “makes a silly mistake”.
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 22, 2017
“I think it’s highly unlikely it’s going to be the case here,” said Hamilton. “Sebastian did a great job today to bring the Ferrari back up. I think, ultimately, all I can do is do the best I can with my abilities and try to get maximum points.
“Sebastian is right there so, unless he makes a silly mistake, which is unlikely, it will go to the next races…”
Hamilton, who clocked a circuit record time with his lap in one minute and 33.108 seconds, added that he expected a tough contest in Sunday’s race with Vettel fighting to keep alive his title challenge.
“It’s going to be a great race out there tomorrow,” he said. “It’s going be a tough one because looking after the tyres in these conditions is still tough, I’m but looking forward to it.
“The track was very difficult today, with the wind picking up you’ve got a head-wind into turn one, a tailwind out of turn one, the whole of sector one is tail-wind and then a head-wind into turn 9, so it’s shifting the whole way through the lap.
“You’re kind of gauging how hard you can push, how much you must lay off, but that’s why I love it her. It’s such a fantastic track to drive and especially when you’ve got a car you can rely on.”
As Hamilton purred with pleasure after securing a record 117th front row start, passing seven-time champion German Michael Schumacher’s record of 116, Vettel said he and Ferrari are working day to day in pursuit.
“I was happy in the end with the car, but we lacked some rhythm. We came good, when it mattered, and I believe our race pace is good. Well done to Lewis today … We are taking each day as it comes now.”
Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas qualified third despite struggling with his braking.
“There have been things I have been struggling with – brake modulation and locking, transferring weight,” said the Finn. “I have struggled to get it together and many times at 13 and 15 I lost a bit of time – those are the longest corners.”
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 22, 2017
Australian Daniel Ricciardo qualified fourth for Red Bull ahead of Finn Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari and Max Verstappen in the second Red Bull, but the Dutchman will start from the back of the grid after being given a 15-place penalty for taking new power unit parts.
“It’s easy to say now that I should have been up there, but if you make two reasonably big mistakes, it’s not what you want,” said Verstappen, disappointed with his performance 24 hours after the team had confirmed he had signed a new contract.
“I’m not happy with myself — and it’s one of the worst qualifyings of the year for me.”
— Esteban Ocon (@OconEsteban) October 22, 2017
Frenchman Esteban Ocon qualified seventh for Force India ahead of an impressive Carlos Sainz, the Spaniard making his debut with Renault after moving from Toro Rosso.
Fellow-Spaniard two-time champion Fernando Alonso of McLaren Honda was ninth and Mexican Sergio Perez 10th in the second Force India.
Le Mans champion Brendon Hartley of New Zealand will make his Formula One debut at the US Grand Prix in Austin next weekend for Toro Rosso as a replacement for the absent Pierre Gasly.
Frenchman Gasly joined Toro Rosso just two weeks ago from the Super Formula Championship to take the place of the struggling Daniil Kvyat, and as he trails the lead by a mere half-point, will contest the last race of the season in Japan on the same day as the Austin GP.
The last New Zealander to race in Formula One was Mike Thackwell 33 years ago.
The 27-year-old Hartley last tested with Toro Rosso in 2009 and was over the moon to get the belated chance to race his first F1 GP.
“What an amazing feeling, I never did give up on my ambition and childhood dream to reach F1,” said Hartley, who won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.
“I want to say a huge thanks to Red Bull and to Porsche,” he told the Toro Rosso site.
“I’m trying not to put too many expectations on my F1 debut, but I feel ready for it.”
Toro Rosso boss Franz Tost said he was delighted for Hartley, describing him as part of the Red Bull family.
“Brendon is coming as the reigning 24h Le Mans winner and he’s also leading the current FIA LMP1 World Endurance Championship, which he won in 2015 as well,” Tost said.
“I’m convinced he’ll do a fantastic job for us.”
Russian Kvyat has since returned to Toro Rosso and will partner Hartley in Texas, after Spaniard Carlos Sainz, who has scored 48 of the Red Bull second-string outfit’s 52 points so far this season, left for Renault last week.