Fans could be forgiven for thinking the combination of modern track, reduced grid and Mercedes dominance would make for a dull US Grand Prix. Quite the opposite was the case as we were treated to some strong performances and mighty overtaking.
Lewis Hamilton’s smart, unflustered and tactical display on Sunday puts beyond doubt that he is the deserving champion for 2014. Despite a rocky qualifying, Hamilton worked with his engineers to secure a win that must have knocked Nico Rosberg’s little remaining confidence further.
Abu Dhabi could of course still spring a surprise but one-on-one, Rosberg has not been able to compete with his team-mate since the summer. Last week’s preview highlighted Spa as the turning point of the season. Nico simply has not been able to handle a fired-up Hamilton since the team admonished him so publicly in Belgium. The shoot-out in the United Arab Emirates is starting to look decidedly one sided.
Lotus flower (sort of)
The smaller field skewed things somewhat but Lotus were back resembling something of their 2013 best in Texas. Grosjean reminded the F1 world that he has something to offer (perhaps he read our article) by seizing the opportunity to run relatively unhindered. Pastor Maldonado was certainly relishing the chance to run for more than a few laps, albeit still reverting to his ham-fisted approach to overtaking at times.
Critically they were able to mix it with McLaren, Toro Rosso and Ferrari in the midfield. That in itself is significant as it suggests they are finally beginning to understand their troublesome car.
Button’s last rodeo?
Jenson Button has demonstrated excellent race-craft in his F1 career in fits and starts at times, and Austin was a fine example of what he is capable of. His battle with Fernando Alonso was fascinating to watch but you suspect this was a final flurry from a driver resigned to calling time on his F1 career. Whether he wants to or not, it is the right decision but we will miss those races when he produced some of the smartest moves on a Sunday.
Moving the back of the grid, forward
It seems painfully obvious but you got the impression F1’s midfield teams did not really comprehend the full impact of the usual tail-enders missing the US Grand Prix. Toro Rosso, Lotus and Sauber were the back of the grid and they did not like it one bit.
The rumoured boycott of the race by Sauber appeared to be utterly self-defeating when Sutil brilliantly qualified in the top 10 (just in time for contract negotiations). It never materialised and thanks to Sergio Perez’s kamikaze move, the chance to grab valuable constructors points rode off in to the Texan sunset.
F1’s top teams are unlikely to share prize money more equitably with the minnows, no matter what they do. Three car teams and the potential increase in prize money are a more attractive option for them now. Thus Sauber et al are going to have to work on Bernie Ecclestone to get some dispensation to help them survive. Despite Bernie, almost, taking responsibility for the current financial mess, those teams need something very compelling to stand of chance of squeezing cash out of him.
In Texas we saw further proof that Daniel Ricciardo, given the right equipment, will fight for world titles. Perhaps more importantly, we learned that Sebastien Vettel has not forgotten how to be fast in an F1 car – and that will come as a great reassurance to everyone at Maranello.